Author Talk: Black Poppies
6 December 2014, Library of Birmingham
A talk and discussion by the author Stephen Bourne to celebrate the publication of his book Black Poppies, Britain’s Black Community and the Great War, published in 2014 by The History Press
We were extremely pleased to welcome Stephen Bourne to the Library of Birmingham to celebrate publication of this important book. Stephen began his talk by telling us about his family background and childhood in Peckham in the 1960s. Stephen’s adopted aunt, Esther, a Black working-class woman, had been born in London in 1912 and their relationship gave Stephen an awareness of the Black presence in Britain long before the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in 1948. By 1914 Britain was home to at least 10,000 black Britons, many of African and West Indian heritage. Most of them were loyal to the ‘mother country’ when the First World War broke out. Despite being discouraged from serving in the British Army, men managed to join all branches of the forces, while black communities contributed to the war effort on the home front. By 1918 it is estimated that Britain’s black population had trebled to 30,000, as many black servicemen who had fought for Britain decided to make it their home. Stephen makes great use of historical records and has researched intensively to present us with first-hand accounts of soldiers who fought, but also Black men and women living on the Home Front. Stephen’s talk ended with discussion of the race riots that took place in Liverpool, Cardiff and London in 1919, resulting in the death of at least one Black man, who was forced into the docks in Liverpool and drowned. After the talk the audience discussed various issues that had been raised.
We are grateful to Stephen for coming to Birmingham and we look forward to welcoming him back to a discussion event on Britain’s Black Community in the First World War at the end of January 2015.