Relationships, Love and “Brown Babies”
During the course of the Second World War, interracial marriages were still illegal in thirty out of forty-eight US states. The arrival of Black US Servicemen to England and the inevitability of relationships being formed with local women was viewed by the US military with some trepidation. This can be evidenced by the actions taken by white US commanders, in refusing Black servicemen permission to marry. In 1944 The Diss Express Newspaper issued a cautionary warning to East Anglian women who were contemplating a relationship with servicemen that,
‘a young women marrying a member of the United States Armed Forces will not be allowed to accompany him on his return to the United States…it should be remembered that in over 20 states of the Union, marriages between white and coloured persons are illegal and prohibited’
Despite opposition, a number of relationships were struck up between Black US servicemen and local women in Suffolk and it is estimated that around 2000 children were born nationally from these relationships during wartime. The mothers of the children, given the inability to marry, often faced societal disapproval and pressure to give their baby up, whilst the father was frequently transferred once the pregnancy became known. Pregnant girls under the age of eighteen also faced the threat of being placed in reform schools or faced juvenile courts, even if the fathers expressed a desire to support the girl and the child. The Diss Express Newspaper reported on several such cases in 1944.
The experiences and stories of servicemen’s children growing up in Suffolk, have until recently been a largely neglected part of history. These stories are now however coming to the fore and have been the subject of recent research.
Mick Brummitt was born in 1944 in Ipswich, the son of Jimmie W. Oliver of the 829th Aviation Engineering Battalion and his mother Sylvia, from Ipswich. Mick’s parents had met whilst Jimmie was serving at the Debach air base. After Mick’s birth, Jimmie was posted along with his battalion to France and eventually lost contact with Sylvia. Mick was brought up by his mother in Ipswich, in a loving environment and with the support of his half-brother, he was later able to find out further information on the background of his father. Although Mick never got to meet his father, who had died at the age of 47 or to find a photograph of him, he was however able to meet his American half-brother for the first time in Georgia in 2004.
Not all children were as fortunate, and a number of children were placed in care homes. An example being Babs Gibson Ward, whose story has been explored by Lucy Bland’s book Britain’s “Brown Babies”. Like Mick Brummitt, Babs was born in Ipswich in 1944. Her father was a Black US serviceman based in Suffolk and her mother who was already married. She initially passed Babs off as her husband’s child, before shortly admitting the truth. Babs was subsequently placed in a Barnardo’s home in Long Melford, Suffolk and later fostered, enduring a turbulent childhood. Babs, who was told by her teacher as a child that ‘she did not have the same ability to learn’ as a white child, went on have a successful career in nursing, tutoring and achieved a Masters in music in her 70.’s
Please note that the term”brown babies” is a contemporary term which has now been adopted by the community of children who were born of US Black servicemen and white mothers.