Divided by Race,

United in War and Peace

Film and photography project brought to you by The-Latest.com

The Project

Welcome to our youth-centred photography and film project about race relations in Britain during and after the Second World War. At its core are the testimonies of 13 surviving veterans, particularly those West Indian and African young men and women who volunteered to join the war effort and soon afterwards returned to live in Britain. They risked their lives to serve under the British flag in times of war, then faced a second battle – their right to remain under that flag, as British citizens. Until now their stories have not been properly heard. Nor has the contribution they made been fully recognised, both in helping win the war but also changing the face of British society. This project, brought to you by The-Latest.Com, seeks to both redress that balance and explore the sometimes painful evolution of a multi-cultural society from a unique perspective.

  • From left: Neil Flanigan MBE, Lambeth councillor Judith Best and Peter Kempson
  • The West-Indian Association of Service Personnel (WASP) March-Pass, Parade and Commemoration
  • Queen and Ex-servicemen
  • Film advisory group meeting held at the Royal British Legion Paddington branch
  • Pupils from the Harris Academy Peckham talk with the veterans
  • Dave Fellows name written
  • Dave Fellows turret picture
  • RAF
  • Group shot
  • The Old Team

Our project explored the relationship between Caribbean and English World War Two servicemen and women against the backdrop of war. It documented the real-life experiences of 13 ex-servicemen. The hour-long film that was made recorded a frank exchange of views and discussion between the two groups, which has not been done before in the UK. Young volunteers were involved at every filming, photography, school assembly and historical research stage. They too held a dialogue with the veterans.

Ivy Chen, 82, is the sister of George “Busha” Rowe, who joined the RAF in Jamaica with Laurent Phillpotts in 1943. Rowe, father of Marc Wadsworth, and Phillpotts became good friends. Chen remembers her brother going off to war, leaving behind his childhood sweetheart, Daisy..

During World War Two black people from across the British Empire enthusiastically joined the army, navy and Royal Air Force and played their part in fighting Nazi 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 servicemen and women who supported the war effort. An exception is a book by Stephen Bourne, one of the consultants to the Divided by Race, United in War and Peace (DRUWP) project.

It is estimated the West Indies provided more than 16,000 volunteers to defend Britain from the Nazis in the Second World War. Thousands of them joined the Merchant Navy, taking part in dangerous convoys that kept supply routes open at sea. Five thousand Caribbean sailors were killed as German submarines, known as U-boats, destroyed many ships. In Bourne’s The Motherland Calls – Britain’s Black Servicemen and Women 1939-45 (The History Press, 2012) he states that nearly 6,000 West Indian men served with the RAF: 5,536 as ground staff and 300 as aircrew. Jamaica and Trinidad donated fighter planes, and the Jamaica Squadron and a Trinidad & Tobago Squadron resulted from this.

In the DRUWP film, we learn about the issue of race relations in the UK during the war years of 1939-45 from their perspectives, in oral and visual accounts. Archive material and experts, Stephen Bourne and Tony Warner, provide a wider context. We discover how far race relations in Britain have improved (or not) from those who were called on to fight in a war against Hitler’s fascism.

The Black Caribbean ex-servicemen and women recounted their journey from the islands to what they saw as their British “Motherland”; the circumstances they left behind; their understanding of the political world order at that time; their expectations of England and how they were received by ordinary English people; and their fears and aspirations for the future.

The white English ex-servicemen recall their life in England before the war; their hopes and dreams as young men and women at that time; and their experiences, however limited, of Black people and preconceived views of colonial territories such as the West Indies and their inhabitants.

Laurent Phillpotts, 90, left Jamaica to serve in the RAF in 1944 with George 'Busha' Rowe, landing at the port of Liverpool. He was sent to Filey's Camp, in north Yorkshire to train as ground crew, working in communications. He carried this through into civilian life, becoming a printer at the Daily Mirror and founded Colonial News.

The ex-servicemen and women discuss as a group the cultural barriers and racial tensions that may have affected the way in which they worked together in the war. As veterans they discuss the notion of Britain as a multicultural society and the vexed issue of immigration today. They all express their views about the rise of far-right political parties in the UK like the British National Party and in particular we learn how white English servicemen feel about the use of their wartime experiences in British National Party propaganda.

These stories are hidden histories that will be lost when the elders in our community pass away. That is why The-Latest.Com, Britain’s first dedicated citizen journalism website, embarked on this project to capture the narratives in a permanent form for posterity.

