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Black war stories explored in depth in Stephen Bourne book

IGNORED BY HISTORIANS: Stephen Bourne decided to tell the stories of the many black servicemen in the First World War,

A GROUND-breaking book highlighting the role of black people in the First World War has been updated with even more life stories.

The History Press published a second edition of Stephen Bourne’s acclaimed Black Poppies – Britain’s Black Community and the Great War with new life stories and previously unpublished photographs.

The book charts the lives of black servicemen who fought for Britain during the Great War of 1914 to 1918.


It also charts the racism they faced in the aftermath of the war when many were caught up in the anti-black ‘race riots’ of 1919 despite their dedicated service to their country at home and abroad.

Bourne said he wanted to update his best-selling book to highlight more stories about the contribution made by servicemen of African and Caribbean heritage. He told South London Press: “The first edition of Black Poppies was published in 2014 to coincide with the centenary of the First World War and I was thrilled when it began to fly off the shelves.

“Most people in the black community were aware that their ancestors had supported the British in the conflict, but they didn’t have the details, the life stories, because historians had ignored them. I wanted to address this.”

The award-winning writer and historian continued: “My approach to history has always been to seek out first-hand testimony and to avoid using words ending in ‘ology’.

“This wasn’t easy with the First World War because so few people from that generation were still living when I wrote the book. However, with thorough research, I have managed to uncover some fascinating first-hand reminiscences by the people who made that history.”

Bourne has also been given access to the previously unpublished personal wartime correspondence of the Jamaican siblings Vera, Norman and Douglas Manley.


The Manley family had made their home in Britain when the war started – so Norman and Douglas joined up immediately.
Their private letters bring to light the day-to-day trials, tribulations, tragedies and triumphs of life on the battlefields, as well as Vera Manley’s eyewitness account of the 1917 Russian revolution.

Bourne has also highlighted several south Londoners including Trinidad’s George A. Roberts.

He left his Caribbean island home to join a British regiment and served on the battlefields. After the war he joined the British Legion and became a tireless campaigner for the rights of ex-servicemen.

Bourne said: “Racism existed but there are many examples of black servicemen, like George, who successfully integrated into British regiments and fought alongside their white comrades.”

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