Posts Tagged ‘Gallipolli’

History Debunked on the Racist Lies about the Treatment Black World War I Soldiers Told by Bristol Black History Prof

December 4, 2021

This is another video by History Debunked’s Simon Webb, in which he critically debunks a film produced by the BBC for their Black History season. This is a talk by Olivette Otele, the vice-president of the Historical Society and professor of slavery at Bristol University, about the treatment of Black soldiers from the West Indian regiment during the First World War. It’s a subject Webb knows something about, having written a book about the events of 1918 and 1919. What disturbs Webb is that the young Black members of the production team are encouraged to get involved and feel aggrieved about racism, showing that this is not objective history by propaganda.

She shows them pictures and film of Black World War I soldiers, and states that nobody knows about them. Webb says that this is possible, as they may simply have gone to bad schools or just not known about them. But she goes on to say that the British army didn’t want Blacks to join because they were afraid it would upset notions of White superiority. This sounds convincing, until you realise that one million Indians served in the British army during the War, of whom 75,000 were killed. She complains that the Black regiment had to serve in Egypt and the Middle East, but so did the Australians and New Zealanders at Gallipolli and the Dardanelles. She says in a sad voice that some were labouring and were killed. Well, this happens in wars, and the men weren’t conscripts but volunteers. The West Indians were also fighting, but you wouldn’t have realised this from what she was saying. She also states that after the end of the War, while White soldiers celebrated the Blacks had to do the laundry and clean the latrines. But Webb points out that soldiers still had to do duties even after the cessation of hostilities. Webb wonders if she knew that White soldiers were also moaning about this and wanted to be demobbed. Has she not heard of the many mutinies at the time. She also claims that the White soldiers got a pay rise that was denied to Blacks. This was due to a mix-up, but the Black soldiers did eventually get their money. But the mix-up also affected other colonial troops such as Indians and Australians. She’s angry at the suppression of various mutinies, but until the armistice Britain was still technically at War. There was a similar mutiny of White British soldiers at Southampton. At Calais the army considered shooting the mutineers with heavy artillery. There was also one in Wales which was suppressed by shooting in which five men were killed. The West Indian mutiny was simply one of many. He also points out that she couldn’t pronounce the words ‘machine gun corps’ and so sounds like a small child. She claims a Black trooper was shot, which is untrue. A young Black girl says it’s a horrible way to treat people who put their leaves on the line. Webb gives the girl the benefit of the doubt, as she may not know much about history. She claims that Black soldiers were treated worse than Whites, but there were plenty of Whites who were also treated badly. She also claims that they were written out of history, but that’s only the case if you don’t read books about the War. But the West Indian Regiment were comparatively small, only consisting of 15 thousand men, compared to the million Indian troops and the millions of other colonial troopers. He concludes by saying that it’s an example of a modern Black academic trying to remodel history for political purposes, and says it’s no wonder it was backed by the Beeb.

There are several things to be said about this. Otele is highly qualified – she has a doctorate from the Sorbonne and was recently appointed the professor of slavery at Bristol university. This looks like a political appointment. The University has been under fire because it was partly founded through donations from the Colston charities, set up in commemoration of the slavery Edward Colston. The same Colston whose statue was toppled last year by Black Lives Matter protestors. I understand that there’s also a lot of Black anger in Bristol directed at the university because of its low number of Black students. This is probably because, as a member of the Russell Group of universities, it’s entry standards are very high, and Black educational levels throughout Britain are disproportionately poor. Also, when I was at school, you were discouraged from applying to your local university. Thus although Bristol has a large Black population, few Bristol Blacks would end up in the uni.

Then there’s the question of what she says about the treatment of the West Indian regiment. I’ve also heard that there was a reluctance to use Black troops against Europeans, and they were sent out to fight the Turks as an inferior civilisation. It’s also true that the Black and Asian soldiers who fell in the War weren’t commemorated like the White. A few years ago a monument was finally set up to them in Belgium. But a few years ago, at the beginning of this century, the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol held an exhibition on the contribution of Black and Asian soldiers to the War. This included diaries and other artefacts. It also included a statement from a Black soldier that serving with Whites and seeing them suffer in hospital like everyone else broke down racial barriers and showed that they were not gods to be feared. The Empire and Commonwealth Museum closed sometime ago, long before Otele was appointed. It’s a pity it is no longer there, but it’s holding are currently held in the archives at Bristol’s M Shed. It’s a pity Otele didn’t contact them.

******

I’ve also written the following books, which are available from Lulu.

The Global Campaign, Volume 1

Price: £12.00

Available at The Global Campaign Volume 1 (lulu.com)

The Global Campaign Volume 2

Price: £12.00

Available at Global Campaign Vol 2 (lulu.com)

For a Worker’s Chamber

Price: £4.50

Available at For A Worker’s Chamber (lulu.com)

Privatisation: Killing the NHS

Price: £5.25

Available at Privatisation: Killing the NHS (lulu.com)

Crimes of Empire

Price: £10.00

Available at Crimes of Empire (lulu.com)

BBC 2 On Why Britain Voted Against Churchill after WW II

May 25, 2015

BBC 2 at 9.00 O’clock tonight is showing a documentary on how Britain rejected Churchill for the Labour party in the 1945 general election.

The blurbs for it in the Radio Times state

Surprise election results are nothing new. As this documentary explores, a few weeks after celebrating VE Day in 1945, Britons went to the polls for the first general election in a decade. The Conservatives were widely expected to win, a grateful nation rewarding Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership. Instead, Labour won by a landslide and set about creating the Socialist welfare system Churchill had warned against.

