West News Wire: The English community of Bamber Bridge, located in northwest England, takes pride in its victory during World War II over prejudice in the American troops. 

Residents there refused to accept the segregation engrained in the U.S. Army when an all-Black truck regiment was stationed there. Pubs welcomed the GIs, local ladies chatted and danced with them, and English soldiers drank alongside men they considered as comrades in the war, defying pressure from British and American officials. 

But simmering tensions between Black soldiers and white military police exploded on June 24, 1943, when a dispute outside a pub escalated into a night of gunfire. Private William Crossland was killed and dozens of soldiers from the truck regiment faced court martial. When Crossland’s niece learned about the circumstances of her uncle’s death, she called for a new investigation to uncover how he died. 

The community has chosen to focus on its stand against segregation as it commemorates the 80th anniversary of what’s now known as the Battle of Bamber Bridge and America reassesses its past treatment of Black men and women in the armed forces. 

“It’s a sense of pride that there was no bigotry towards (the soldiers),” said Valerie Fell, who was just 2 in 1943 but whose family ran Ye Olde Hob Inn, the 400-year-old thatched-roof pub where the conflict started. “They deserved the respect of the uniform that they were wearing.” 

10% or so of the American forces stationed in Britain during the war were black soldiers. The majority were assigned to non-combat jobs like driving trucks while serving in segregated groups under the command of white officers. By requesting that restaurants and bars keep the races apart, U.S. officials attempted to spread these regulations outside their military facilities. 

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The 6,800-person population of Bamber Bridge wasn’t the only area to rebel. There was no history of segregation in the country at the time, which was almost exclusively white. 

According to Alan Rice, co-director of the University of Central Lancashire’s Institute for Black Atlantic Research, what made it unique was the community’s determination to preserve its history. 

“If you’re fighting fascism, which these people were, it’s ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous, that the U.S. Army (were) encouraging a form of fascism segregation,” Rice said. 

The leader of the Black history organisation in Preston, close by, Clinton Smith, encourages people to take a closer look at what transpired. The past “just can’t be allowed to wither on the vine.” 

Despite it taking years to fully implement, President Harry Truman ordered the end of segregation in the military in 1948. The current secretary of defence is a Black former four-star general in the Army named Lloyd Austin. 

For Crossland, a 25-year-old former railway worker, that advancement came too late. His grave injuries and a bullet wound close to his heart were the sole details provided by the court martial evidence. His capture in the crossfire between two groups of Black soldiers was claimed by officers. 


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