Author: Lucy Bland

This book recounts the little-known history of the mixed-race children born to black American servicemen and white British women during the Second World War. Of the three million American soldiers stationed in Britain from 1942 to 1945, about 8 per cent (240,000) were African-American; the latter’s relationships with British women resulted in the birth of an estimated 2,000 babies. The African-American press named these children ‘brown babies’; the British called them ‘half-castes’. Black GIs, in this segregated army, were forbidden to marry their white girlfriends. Up to half of the mothers of these babies, faced with the stigma of illegitimacy and a mixed-race child, gave their children 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, but adoption societies frequently would not take on ‘coloured’ children, who were thought to be ‘too hard to place’. There has been minimal study of these children and the difficulties they faced, such as racism in a (then) very white Britain, lack of family or a clear identity. Accessibly written and illustrated with numerous photographs, this book presents the stories of over forty of these children. While some of the accounts of early childhood are heart-breaking, there are also many uplifting narratives of finding American fathers and gaining a sense of self and of heritage.

Sexual transgression in the age of the flapper
Author: Lucy Bland

This book looks at the highly publicised, sensational trials of several young female protagonists in the period 1918-1924. These cases, all presented by the press as morality tales involving drugs, murder, adultery, miscegenation and sexual perversion, are used as a prism through which to identify concerns about modern femininity. The book first examines a libel case, brought by a well-known female dancer against a maverick right-wing MP for the accusation of lesbianism. One aspect of this libel trial involved the drawing up of battle-lines in relation to the construction of a new, post-war womanhood. The book then looks at two inquests and three magistrate-court trials that involved women and drugs; young women in relationships with Chinese men were also effectively in the dock. One way of accessing court proceedings has been via the account of the trial published as part of the Notable British Trial Series. There are no extant trial transcripts. But there are prosecution depositions lodged at the National Archives, much press reportage, and a number of relevant memoirs, all giving a keen sense of the key issues raised by the trial. The book also focuses on an extraordinary divorce case, that of Christabel Russell, involving cross-dressing, claims of a virgin birth, extreme sexual ignorance, and a particular brand of eccentric modern femininity.

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Lucy Bland

The introduction lays out the reasons for undertaking this research on the children born to black GIs and white British women during the Second World War. These babies, born before the arrival of the Windrush in what was then a very white Britain, have a history that is largely unknown. The introduction explains how these children (now in their early seventies) were found and interviewed by the author. Oral history – the stories told by these children – forms the heart of this book, and the value of oral history is discussed. Other sources analysed are central and local government papers, the British and American press, memoirs and letters. These children were termed ‘half-caste’ in Britain but were more positively labelled ‘brown babies’ by the African-American press, hence the title of the book.

in Britain’s ‘brown babies’
Lucy Bland

The first chapter sets the scene, explaining why there were black American servicemen in Britain during the war, where they were based (largely in south and south-west England, East Anglia, Lancashire and South Wales), how they were segregated (villages and towns were designated ‘white’ or ‘black’), how they met local women (largely at segregated dances and in pubs) and how they were prevented from marrying them. It contrasts the British government’s negative attitude towards the presence of black GIs with the general public’s largely positive welcome, particularly the attraction felt by young British women faced with relatively wealthy, music- and dance-loving, ‘exotic’ strangers. It demonstrates the racism facing those in interracial relationships and points forward to the birth of children from these encounters.

in Britain’s ‘brown babies’
Lucy Bland

The second chapter focuses on the children born to black GIs who were kept by their mothers or grandmothers – just over half of the forty-five born during the war whose stories I am drawing on. Despite pressure from their families, priests and mother and baby homes, as well as hostility from neighbours and in some cases husbands, many mothers would not give up their babies. The children’s experiences of illegitimacy, racism, and their sense of difference are charted, including having hair that was seen as ‘unmanageable’, an inexplicably different skin tone as well as lacking a father and frequently being kept in total ignorance as to his identity. For part of their childhood, some children believed their stepfathers to be their actual fathers.

in Britain’s ‘brown babies’
Experiences of children’shomes
Lucy Bland

Chapter 3 examines the various children’s homes that the children were sent to. A number of private homes were set up specifically to house ‘brown babies’, but for various reasons these did not last long. The African Churches Mission in Liverpool took in as many as it could, but it was closed for health and political reasons. One Somerset nursery, Holnicote House, attempted to find adopters for the children, including sending them to the US, but this was largely unsuccessful. Children were also sent to other local authority homes as well as to Dr Barnardo’s and the Waifs and Strays/Church of England Children’s Society homes. The very mixed experiences of those who were put in such homes is presented, from great kindness at the Somerset nursery through to sadistic beatings at a Church of England Children’s Society home.

in Britain’s ‘brown babies’
Lucy Bland

Chapter 4 explores fostering and adoption stories. Some fostering placements were a success while others were a disaster. Very few of the ‘brown babies’ were ever adopted; the reasons for this are examined, and the claim that few white British people wanted to adopt such children is questioned. Out of the forty-five war babies, only three were adopted by non-family: Ann, Deborah and Janet J. Their experiences are considered, as too is that of Leon L, the only one of the forty-five to be adopted by his US father. There were attempts to have the children adopted in the US, especially by Somerset County Council, and there was a definite demand for such children from African Americans, but these attempts were blocked by the British government, save for a short period of time.

in Britain’s ‘brown babies’
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Searching for mothers and fathers
Lucy Bland

Chapter 5 presents accounts of searching for and sometimes finding mothers and fathers. Those who had been in children’s homes did not know about either parent. The chapter opens with accounts of looking for mothers, who were not always welcoming. It then moves to the difficulties of finding fathers. Most of the ‘brown babies’ knew very little about their fathers, not least because they had been given little information and sometimes misinformation. Stories of the joy of finding fathers, or at least finding US relatives, the father having died, demonstrate movingly the huge importance of having a sense of one’s heritage. This gaping hole in their history of origin still remains for a few who have been unsuccessful in their search.

in Britain’s ‘brown babies’
Lucy Bland

The final chapter moves to the post-war period and considers ‘brown babies’ born in Europe during the years of occupation of Germany and Austria – 1945–55. Some parallels with the British situation but also differences are noted; for example, German children were adopted into the US in their hundreds. Six case studies of 1950s’ British ‘brown babies’ are also presented, their upbringing contextualised in terms of the changing racial landscape of Britain, as West Indians and people from the Indian subcontinent arrived in their thousands. Finally identity, belonging and Britishness are examined, including the way in which, after all these years of living in Britain, the ‘brown babies’ still face the indignity of being asked their country of origin.

in Britain’s ‘brown babies’
The contested marriage and motherhood of a curious modern woman
Lucy Bland

The frequent references to the war illustrate how the war still shadowed and informed explanations of behaviour, especially those of women. In the 1920s, the athletic woman was being celebrated in the press as a symbol of modernity, although there were always counter voices warning of the threat to motherhood of active sport. John Russell's masculinity was implicitly undermined by the constant references to his and his wife's sexual relations, which were referred to variously in the press as incomplete relations, attempted relations, partial intercourse, or 'Hunnish scenes'. Christabel Russell, in presenting herself as simultaneously non-sexual, maternal and modern complicated the accepted narrative of the 1920s modern woman. Pregnancy had initially been Christabel's downfall; her embrace of motherhood was central to her redemption. Christabel wrote the screenplay for a film called Afraid of Love, which she claimed was based on her own experience of married life.

in Modern women on trial