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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 May, 2004, 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
Black veterans' war role highlighted
Veterans of WWII attended the launch
A campaign to create a permanent record of the contribution made by African and Caribbean people during World War I and II has been unveiled at London's Imperial War Museum.

The campaign, led by Black British Heritage (BBH), hopes to raise funds to create documentary evidence of the achievements of the hundreds of thousands of Africans and Caribbean people from then British colonies who volunteered to fight for the "mother country".

During World War I more than 15,000 West Indian volunteers enlisted in the British West Indies Regiment, battalions from which served in France, Palestine, Egypt and Italy.

I see quite a lot of war documentaries on television but very few black faces

Ken Martindale, Black British Heritage

More than 300,000 Africans fought for Britain in World War II and more than 50,000 people from the Caribbean enlisted for duty.

But Ken Martindale of BBH told BBC News Online very little had been written about them and their role was in danger of being forgotten.

"What we're hoping to eventually achieve are books, cds, videos, so that we see more of the contribution that black people played when documentaries are shown on television.

"I see quite a lot of war documentaries on television but very few black faces, maybe one or two as a fleeting glance and I think that's an imbalance that needs to be redressed," said Mr Martindale.

'Not aware'

Historian and Imperial War Museum consultant Ben Bousquet agreed the role of black people in the two world wars had been largely undervalued by historians.

"If you think of the size of the Caribbean before and during the war and the investments the Caribbean put into Britain winning the war, it was bigger man per man and pound per pound than any other country in the world," he said.

Laurent Phillpot served in the RAF during WWII
Among the guests at the launch were a few with first hand experience of serving Britain in World War II.

Lilian Bader, 86, an aircraft instrument repairer, was one of three generations of her family to serve in Britain's armed forces.

"I was in the first batch of women who were chosen to be trained in what had until then been a man's skill so the men could be released for overseas duties.

"I was the only coloured one - in those days we didn't say black because it sounded rude - but it didn't really bother me," she said.

But the former history teacher said she was dismayed by the lack of recognition since given to the part black people played in helping Britain win the war.

That was also the view of Laurent Phillpot, who came from Jamaica to the UK to serve as a teleprint operator in the RAF.

"I think British people weren't aware of what the West Indians or the black people contributed, they didn't really give us that kind of appreciation, although there were a few who were pleased to see us."

Queen honours 'forgotten' soldiers
06 Nov 02  |  England

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