Outside Holnicote House children’s home, Somerset, England. © Lesley York

The year is 1944 and Babs Gibson-Ward is just one of the 2,000 babies born to a white-British woman, with a black American GI father – someone who she had never met.

Sadly, Babs’ story resonates with a number of children born in Britain during World War Two, as author Lucy Bland discovered when researching for her latest book Britain’s ‘Brown Babies’: the stories of children born to black GIs and white women in the Second World War.

As part of Edge Hill University’s Festival of Ideas – a fortnight of talks, exhibitions, and performances – she was invited to introduce her book and answer questions from attendees in an intimate setting.

She explained the many restrictions, which prevented black GIs having relationships with, or marrying white-British women, including the segregation of pubs and dances, and the Adoption of Children Act 1939, which, under British law, prevented anyone who was not British to adopt a British child.

Other restrictions, the Cambridge-based author explained, weren’t legally enforced but soldiers would have to be granted permission to marry by their commanding officer. Permission that was often refused to black GIs, on the account that interracial relationships were not legally allowed in 30 of the 48 states at the time.

Launched in May 2019, the book delves into the stories of 45 of Britain’s ‘Brown Babies’ – a term coined by the American Press to describe the children of black GIs and white-British women, who were thought ‘too hard to place’ – and tells of the struggles growing up in a then very white Britain, ostracised by their community and biological families. 

The story of Leon Lomax was one of the few with a happy reunion, ending in him being officially adopted by his father, who lived in Ohio, USA. But for many who tried to trace their fathers, their searches were stopped in their tracks by a fire in 1973, which destroyed many documents.

Having interviewed the 45 people as part of her research, Lucy Bland puts their stories together with pictures and anecdotes, and is hoping to bring the stories to Liverpool as an exhibition. To read more about Lucy Bland and the book itself, visit https://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526133267/  

To read about other events and how you can get involved, visit the Festival of Ideas online programme.