Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where Were the Black People at Dunkirk?

The UK is currently commemorating the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk. There will be a celebration in Dunkirk later this week.

In case you are not sure what this refers to, in 1940, during the early days of the Second World War, Britain and France suffered defeat at the hands of Germany, and their troops were stranded on the French beaches at Dunkirk.

More than 900 little ships came from Britain, evacuated the British and French forces and ferried them across the Channel to safety. They were able to rescue thousands of troops over the course of several days. This is often reported as an example of wartime British bravery and comradeship.

What is rarely talked about is the fact that many troops in the French Army were from Africa, and the little ships refused to take the Black soldiers. They left them on the beaches for the Germans to capture, and many ended up in Auschwitz. Senegalese director Sembene Ousmane mentions this in his film Camp Thioroye, which is based on the true story of a massacre of African soldiers by the French Army during the war.

To read more about the experiences and contribution of Black people to the war effort, see: Hidden Histories: Black People in World War II.

See also: London Black History Walks

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