As historians relate, there were good reasons the electorate delivered a humiliating snub to their wartime hero. And we’ve forgotten how unpopular he was with sections of the public: striking footage shows crowds jeering a perplexed Churchill at Walthamstow stadium. “Most people saw him as a Boris Johnson-type figure,” claims one contributor. “A buffoon.”

And

Just weeks after VE Day, Winston Churchill went to the polls confident that the nation would reward him for his leadership through the dark days of the Second World War and re-elect him prime minister. In the event, he suffered a humiliating defeat by Labour under Clement Atlee. Historians including Max Hastings, Juliet Gardiner and Antony Beevor explore what prompted the nation to reject its great war leader in such vehement fashion.

This will no doubt annoy the Churchill family, who have been effectively living off the great man’s legacy since the War. They got very stroppy a few months ago with Paxo, for daring to state that Churchill was not some kind omniscient, super competent superman.

In fact, Churchill was and still is bitterly despised by certain sections of the working class, despite his status as the great hero of World War II. His own career in the armed forces effectively ended with the debacles of the battle of Jutland and he was widely blamed for Gallipolli. He fervently hated the trade unions and anything that smacked of socialism and the welfare state. Originally a Liberal, he crossed the floor to join the Tories when Balfour’s government introduced pensions and state medical insurance based on the model of contemporary Germany. ‘It was Socialism by the backdoor’, he spluttered.

This continued after the War, when he fiercely attacked Labour’s plan to set up the NHS and unemployment benefit. Because the latter meant that the state become involved in the payment of NI contributions by the employer, he denounced it as a ‘Gestapo for England.’

He is widely credited with sending in the army to shoot down striking miners in Newport. According to the historians I’ve read, he didn’t. Nevertheless, this is still widely believed. It’s credible, because Churchill did have an extremely aggressive and intolerant attitude towards strikes. During the 1924 General Strike he embarrassed the Tory administration by stating that the armed forces would stand ready to assist the civil authorities, if they were called to do so. This effectively meant that he was ready to send the troops in. When it was suggested that he could be found a position in the Post Office, the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, readily agreed on the grounds that it would keep him out of the way. The hope was that without Churchill’s militant intransigence, the Strike could be settled peacefully.

And despite the mythology of the country uniting under a common foe during the War years, there was still considerable working class disaffection. Indeed, according to one programme, there were more strikes during the War than hitherto. I don’t find this remotely surprising, given that the sheer requirements of running a war economy meant rationing, shortages and, I’ve no doubt, the introduction of strict labour discipline.

Nor was Churchill a particularly staunch supporter of democracy and opponent of Fascism. Orwell wrote in one of his newspaper pieces that the spectre of war was doing strange things, like making Churchill run around pretending to be a democrat. According to the historian of British Fascism, Martin Pugh, Churchill was an authoritarian, who actually quite liked Franco and his brutal suppression of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. His opposition to the Nazis came not from a desire to defend democracy from tyranny – in that respect, Eden was a far better and more convinced anti-Fascist – but from the fear that a re-armed and militarised Germany would be a danger to British power and commercial shipping in the North Sea and the Baltic. He did, however, have the decency to consider privately that Mussolini was ‘a swine’, and was not impressed when the Duce declared that his Black Shirts were ‘like your Black and Tans’ when he visited Fascist Italy.

The British working class therefore had every reason to reject Churchill and his reactionary views after the War. And scepticism towards Churchill and his legacy was not confined merely to the working class. Nearly two decades later in the 1960s Private Eye satirised him as ‘the greatest dying Englishman’, and attacked him for betraying every cause he joined. Churchill was all for a united Europe, for example, a fact that might surprise some supporters of UKIP. He just didn’t want Britain to join it.

Even now there are those on the Right, who still resent him. Peter Hitchens, the arch-Tory columnist for the Daily Mail, has frequently attacked Churchill for bringing Britain into the War. His reason for this seems to be his belief that if we hadn’t gone to War against the Axis, we’d still have an Empire by now. This is moot, at best. Writing in the 1930s about a review of Black soldiers in Algiers or Morocco, Orwell stated that what was on the mind of every one of the White officers observing them was the thought ‘How long can we go on fooling these people?’ Orwell came to Socialism through his anti-imperialism, and so represents a particularly radical point of view. Nevertheless, he wasn’t the only one. When the British authorities set up the various commercial and industrial structures to exploit Uganda and the mineral wealth of east Africa, Lord Lugard cynically stated that they now had all the infrastructure in place to pillage the country for a few decades before independence. Despite Hitchens’ nostalgia and wishful thinking for the glories of a vanished empire, my guess is that many, perhaps most of the imperial administrators and bureaucrats out there knew it was only a matter of time before the British Empire went the way of Rome and Tyre.

In his book attacking atheism, The Rage Against God, Hitchens also attacks the veneration of Churchill as a kind of ersatz, state-sponsored secular religious cult. It’s an extreme view, but he’s got a point. Sociologists of religion, like Clifford Geertz, have a identified the existence of a ‘civil religion’, alongside more normal, obvious forms of religion, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, for example. This civil religion is the complex of beliefs and values that shapes civil society as a whole. In America, this is a belief in democracy, centred around a veneration of the Constitution. In Britain, you can see this complex of beliefs centring around parliament, the Crown, and also the complex of ceremonies commemorating the First and Second World Wars. Including Churchill.

The programme looks like it could be an interesting counterargument to the myth of Churchill as the consummate politician, the great champion of British freedom and democracy. He deserves every respect for his staunch opposition to the Nazis, regardless of the precise reason for doing so, and his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is one of the main texts that have created the belief that the British are uniquely freedom-loving. Nevertheless, he was also deeply flawed with some deeply despicable authoritarian attitudes. AS the blurbs for the programme point out, the British were quite right to vote him out at the post-War elections.