Unveiling the Black Poppies

In remembrance of what happened.

In remembrance of what happened.

This year and last year, at the Tower of London and now at St George’s Hall in Liverpool we have been remembering those who fought in the Great War of 1914 to 1918.

At the Weeping Windows exhibition.

At the Weeping Windows exhibition.

Today in Liverpool I went to the unveiling of another exhibition that’s a part of Weeping Windows here and tells a story of those years and their aftermath that doesn’t often get told at all.

I have been to the Unveiling of the Black Poppies.

I have been to the Unveiling of the Black Poppies.

The main story tellers at this are Writing On The Wall, who you’ve met on here before working alongside us gathering the stories of Granby. Here’s what this story is about:

“The Black Poppy sculpture idea arose out of a Writing on the Wall heritage project which focuses on an archive of letters and documents highlighting the plight of black soldiers, seafarers, and workers in Liverpool following demobilisation in 1919. This archive contains the testimony of men from the Caribbean, West Africa and other colonial territories, who had fought for England on land and at sea during the Great War and were then left stranded, destitute and subject to racial violence on the streets of Liverpool.  The documents reveal a plight of daily racism and loss of jobs because of the boycott by white workers, a boycott often supported by the trades unions. This tension led to the race riots of 1919, which resulted in many serious assaults and attacks and the murder of Bermudian seafarer Charles Wootton. The Black Poppy sculpture is designed to raise awareness of the events of 1919 and the historic experience of Liverpool’s black community and to highlight the sacrifices made by Black families during the First World War and the period that followed.”

Just round the corner from the Weeping Window is Liverpool Central Library.

Just round the corner from the Weeping Window is Liverpool Central Library.

Where our stories live.

Where our stories live.

Our precious place, a public library.

Our precious place, a public library.

All around us it is Christmas time.

All around us it is Christmas time.

But we are here for a different story.

But we are here for a different story.

All set up and ready to go.

All set up and ready to go.

Madeline Heneghan of Writing On The Wall, our principal story teller for the day, begins.

Madeline Heneghan of Writing On The Wall, our principal story teller for the day, begins.

“In commemoration of the black contribution to World War One, over 100 black poppies have been hand crafted by members of the public under the guidance of renowned artist Faith Bebbington. Faith has taken these poppies and created this stunning art work that will be on display from today in the hub of Central Library as part of the City’s Weeping Windows experience.”

Artist Faith with Levi Tafari who has guided and supported the project.

Artist Faith Bebbington with Levi Tafari who has guided and supported the project.

Today, of course, taking place on the poem he created specially for this our central gathering place.

Today, of course, taking place on the poem he created specially for this our central gathering place.

Madeline talks about the community of volunteers who have collated and digitised the documentation of 1919 that the art work is based on.

Madeline talks about the community of volunteers who have collated and digitised the documentation of 1919 that the art work is based on.

Local Councillor Anna Rotheray talks of the importance of the contributions to the war effort being recognised and remembered.

Local Councillor Anna Rothery talks of the importance of the contributions to the war effort being recognised and remembered at last.

And now we are ready.

And now we are ready.

To see what Faith Bebbington and her artistic community of volunteers have created.

To see what Faith Bebbington and her artistic community of volunteers have created.

The unveiling of the Black Poppies.

The unveiling of the Black Poppies.

Over 100 hand made black poppies on a background collaged from copies of all of the documents of what happened.

Over 100 hand made black poppies on a background collaged from copies of all of the documents of what happened.

Beautifully done.

Beautifully done.

A story proudly and determinedly told.

A story proudly and determinedly told.

The names are remembered.

The names are remembered.

The places are remembered.

The places are remembered.

And reality is detailed.

And reality is detailed.

Prescisely detailed.

Prescisely detailed.

“I cannot get my civilian clothes from the tailor I had. I have only received until now the sum of £9.10.1d…”

It was the street names where everyone came from that choked me up.