"Like so many of our people, we have now had a personal experience of German barbarity which only strengthens the resolution of all of us to fight through to final victory."
King George VI

Veterans Who Told Us Their Stories

Commander of 1st British Airborne Division - (Commenting on the British defeat at Arnhem) - January 1945:
"The losses were heavy, but all ranks would willingly undertake another operation under similar conditions…We have no regrets."
Major General Robert Urquhart

An Army Under My Window

Daniel Knowles, assistant comment editor, Telegraph Online.

Veterans, service men and women, cadets and local dignitaries after the WASP march.

I awoke this morning, slightly bleary-eyed, to find an army outside. For a second, I thought a war must be on but then it transpired that most of the camouflage-clad young men and women standing in neat rows were about 15, ­ all cadets. Then there were some dignified old West Indian gentlemen in dress uniforms, and a detachment of perhaps twenty real soldiers led by a man with a stick. I found some trousers and wandered outside. It was a commemoration for West Indian servicemen. And under my window!

Pretty soon, an order went up and the assembled teenagers, grandfathers and soldiers began marching towards Brixton Town Hall, five abreast, blocking off traffic. On the pavements, children and adults stood and cheered. Then several dignitaries gave speeches, before a minute’s silence. One man praised the West Indies veterans' organisation which organised the march: "we cannot rely on anything other than this spirit of endurance and our own endeavour". The Jamaican High Commissioner paid homage to West Indians "serving around the world, wherever the Union flag is flying" and to Jamaica's pride in its history and its part in the Commonwealth.

And I realised, as I watched this spectacle take over Brixton, that these hundred or so teenagers are a much fairer representation of the area than their contemporaries who hang out in children's parks smoking dope. They're more normal than the few hundred who came through smashing windows and stealing televisions in the 2011 riots.

Most of the Caribbean mothers standing around the edges were the sort you see arguing over the price of meat in the butchers' shops on Electric Avenue, watching proudly as their children spent their Sunday morning standing to attention to honour British soldiers.

We in the media are not switched on enough to things like this. Places like Brixton mostly get attention from journalists when riots break out, or when someone is murdered, or as part of angst-filled social commentaries written from the worst estates. It's important to cover those things, of course, and if all anyone wrote about was how happy the world is, the newspaper industry would be far closer to death than it already is. But it is too easy to think of areas like Brixton purely as poverty-struck, crime-ridden, welfare-dependent sink holes. They're not.

When I hear politicians use phrases like the "broken society", as David Cameron still occasionally does, it makes me deeply uneasy. What amazes me is how well things are actually still working, especially when you consider the state of the economy. Sure, we've got problems, but I'm inclined to agree with the Army officer I spoke to this morning: I suggested that this is a pretty good show of why society isn't broken. He cheerily replied that all these politicians "are talking out of their f***ing a***s".

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.”
Winston Churchill


"Divided By RACE, United in WAR & PEACE - The Untold Story"

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Team


Senior South African Broadcasting Corporation TV executive, who acquired the one-hour film, enthusiastically told Côte Ouest Audiovisuel (http://bit.ly/1HcLHQk) distributor whom she inspired to take the movie afterwards: "It is a great documentary."

The film was shown to critical acclaim at the prestigious Tri-Continental Film Festival held in South Africa, where it was an "official selection" as well as at the Samosa Film Festival in Kenya, and MipDoc film fair at Cannes, France.
In Britain, there’s been fulsome praise for the film from TV commissioning editors. Jo Clinton Davis, ITV’s controller of factual programmes, described it as "strong and significant". The History Channel's Adam MacDonald said it was "a lovely show".
The BBC's former chief creative officer Patrick Younge applauded its "really good stories". Julia Harrington, in Specialist Factual at Channel Four, said she "loved the idea" of the film.
Carol Sennett, head of Factual Acquisitions at the BBC, remarked it was "a deeply neglected subject" and she found the piece "compelling".
Top media pundit Roy Greenslade, of the Guardian, has given the film favourable mention as has The Voice newspaper. And the widely read New African magazine gave it a five page features spread.

Today we may say aloud before an awe-struck world: "We are still masters of our fate. We are still captain of our souls."
Winston Churchill


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Photography: Brian Usher, Oliver Barrett, Marlon Ruddock and Steve Haisman
Producer and Director: Marc Wadsworth