Speaker to reveal the hidden stories of Britain’s ‘Brown babies’

  • Date

    Thu 6 Oct 22

A group of mixed race toddlers lined up looking nervous

It’s estimated 2,000 babies were born to white British women and Black American servicemen during World War II. Professor Lucy Bland from Anglia Ruskin University will reveal their stories of growing up in ‘white Britain’ at a public lecture next week.

Speaking at the University of Essex on 12 October to mark Black History Month, Professor Bland will tell the stories of some of those children, all born in East Anglia, whose oral histories she collected for her book Britain’s ‘Brown Babies’.

More than 350,000 US servicemen were stationed in East Anglia during World War II making interrelations between British women and American personnel commonplace in our region.

Of the estimated 2,000 babies born to white British women and Black American servicemen nearly half would be given up for adoption with many labelled ‘too hard to place’ and spending the rest of their childhoods in children’s homes.

Professor Bland explained: “Black GIs, in this segregated army, were generally forbidden to marry their white girlfriends. Where the women bore babies, faced with the stigma of illegitimacy and a mixed-race child, many felt pressurised to give their babies up for adoption. The outcome for these children tended to be long-term residency in children’s homes, sometimes followed by fostering and occasionally adoption; adoption societies frequently would not take on ‘coloured’ children, thought ‘too hard to place’. Despite difficult beginnings, many of these children have done well and are even now finding their US relatives, such is the wonder of DNA.”

Professor Bland interviewed more than 50 people whilst researching her book, with many others coming forward for interview subsequently. In her lecture she’ll tell the stories of nine of those babies, all born in East Anglia, five of whom were given up for adoption and four who were kept by their mothers.

“Many of the Black American servicemen had come to East Anglia to build airbases and maintain planes. They met local women at dances and in pubs. Once babies were born, many of the mothers and their mixed-race children faced racism and stigma and the children often felt a lack of belonging in what was a very white geographical region,” she added.

Professor Lucy Noakes, Director of the Centre for Public History at the University of Essex, said: “This little-known part of Britain's Second World War history is only now coming to light, in large part through the oral histories of these children collected by Lucy Bland.

“The recovery of 'forgotten histories' like these, and a commitment to using the past to empower marginalised peoples today, is at the heart of the work by our Department of History. We’re delighted to welcome Professor Bland as our key speaker during Black History Month.”

Professor Bland won the Social History Society Book Prize for Britain’s ‘Brown Babies. She’ll be giving her talk, ‘Britain's ‘Brown Babies’: The Children Born to Black GIs and British Women in World War II, With Special Reference to East Anglia’ on 12 October, 5-7pm at Essex Business School. Tickets are free and there’s no need to book.

Header picture courtesy of Lesley York.