That this racism was allowed to play itself out on British soil is a stain on the record of Britain’s government, with its cowardly failure to protect not just British law, but also the many black British and colonial subjects who found themselves caught up in the hostile attitudes of white Americans. For a short while, such global race politics were concentrated in a town in wartime Cornwall, and this is what makes Werran’s book so fascinating.
There are all the makings of an absorbing feature film here. You can imagine what, say, Alan Bennett might make of the combination of military ritual and a quaint seaside setting. Werran makes heavy weather of the narrative; her prose is often clumsy and the chronology, leaping back and forth, sometimes makes it hard to keep track of the legal and political details. But she has assembled a fascinating collection of vignettes of a nation under arms... Tales of civil rights injustice often revolve around one vivid human story. This one is constructed around 14 ciphers. But that, in a way, is eloquent testimony to how powerful and all-embracing Jim Crow rules once were.