EXCL Labour blasts lack of apology over pay 'discrimination' for black soldiers who served in World War Two

Posted On: 
19th March 2019

Ministers have been accused of failing to acknowledge a "historic debt" to black soldiers who served in World War Two amid claims they were paid significantly less than their white comrades.

A band leads soldiers of the Coldstream Guards carrying flags of the 53 Commonwealth countries along The Mall outside Buckingham Palace.
Credit: 
PA Images

Files unearthed from Britain's national archives by an Al-Jazeera documentary team last month showed that more than half a million black African soldiers who fought the Nazis had lower pay rates than white comrades of the same rank.

The documents showed that soldiers were paid according to the colour of their skin as well as their length of service and rank.

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But PoliticsHome can reveal that a letter from Shadow Cabinet members Emily Thornberry, Nia Griffith and Dan Carden sent to their Tory opposite numbers on 13 February highlighting the "shameful episode" has still not received a response.

The three frontbenchers had urged the Government to recognise the public's "strong desire" to ensure just treatment to Commonwealth citizens who have contributed to the country in the wake of the Windrush scandal.

They added: “There will therefore be righteous anger and concern amongst the British public at these latest revelations, and also a sense of urgency – given the age an relatively small number of surviving veterans affected -that they should receive at least a thorough investigation and acknowledgement into their unfair treatment, a formal apology and if feasible, financial compensation before it is too late.”

A 100-year-old veteran, Eusebio Mbiuki, who is living in poverty in rural Kenya, is also quoted in the letter. He had told Al Jazeera: "When I got out, they gave me nothing…we were abandoned just like that."

The issue was flagged in a Commonwealth Day debate in the Commons earlier this month, with Africa Minister Harriett Baldwin promising that the Government would "respond in due course".

A Government spokesperson said: “The UK is indebted to all those servicemen and women from Africa who volunteered to serve with Britain during the Second World War.

“Their bravery and sacrifice significantly contributed to the freedoms that we all enjoy today.”

But Shadow Foreign Office minister Liz McInnes told PoliticsHome: “I am shocked and disappointed that the Government has still not responded to the letter sent by the three Shadow Secretaries of State – despite it being more than a month since they received it.

“We owe a historic debt to members of the Commonwealth.

“That black African soldiers were paid just a third of the amount of their white African counterparts is simply wrong.

“Many of the soldiers who faced discrimination are still alive, but are yet to receive even an apology from the Government.

“They deserve an official acknowledgement and an apology at the very least. This is a wrong that needs putting right urgently. The Government can’t just bury it and hope it will go away.”