It was the street names where everyone came from that choked me up.

Stanhope Street, Mill Street, Beaufort Street. The streets we walk along everyday where their footsteps are only memories now.

But today they are remembered.

But today they are remembered.

All who fought and those who died in the Grear War. As well as those who fought and were then turned on  by thousands of people in Liverpool when they came home. Today we collectively remeber them and remember and regret what happened.

With this beautiful sculpture.

With this beautiful sculpture.

In this beautiful place.

In this beautiful place.

Remembering with great respect.

Remembering with great respect.

Celebrating our young artists.

Celebrating our young artists.

In the great central storage house of our Liverpool culture.

In the great central storage house of our Liverpool culture.

The place where we keep our stories.

The place where we keep our stories.

While we were all here together we told many more stories.

While we are all here together we tell many more stories.

And were glad the story of what happened to the black people of Liverpool, for no good reason, in 1919 is now told and commemorated.

And are glad the story of what happened to the black people of Liverpool, for no good reason, in 1919 is now told and commemorated.

Then I went upstairs.

Then I go upstairs.

Here on the third floor, the Liverpool Records Office, are some of the actual documents from the time of this story.

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“The majority of these men are British subjects and saw service during the war as soldiers or sailors…”

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“And we particularly want to emphasise that during the period of England’s greatest danger…

Every inducement was given to these men to come into England. And they were led to believe that they were welcome in this country. This belief was first shattered in the riots of 1919.”

Details then being given of how they were rioted and set upon and ejected from their jobs and left stranded in a city that had asked them to come here.

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Many having come from the Caribbean,

Fought in the war or been given essential work in the sugar factories, processing the sugar grown by their own families in the Caribbean.

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Christmas Eve 1919. The Lord Mayor of Liverpool sounding reluctant.

The full archive of documents can be viewed here. And were in fact supplied to Writing On The Wall by Joe Farrag, seen many times on here doing so much work and good around Granby and Liverpool. Writing On The Wall talking about what Joe has given them:

“The archive covers the period 1919 to 1921 and relates to the position of black ex-servicemen, seamen and factory workers stranded or left destitute in Liverpool after the First World War. The archive includes letters and testimony from soldiers and merchant seamen from the West Indies and the Caribbean, who had fought for England on land and sea during the Great War of 1914, or had worked in factories in Liverpool, and had wives and children here. They were then subjected to verbal, physical and racial abuse on the streets of Liverpool which was compounded by institutional racism. The documents reveal a plight of daily racism and loss of jobs becaise of the boycott by white workers, a boycott often supported by the trade unions, and of being strnded in a country that no longer wanted them, even though they had fought for England during WW1 or contributed to the war effort. This tension led to the race riots of 1919, resulting in many serious assaults and attacks, and the death of Charles Wooton, a black seaman murdered by a white mob. The unique nature of this material is that it contains the written word of those ex-servicemen, sailors and workers who were being confronted with abuse and assault, while facing destitution.”

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“At the rising of the sun and its going down, we remember them”

And we will never, never ever forget.

And we will never, never ever forget.

Now we have unveiled the Black Poppies.

Now we have unveiled the Black Poppies.

Well done all. I was proud to stand with you in our Liverpool today.

‘The Black Poppies’ is on display on the ground floor of Liverpool Central Library from today, 19th December. Also, on the third floor in the Liverpool Records Office there is a display of some of the documents from the archive. Full archive can be viewed online here.

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Unveiling the Black Poppies

  1. John Savage

    Something I’ve never heard before and reflects badly on all those involved in the discrimination. A very shameful episode!

    Reply
  2. Pak

    There were also thousands of Indian and Chinese seamen who served the British during the 2 World Wars. The Chinese were badly vilified at the beginning of the 20th century(and onwards), accused of being immoral, unhygienic, cunning etc and seen as a threat to British society and branded the ‘Yellow Peril’.

    Reply

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