Seeking records about the Battle of Bamber Bridge

Hello! I am researching an event in June 1943 in the North West of England that became known as ‘The Battle of Bamber Bridge’. Bamber Bridge is a small town in the county of Lancashire not far from where I was born and brought up. My mother, now 98, was told of the battle by a man called Harry McLean, a Post Office telephone engineer who was working in Bamber Bridge at the time.  The basic story, as I understand it, is this. On June 24th 1943, black American servicemen belonging to an 8th Army Air Force Trucking Unit, frustrated by unaddressed grievances stoked up over many months, and finally provoked by attempted arrests on flimsy grounds followed by the use of weapons, took up arms in retaliation against white Military Policemen. An altercation, which began in one of the town's three pubs called The Olde Hobb Inn, escalated into a five hour night time shoot out.  One black soldier was killed, and two wounded. Four MPs were injured.

What had happened was regarded by military commanders as a mutiny and covered up at the time (contemporary local press reports refer only to an ‘incident’), but The Battle of Bamber Bridge seems to have led directly to the immediate desegregation of US Army MP units in Britain, and helped enable the desegregation of American Armed Forces in 1948.  ]The men of the trucking unit were based in Adams Hall, a collection of huts just outside the town. I believe this was also known as Station 569.  I have contacted US archives to see if any records of the subsequent courts-martial exist, and await their replies, but if anyone can point me in the direction of other sources I would be very grateful. I hope this finds you safe and well, and many thanks.

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  • Mark,

    The book "When Jim Crow Met John Bull; Black American Soldiers in World War II Britain"  by Graham Smith has information about this event. There is a 12 page bibliography that might have additional information. If you are unable to get this book, I will gladly email you copies of the pages that mention the event and the bibliography.

  • Dear Rebecca,

    Thanks so much for replying to my post and for your kind offer. If you are sure it is not too much trouble I would be most grateful if you would send the pages. The book is available from amazon, but at £60, which is slightly beyond my research budget! In the meantime I will see if my local library can source a copy. Thanks v much again.

    All good wishes, Mark

  • Mark,

    Give me a couple of days to scan the pages. I will forward the pages. There are 13 pages about the incident and a 12 page bibliography that includes lots of information. If you are writing a book, be sure to send me a copy (smile)

  • Hi Rebecca,

    That is very kind. Is there anything I can do for you?

    I'm not planning to write a book, but I do think the story is the stuff of TV drama/film...though I am sure the thought has struck others.

    Something like this:

    Log line: In June 1943, black American soldiers stationed at Bamber Bridge near Preston, Lancashire, took up arms against white Military Policemen, the embodiment of military Jim Crow racism.

     

    Local American commanders, spooked by race riots in Detroit, Michigan, three days earlier, ill-advisedly attempted to impose a colour bar in a small town 3500 miles away.

     

    What was described by prosecutors as a mutiny began when a black soldier, supported by local civilians and British servicemen and women, resisted arrest by two MPs for being improperly dressed inside one of the town’s three pubs - which had rejected the colour bar by displaying signs saying BLACK TROOPS ONLY.

     

    This altercation escalated into a five hour night time shootout across the town, but led directly to the immediate desegregation of US Army MP units in the UK, and helped enable the desegregation of American Armed Forces in 1948.

     

    During the battle one black GI was killed, two others wounded. Four Military Police were injured.

     

    The Battle of Bamber Bridge is the story of young, ordinary Britons and Americans in extraordinary circumstances, the lives they led and attitudes they held that culminated in a rebellion.

     

    “The English people show our lads every possible courtesy and some of them, accustomed to ill will, harsh words, and artificial barriers, seem slightly bewildered. They never had a chance to leave their Southern homes before, and therefore never realised there was a part of the world which was willing to forget a man’s colour and welcome him as a brother.”

    • Ollie Stewart, correspondent for the Afro-American, describing in 1943 the reaction in Britain to black GIs.

    This is not to say that modern Britain is without racism, but the events in Bamber Bridge almost 80 years ago seem to me to be a reminder of who we were and what we should all be now.

    Thanks again. I am very grateful for your help.

  • Mark,

    You Tube has several videos on the Bamber Bridge incident, with pictures of the bar/pub where everything started.

    I  have another book: "Blacks in the Army Air Forces During World War II, The Problems of Race Relations. This is an United States Air Force Special Studies government publication and may be available for sale at the US Gov't Printing Office. Because of the way this book is bound I wasn't able to get a clear scan.

    Here are a few other incidents:

        Bristol, Avon - July 15,144

        Leicester, Leicestershire - Sept. 26, 1943

        Launceston, Cornwall - Sept. 25, 1943

    I seems that you have all the information about the incident. I think I might have to retype the information because the book doesn't lay flat in order to get a clear picture of the bound side of the page or I may try using a copy machine. I will let you know.

    Rebecca

  • Hi Rebecca,

    Please do not go to too much trouble! Yes, I have the basics, but aim to dig a little deeper if I can. I am hopeful there are documents in archives, perhaps even of the courts-martial, but am waiting to hear. The pandemic has meant that quite sensibly archives have to concentrate on their most important work.

    Thanks as ever and best wishes,

    Mark

  • Mark,

    I haven't forgotten you. I went on a vacation. I have to make copies of the pages because scanning is not clear. Just give me a little more time.

  • Hello! That's amazing! I hope you are having a very fine time.  Best wishes, Mark

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