The 1897 View of the Recent ARRSE Furore

#1
I stumbled across this recently, and thought it worth posting in light of the recent hoo-ha about using proscribed words.

“Colonials at Chelsea for the Diamond Jubilee” – 1897

The Penny Illustrated, by “Trooper Tommy Atkins” – 19 June 1897

A display more calculated to impress a visitor with a sense of the vastness of our Empire and its responsibilities than at Chelsea Barracks on Friday, June 11, when HRH the Duke of Connaught inspected the Colonial contingents, could not well be imagined.

Never before have there been in London so many representatives of Old England’s bulwarks, troops from the Northern frontiers of India, from the Cape, the West Coast of Africa, Australia, Borneo, Cyprus, the West Indies, China, and the Straits Settlements, all in their characteristic and unfamiliar uniforms. Formed up on parade they were a motley crew so far as colour went, but anyone who knew a soldier when he saw one could not long remain in doubt as to the quality of these men, whether white, black, brown, or yellow.

The Cape Mounted Rifles, tall wiry fellows, with neat black kits and white tropical helmets, looked wonderfully smart; the Australians, Lancers and Riflemen, were magnificent specimens of the hard ‘wire and whipcord’ cornstalk; and the Haussas from Sierra Leone, the Niger, and the Gold Coast, nearly all wearing medals, were just the sort of men that one would like to have as a backing when in a tight corner.

The Duke of Connaught, who came with the Duchess, looking charming as she always does, made a critical inspection of the parade, and was evidently very much impressed with the soldierly bearing of the men. After the inspection came the March Past, which, if it was not done as precisely as by the Guards, was good enough, and he would indeed be a captious critic who found fault on this score with troops who, when in their own country, are too scattered and far too busy looking after the interests of the Mother Country to waste valuable time on the puerilities of the parade ground. As each detachment went by, the crowd of spectators applauded them heartily, and though a considerable proportion of the men did not understand English, they could not have had any doubt as to what was meant, and knew that their allegiance and loyalty to the ‘Great White Queen’ was appreciated, not only by a son of that Queen, but also by every one of her subjects, who was represented by the fashionable crowd assembled to see them and bid them welcome on their first official appearance in this country.

Thanks to the courtesy of the officers in charge of the various detachments, I had an opportunity, after the parade, of seeing the men ‘at home’ in their barrack-rooms, where the favourable impression gained on the barrack square was rather increased than otherwise. Of the Australians I can say no more than that they are as fine a lot of men as one would find in any regular regiment at home, and this applies to all the English-bred troops. Splendid in physique, too, are the negroes from the West Indies and Africa. They were all delighted at the attention they had received, and those who spoke English could find no words which expressed their gratitude adequately. The Dyaks of North Borneo, with their cousins the Malays, could not say anything understandable, but they smiled happily, and were greatly pleased to shake hands and show, at any rate, that there was no ill-feeling. It was quite a sight to see the fraternising that went on between our own Tommies and the visitors. The stalwart Guardsman is not a linguist – at least, he can’t ‘sling the bat’ with negroes and other natives, but he can ‘chum’ with them for all that, and he does. By means of a universal kind of sign language, he will sit for hours with one or two of his dusky brethren-in-arms and really understand what they would wish to say wonderfully well. Parrot-like, he will pick up a stray word or two of the “n***er’s” dialect – they are all called “niggers”, no matter what their colour – and they in turn acquire, perhaps, half-a-dozen words of English, quite enough to take them about.

The man who sees more of our visitors than any other is, perhaps, Garrison Sergeant-Major Sparkes, who looks after them in a most kindly fashion. All the non-coms who are brought into contact with him are his sworn allies; they admire his magnificent physique, and they appreciate his toleration for any little shortcomings, not that he has much to complain of on this score, as he says that he never met a more intelligent body of men than these negroes, and that if he gives a sergeant or other non-com an order, he can be perfectly sure that it will be carried out punctually and to the letter. This is indeed a high tribute to the training given the men by our young English officers abroad as they in many cases go out and are put in command of men who inherit from countless generations a hatred of law and order as understood by us and who, moreover, are often inclined to wage war among themselves on points of religious and racial difference.

The affection of the men for their officers is marked, and when I asked one or other of each black detachment how they liked their commanders and service under the Union Jack, they said that, “My lieutenant,” – or captain – “is the bes’ man livin’, sah!” and England was a “fine country and kind peoples”. Tommy thinks a great deal of the visitors, and they think a great deal of him.

A gigantic guardsman who was asked his opinion put the general feeling pretty well when he said, “They may call ‘em niggers, Sir, and all that, but from what I can see they are as white as the rest of us inside, and they can do their whack o’ graft too!” which, after all, is pretty considerable praise from a private soldier of Her Majesty’s Foot Guards, whose members are not prone to gush.



