Great War to Race Riots – Madeline Heneghan

We’ll never understand the true nature of our country if we don’t know everything about it.

I try to read as much on the British Empire so that I can truly understand the positives and the negatives. The fact of the matter is that it has happened, and we cannot change history, but we can inform ourselves about the foundations upon which this nation was built.

It is difficult to understand why people still argue in favour of the British Empire. It’s the cost of lives, cost of the world’s culture and tradition which I cannot accept. Nations were not given a chance to prosper on their own accord.

The only way you can make an informed decision on the question of the Empire is to read books from historians across the globe whose nations have been affected by the Empire. 

Quick thought on immigration: If the most powerful country in the world flexes their muscles by taking over the globe and then tells people that Britain is where the wealth is at, and due to you being part of our commonwealth, you’re allowed into the country.

If you were broke, had skills in which they were asking for, would you follow the money?

Throughout school, we were taught about UK’s history. This included the great world wars, the plague, the Tudors, the great fire of London, and were led to believe that this is the only history the UK has worth mentioning.

Walter Tull (left) with fellow soldiers

I didn’t hear anything about the great riot of 1919. I believe that this dark chapter is something we should be taught. Not to tell the story of how horrible Britain is, but to remember the person who tragically lost his life.

Black soldiers fought in the First World War?!?

I was in my twenties old when I learnt that black people fought in World War 1 for Britain. Don’t judge me, I have spoken with many other people who also did not know.

This book gave great insight from the soldiers. It explored their treatment before, during and after the war. 

These soldiers were fighting for their ‘mother country’ in the hope that this would change the status of their country within the empire. Some countries were sold on promises that fighting in the war would also change the way that they were governed by the empire.

Regions under colonial rule thought that support for the British empire during WW1 would return free rule of their country. Therefore influential people such as Marcus Garvey and Gandhi told their people to fight and support Britain in this war, as well as vocalising their support for the monarchy.

Book Cover: Great War to Race Riots

The main reason why I read this book was because of a name, Charles Wootton. Through research for my own book, his name was one which popped up a lot.

His was a life that was taken too soon, and in a horrific way.

I won’t go into it as I won’t do it justice on the blog, but this is a story you should definitely read up on. If you have read his story, what do you think about it? Are there any other similar stories we should read?

The book includes written accounts from Black people across the UK during those times, and I truly consider myself lucky not to have experienced such hate on that scale. Imagine imposing a curfew on yourself so that you do not come across a group of people looking to harm you because of the colour of your skin?

Seeing some of the videos shared across social media following the marches of June 2020, there was a mob mentality which had the potential to boil over fatally in the UK as it had done in America – and continues to do so in America

As once Kanye West OT rapped in Jesus Walks “Racism is still alive, they ain’t just concealing it” is so prevalent. I hope that this movement truly brings change for the better, and not just a phase.

British Media

One final note on the British media. Looking at the newspaper clippings from that time, we understand how the British media viewed blacks and foreigners. Some of the language used is disgraceful and upsetting to read.

These are national newspapers, some of which are still running today. You begin to understand that although times have changed, attitudes haven’t. Certain press publications still use offensive language toward black people, and get away with it.

The book highlights Britain’s xenophobic attitude towards the ‘outsider’, whilst drawing parallels detailing how non-white people are viewed in 2020. Attitudes such as blaming the foreigner for the lack of jobs available to the British people, with the media using the foreigner as a scapegoat for the rise in crime rate.

National newspapers portrayal of migrants – Funny the Government continuously use migrants as a deflection for their shortcomings. It’s a shame the British public lap it up, blame the migrants and the Government get away with it

I’m really glad that I came across this book while researching for my book. Otherwise this would be another chapter of British history that I never would never know. Or shall I say, WE never knew cos you’re about to read this book!

Let me know what you think in the comments. Did you know that black people fought in World War 1?


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