In the summer of 1944 one of the most important Military Campaigns of the 20th century took place on the French coastline of Normandy. That effort would ultimately lead to the liberation of Europe, and signal the beginning of the ending of WWII. The date was June 6th, also known as D-Day, and while the exploits of the allied campaign have long been lauded, the role service men and women of African Heritage played in the allied victory is not often acknowledged.
Whether they were from Continental Africa, the Caribbean, or African American soldiers, it easy to overlook the contribution of these unsung heroes and heroines.
An example of this is over 30,000 WWII African American Service Personnel were based in Wales as a lead up to D Day. They were based in places as far afield as Cardiff, Swansea, Barry, Abergavenny, Aberystwyth, Pontypool and Pembroke. One of the explanations giving for their lack of historical representation is that the US army was separated along the lines of race at that time, and many of the American GIs brought with them their home-grown prejudices.
Back in the US, African Americans could not travel in the same railway carriages, drink from the same water fountains or eat at the same cafes due to segregation and Jim-Crow laws. However, the American GIs were surprised and disappointed to discover that the people of Wales were far more welcoming of their African American countrymen than had been bargained for. In Wales, the Black GIs – the “tan Yanks” as they were affectionately known, were seen as Americans first.
One such group of African American servicemen were an aircrew based in Pembrokeshire, South Wales who arrived in the Spring of 1944. Among them were air and balloon pilots, and non-combat personnel like engineers, supply and transport staff. Some of their comrades were based not too far away in Pontypool, and it was this contingent i.e. the unheralded 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion that provided the cover and protected allied troops from aerial attack at the start on 6th June 1944 D Day campaign.
To commemorate the role of these service personnel a Special Blue Plaque will be installed on the 6th June 2019 at RAF Carew Cheriton, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D Day Landings. The D Day Plaque will be installed on a War Bunker/Air Raid Shelter which is part of RAF Carew Cheriton Museum.
Mayor of Pembroke Dock, Councilor Gordon Goff, said:
“I am proud to have been invited to unveil the 75th Anniversary D Day Plaque, we at Pembroke Dock Town Council would like to thank the service personnel for their contribution whilst being based in Pembrokeshire and would like to thank the sponsors for supporting and arranging the ceremony.”
Where: RAF Carew Cheriton: Carew Airfield, Carew, Pembrokeshire, SA70 8SX
When: 6th June 2019
Time: 14:00 – 15:00
Chief Executive of Race Council Cymru, Mrs Uzo Iwobi OBE, said:
“Race Council Cymru is delighted that the contributions of African American, African and Caribbean servicemen and women are going to be acknowledged and marked with a historic D Day Plaque. This is long overdue and will go a long way to honour and recognise these significant and life changing contributions which ought to be better acknowledged. This is an exciting time for our Black History communities across Wales.“