Under Fire

Black Britain in Wartime
The History Press, 2020


During World War II all British citizens were called upon to do their part for their country. Despite facing the discriminatory ‘colour bar’, many black civilians were determined to contribute to the war effort where they could, volunteering as air-raid wardens, fire-fighters, stretcher-bearers and first-aiders. Meanwhile, black servicemen and women, many of them volunteers from places as far away as Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana and Nigeria, risked their lives fighting for the Mother Country in the air, at sea and on land.

In Under Fire, Stephen Bourne draws on first-hand testimonies to tell the whole story of Britain’s black community during World War II, shedding light on a wealth of experiences from evacuees to entertainers, government officials, prisoners of war and community leaders. Among those remembered are men and women whose stories have only recently come to light, making Under Fire the definitive account of the bravery and sacrifices of black Britons in wartime.

‘Under Fire is one of those wonderful history books that covers the grand themes and makes the key points about the barriers to equality, and the efforts to challenge racism through the stories of individual men and women’ – The Historian

‘this is an absorbing introduction to the experiences of black men and women in the Second World War. Some of the names will be familiar – doctor and campaigner Harold Moody and cricketer and politician Learie Constantine – while others may be new discoveries. Racism is cited frequently but so, too, is extraordinary courage’ – BBC History Magazine

‘Giving insight to the complex attitudes from the past this is a valuable read, at times showing encouraging integration and at others downright racism in British society’ – Family Tree

‘Books such as Under Fire open the door to respecting and honouring the diversity in Britain’s war effort and, for that alone, Bourne should be congratulated’ – Camberwell Quarterly