Britain Discloses WWII Notes
British World War II troops were told to show respect for the U.S. Army’s racial segregation practices, according to government documents published today.
Other documents released for the first time show that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was determined to have Adolf Hitler executed if captured, and that he favored letting Mohandas K. Gandhi die if he went on a hunger strike while interned during the war.
The guidelines about U.S. soldiers were issued after agonized debate within Churchill’s Cabinet over how to deal with American rules.
Black British troops, most from colonial outposts, shared facilities with their white counterparts, but white American soldiers ate and slept separately from their black comrades.
The Cabinet meeting records showed British officials were eager to avoid clashes in protocol between the Allied forces. But they were also unwilling to cause friction among British troops by segregating their own barracks and canteens.
In October 1942, Churchill told the Cabinet that the views of the United States must be considered.
“Nothing to stand between U.S. [officer] and his troops: We mustn’t interfere,” notes of the meeting record him saying.
Home Secretary Herbert Morrison agreed but added, “What I won’t have is [British] police enforcing their rules for them.”
Secretary of State for War James Grigg insisted that “we won’t discriminate in our canteens.”
The documents also chart other 1942-45 Cabinet discussions over how to deal with senior members of Hitler’s Nazi party if they were caught.
“Contemplate that if Hitler falls into our hands, we shall certainly put him to death,” Churchill said at a Cabinet meeting in December 1942, according to notes taken by Deputy Cabinet Secretary Norman Brook.
“This man is the mainspring of evil,” Churchill said.
In April 1945, Morrison, the home secretary, said a “mock trial” for Nazi leaders would be objectionable. “Better to declare that we shall put them to death,” he said.
Churchill agreed that a trial for Hitler would be “a farce.”
Gandhi’s fate was discussed when he went on a hunger strike while interned during World War II.
Britain was unwilling to allow Gandhi to campaign against the war at a time when India, then a British colony, was under threat of invasion by the Japanese.
Gandhi was held in the Aga Khan palace in August 1942 after speaking out against India’s involvement in the fight against Nazi Germany and demanding civil disobedience.
After much discussion, ministers decided in January 1943 that although they could not publicly give in to a hunger strike, they would be willing to release Gandhi on compassionate grounds if he seemed likely to die.
Churchill retorted, “I would keep him there [in prison] and let him do as he likes.”
Gandhi was freed in 1944.