I have a story about my grandma, but I’m not yet sure how to tell it. Here are the plain facts of it.
It was during the war and my dad was fighting in Europe – he was a member of the Parachute regiment and served in many places, North Africa, Italy, Greece, France, and no doubt for much of the time his parents didn’t know where he was, or how he was, safe or in danger,wounded, captured, or maybe worse. They were at home in their pub, the Portland Arms, in Cambridge.
The Americans had at last entered the war, and it was hoped this would be a turning point. There were Americans stationed near Cambridge and the servicemen often came into the city. One day the door of the pub opened hesitantly and a couple of men, obviously American soldiers looked in.
My grandma called out a welcome to them – just as she hoped someone in a foreign land would welcome her son. The men approached the bar as if not sure of their welcome.
“Good afternoon, sirs, what can I get you to drink?” grandma asked them. They seemed surprised at their welcome, and even more so when my granddad appeared behind the bar and said their first drink would be on the house.
Other regulars arrived and began to ask the men about their service, and where in the States they came from, and how welcome they were. Hands were shaken, shoulders were clapped, and no doubt the men didn’t have to pay for many drinks.
The reason for their surprise – their amazement at their welcome was because they were black. In the USA black people at that time suffered terrible discrimination, and they were almost shocked at the respect they now received, their welcome, and their treatment as just ordinary people.
The story continues that at another time, the black GIs were in town and they were given a hard time by some white US servicemen, who tried to make them leave a dance hall. The locals were outraged and gave the white solders a drubbing, and threw them out, disgusted at their behaviour.
I was researching this story and there is a book written by Linda Hervieux about black GIs in Britain during the war:
Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War
…and an article about the story, and the book: