Among all the celebrations of VE Day, you might want to look out for “First Days of Peace” scheduled for Monday 11th May at 7.30 pm on BBC! West. Presented by Bonnie Greer, the half-hour documentary focuses on the American presence in Bristol during World War II and particularly the issue of race brought about by the segregation and discrimination in their armed forces. The introduction of American-style Jim Crow caused much conflict between black and white GIs and there was a riot in the city in 1944. Many British people were appalled by such developments and were angered even more by the discrimination evident in the disproportionate number of court martial cases that resulted in the death penalty being passed on black soldiers.
Our Emeritus Professor Neil Wynn provided a great deal of material for this programme and was filmed discussing these issues at FCH and with Bonnie Greer outside Shepton Mallet prison where executions were carried out. Happily, in one case, a petition and protests from British people saved the life of one of those convicted, but similar protests in Cheltenham were unable to save the lives of two African American soldiers convicted of rape – a capital offense in the USA but not Britain. although Bonnie Greer sees much that is positive in British reactions, the programme does highlight one less than positive aspect of the war experience and does raise interesting questions about both American and British race history.