During the Second World War volunteers from across the British Empire played their part in fighting Germany and its allies. In the air, at sea and on land, they risked their lives, yet very little attention has been given to the thousands of black British, West Indian and West African servicemen and women who took part.
When Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 the colonies rallied enthusiastically to support the mother country. The statistics produced by Stephen Bourne are quite staggering and demonstrate in stark facts the enormous contribution made by the African and West Indian countries of the Empire. For example, thousands of West Indians served in the Merchant Navy and in civilian war work in Britain and approximately 700 British Hondurans worked as lumberjacks in Scotland. However, the most significant contribution was in the RAF.
The authors of this thought-provoking book make the extraordinary claim that a small group of rich and powerful men sought, as early as 1890, to “bring the whole uncivilised world under British Rule, for the recovery of the United States, for the making of the Anglo-Saxon race but one empire”. Led by Cecil Rhodes and backed by the fortunes of the House of Rothschild, the secret society that he formed sought to perfect a system of emigration in which British settlers would take over all of Africa and South America, and integrate the United States into the British Empire. The objective of all this was “the foundation of so great a Power as to render wars impossible, and promote the best interests of humanity”.
One of the oldest and most distinguished squadrons in the RAF, No.14 Squadron currently flies the Beechcraft Shadow R1 in the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance role in support of ground forces in Afghanistan. The squadron’s latest incarnation, therefore, has a remarkable parallel to its original formation in 1915 when it flew in support of the Army on operations in Arabia, most notably the Arab forces led by T.E. Lawrence.
It is hard to quantify the effectiveness of the Special Operations Executive in the overall military effort undertaken by Britain and her allies in the Second World War. The commanders of the regular services, particularly Bomber Harris, had little interest in this clandestine force and opposed the diversion of scarce resources to supporting SOE operations.
Such opposition came about through a misunderstanding of the role of SOE. The main objective of the SOE was to organise and arm the Resistance movements in occupied territory in anticipation of the Allied invasion of France and the Low Countries in the summer of 1944. Until D-Day no real appreciation of what the various Resistance groups could achieve was possible. After D-Day there was no doubt.