Tales from the Archive: Proud To Be - Black History Month 2021
This year, for Black History month, we are celebrating black Coventrians by shining a light on the rich story of the Hall family.
As part of The Coventry Lives Millennium Oral History Project, Coventry Archives interviewed Bill Hall, the descendant of Charles Adolphus Hall, one of the first Caribbean individuals to settle in Coventry, in 1905. Bill’s grandfather was a seaman and arrived in Britian from Barbados in 1901. He initially came to Clyde and worked there, later moving to Newcastle where he got married and had eight children, including Bill’s father, who was also called Bill. Bill himself was born in Coventry on a snowy night, in 1944, during the Second World War.
Charles Adolphus Hall (Bill Hall’s grandfather) and family.
It is an often-forgotten historical fact that African Caribbean people made significant contributions towards the WWII effort, including the Halls. Bill’s uncles joined the armed forces:
'They got the call and they went. They saw themselves very much as English and they went and fought for their king and country.'
Bob Hall joined the RAF and served in Iceland and Scotland. The family recall him bringing them back Harris tweed jackets after the war. Ray Hall joined the navy and was stationed in Bermuda. He experienced many horrific battles that affected him for years to come. Alf Hall joined the army and took part in the D-Day landings as well as serving in North Africa.
‘My uncle Bob was in the RAF and I think he made a sergeant. My uncle Ray was in the navy and he served on a destroyer and I know he was involved in the bombing of Plymouth. My uncle Alf was in the army and he was very young at the time and he was on the D-Day landing and I know he was in North Africa as well. He did actually go back and visit the places where he had been around the beaches around Normandy.’
Bill Hall joined the RAF Ray and Alf Hall as young scouts Ray Hall joined the Royal Navy
Bill's father was not in the forces as he had a reserved occupation as an aircraft woodworker but he was also an Air Raid Protection warden. An ARP warden would protect civilians from the dangers of air raids by helping people into shelter. They would also enforce blackout by patrolling the streets to ensure no lights were visible, to prevent the enemy from locating bombing targets. Following an air raid, ARP wardens were often the first on the scene, providing first-aid, putting out small fires, and organising emergency responses. Bill’s father was present during the Coventry Blitz.
Bill’s aunt Sylvia joined the Salvation Army which provided practical help and care for people affected by the bombing. Another aunt, Beatrice, worked at Roote’s car firm making munitions and had to fight to keep her job after the war. She felt that her employer tried to dismiss her from her well-paid position because she was black:
‘You know in the war they were only too pleased to employ anybody, anybody...was fit was required, but after the war...because Rootes became a well-paid employer they tried to actually get rid of her ‘cos they didn’t particularly want black people doing well paid jobs...and I think the sort of unions took up her case and so she worked there for a long time.’
Portrait of Sylvia Hall Sylvia Hall at The Salvation Army (presently at Upper Well Street)
Sylvia and Alf Hall in their Salvation Army uniforms Hall sisters Evelyn (left) and Beatrice (second right) made munitions and Sylvia (right) was in the Salvation Army
helping those affected by bombing.
After the war many of the Hall family continued in the building trade and helped to rebuild Coventry. Bill has fond memories of growing up in post-war Coventry and remembers the community spirit being ‘magnificent’.
‘Everywhere you went there’d be sort of, all the fields would have bomb craters in and they were just brilliant to play in, you know, real fun things to play on.’
Charles Adolphus Hall's brother had also left Barbados but had settled in America, where his son later joined the US army. Bill's family talked a lot about the visit of their American cousin Leopold who was stationed in Britain during the war. Leopold visited the family in Ball Hill and became the talk of the town!
Bill feels there has been a black presence in Britain for longer than most people realise5 and indeed it goes back as far as the Roman times. The arrival of African Caribbean people during the 1950s and 1960s was just one of the many waves of immigration. For further reading on this topic, Coventry Library holds noted seminal works such as Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain by Peter Fryer and Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga. The Library website features a list of fiction and non-fiction works pertaining to African Caribbean peoples, their history, communities, and the black experience, which can be accessed here: https://www.coventry.gov.uk/info/126/libraries/2753/search_renew_request_or_inter-library_loan_reserve/7
Bill’s oral history interview (PA2277/1/84) is part of a larger project where stories of other participants are available:http://coventrycollections.org/search/details/archive/110225794
By Vida Milovanovic, Archives Assistant, Coventry Archives
This blog has been written using excerpts from Bill Hall’s Coventry Lives Millenium Oral History Project interview.
All images subject to copyright ©Culture Coventry Trust/Coventry Archives