Colonial troops of the British Empire - Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, London 1897

“Colonials at Chelsea for the Diamond Jubilee” – 1897 | Abroad in the Yard
 
#2
One thing I found out today was there was two black members of D Coy Ox and Bucks who took Pegasus bridge.

I've heard about a West Indian and a Maori pilot in the RAF but anyone know how common black soldiers were in British Infantry units during WW2? I'm not talking the West African rifles etc but more your Devon/Sussex/west kent type regts.

I know there was a bit of "disquiet" between the yanks and the Brits on the segregation of black soldiers and more than one punch up over it.
 
#3
I know there was a bit of "disquiet" between the yanks and the Brits on the segregation of black soldiers and more than one punch up over it.
The Septics had form on that. In WW1, when paucity of numbers forced them to arm their black soldiers and put them into the field, no US officer was willing to take command and have the 'dishonour' of commanding Negroes on his record (many also feared that they would sooner train their arms on Whitey than on Fritz). As a result they were put under French command, the French no doubt being thought to have no honour of any note to besmirch. US command did however send along a sort of 'owners manual' to the French, telling them that Negroes must never be praised, complimented, socialised with or awarded any decorations, for fear that they would get 'uppity' as a result. The French, whose own views on race relations could have done with a lick of paint, were so dusgusted that they gathered all copies of the American orders together, and ceremonially set them alight.

NOt only did black Americans win a number of French gallantry awards, a fair few of them were sufficiently impressed with their treatment that they stayed in France, quite a few New Orleans types making their way to Paris and laying the foundations of the European jazz scene.

Verse1:

“Reuben, Reuben, I’ve been thinking,”
Said his wifey dear;
“Now that all is peaceful and calm,
The boys will soon be back on the farm;”
Mister Reuben, started wink-ing,
And slowly rubbed his chin;
He pulled his chair up close to mother,
And he asked her with a grin:


CHORUS [sung twice after each verse]
How ’ya gonna keep ’em, down on the farm,
After they’ve seen Pa-ree?
How ’ya gonna keep ’em away from Broad-way;
Jazzin’ a-’round’,
And paintin’ the town?
How ’ya gonna keep ’em away from harm?
That’s a mistery;
They’ll never want to see a rake or plow,
And who the deuce can parleyvous a cow?
How ’ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm,
After they’ve seen Paree?


Verse 2:

“Reuben, Reuben, You’re mistaken,”
Said his wifey dear;
“Once a farmer, always a jay,
And farmers always stick to the hay;”
“Mother Reuben, I’m not fakin’,
Tho’ you may think it strange;
But wine and women play the mischief,
With a boy who’s loose with change:”
 
#4
I only found out recently that Cy Grant, a well-known black singer in the UK the 60's was an RAF Fl. Lt. who served as a Navigator in Lancasters. He was shot down in 1943 and ended yup in Stalag Luft III.
 
#5
#6
One thing I found out today was there was two black members of D Coy Ox and Bucks who took Pegasus bridge.

I've heard about a West Indian and a Maori pilot in the RAF but anyone know how common black soldiers were in British Infantry units during WW2? I'm not talking the West African rifles etc but more your Devon/Sussex/west kent type regts.

I know there was a bit of "disquiet" between the yanks and the Brits on the segregation of black soldiers and more than one punch up over it.
Paras had a few, also one at Arnhem in Recce. First World War, Northumberlands had a few, which they called Burnt Geordies :)
 
#7
It's interesting that the word n**ger seems to have been regarded as pejorative even then:-

'A gigantic guardsman who was asked his opinion put the general feeling pretty well when he said, “They may call ‘em niggers, Sir, and all that, but from what I can see they are as white as the rest of us inside,'

The word 'may' gives it away. If the quote is accurate I find it quite surprising, I always thought such language was used innocent of the negative taint with which modern sensitivities have imbued it.
 
#8
I know there was a bit of "disquiet" between the yanks and the Brits on the segregation of black soldiers and more than one punch up over it.
I heard the same. Apparently if a group of white GIs walked into a bar any black servicemen had to leave the premises, which the Brits were none too impressed with.
 
#9
It's interesting that the word n**ger seems to have been regarded as perjorative even then:-

'A gigantic guardsman who was asked his opinion put the general feeling pretty well when he said, “They may call ‘em niggers, Sir, and all that, but from what I can see they are as white as the rest of us inside,'

The word 'may' gives it away. If the quote is accurate I find it quite surprising, I always thought such language was used innocent of the negative taint with which modern sensitivities have imbued it.

The term n***er only came into general usage as a pejorative term after WWIi, another American import. Darkies was the home grown term in general usage.
 
#10
I heard the same. Apparently if a group of white GIs walked into a bar any black servicemen had to leave the premises, which the Brits were none too impressed with.
And on occasions resulted in them getting a spectacular hiding when the GI's told British black soldiers to clear off. One of the things the Yanks did find troubling is the almost complete absence of overt racism in Britain in WWIi and the unwillingness of the British population to play by their segregationist rules.
 
#11
There were also a fair few Americans of the Baby Boom generation who were named 'Devon'.

Apparently this was as a result of their father being posted to that county whilst training for Overlord. It was the first place where they'd been treated as equals by the inhabitants, and many retained fond memories of the place as a result.
 
#12
And on occasions resulted in them getting a spectacular hiding when the GI's told British black soldiers to clear off. One of the things the Yanks did find troubling is the almost complete absence of overt racism in Britain in WWIi and the unwillingness of the British population to play by their segregationist rules.
I believe the problem was that the Construction Battalions (CB's) deployed to UK first of all to build the infrasturcture to house the huge numbers of fighting troops that were to arrive in time. The former were predominantly black and the latter, white. Consequently, when the whites did arrive, they found that the black soldiers has built up relationships with the local people who objected when the segregation rules were applied. This was particularly true in the more rural areas of England, such as the West Country, where there was no culture of racism - at that time.
 
#13
My First Squadron was 139 (Jamaica) Squadron, at RAF Wittering in the early sixties when the squadron re formed with Victor B2s. The connection with Jamaica got us a jolly over there for the independence celebrations; they had a thriving RAFA club in kingston that did a great hospitality and lethal rum punch.

Caribbean aircrew in the RAF during WW2 » DSO
 

RP578

LE
Book Reviewer
#14
Particularly liked this quote:
he would indeed be a captious critic who found fault on this score with troops who, when in their own country, are too scattered and far too busy looking after the interests of the Mother Country to waste valuable time on the puerilities of the parade ground.
'Puerilties' no less!

sunnoficarus said:
The term n***er only came into general usage as a pejorative term after WWIi, another American import. Darkies was the home grown term in general usage.
This is simply untrue. There are many sources from the Victorian era that confirm that the term 'n***er' was used in a pejorative sense towards both Africans and Indians (in this regard the British can claim to be more inclusive than the Americans). Most famously Edward VII whilst he was still the Prince of Wales during his visit to India in 1875-6, was appalled by the way that Britons there treated his mother's Indian subjects.

Byron Farwell in 'Armies of the Raj' said:
He found particularly offensive their habit of referring to Indians, "many of them sprung from great races, as 'niggers'"
 
#15
There was a thread on this some time back, started I think by discussion of a BBC programme on the W.Indies airmen, commemorated on the BofB memorial at Runnymede.

As for the post about US officers not wanting to command "coloured" troops, why do you think "Black Jack" Pershing was called that??
 
#16
The Septics took a while to recover from this inspirational bit of Army recruitment:

Muhammad Ali - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"In 1967, three years after Ali had won the World Heavyweight Championship, he was publicly vilified for his refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. Ali stated, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong... No Viet Cong ever called me n***er" – one of the more telling remarks of the era.[6]"
 
#18
The term n***er only came into general usage as a pejorative term after WWIi, another American import. Darkies was the home grown term in general usage.
Being a bit of a Kipling geek I'd like to dispute that slightly. In Kipling's work (set throughout the late 1800s) the uneducated squaddie often refers to any non-white person as a n***er. Despite the popularly held view that Kipling himself held racist views, even he recognised that using that word was a display of gross ignorance.
 
#19
This is simply untrue. There are many sources from the Victorian era that confirm that the term 'n***er' was used in a pejorative sense towards both Africans and Indians (in this regard the British can claim to be more inclusive than the Americans). Most famously Edward VII whilst he was still the Prince of Wales during his visit to India in 1875-6, was appalled by the way that Britons there treated his mother's Indian subjects.

I did say, 'general usage'. A black person would normally be referred to as a 'darkie' without any overt racism intended prior to the term n***er being introduced as the de facto way of addressing coloured people by the millions of white US troops.

You could still buy 'n***er brown' paint up until the 60's, it didn't mean Dulux was staffed by wall to wall racists.

Racism as it came to be in the UK was very much a learned and acquired habit by a people who were by and large pretty tolerant lot up until the 50's.
 
#20
Being a bit of a Kipling geek I'd like to dispute that slightly. In Kipling's work (set throughout the late 1800s) the uneducated squaddie often refers to any non-white person as a n***er. Despite the popularly held view that Kipling himself held racist views, even he recognised that using that word was a display of gross ignorance.
As I recall, we were debating the usage in the UK.
The general use if the term n***er to address black people by white US troops during WWII was widely regarded as shocking and offensive by the British.
 

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