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Aliens in Wartime: A Case Study of Tyneside 1939–45 by Craig Armstrong

This article focuses on regional areas of Britain rather than Britain as a whole, which is stated to have had a strengthened national identity as a result of the Second World War at the expense of racial and ethnic minority groups. With particular attention given to attitudes towards immigrants in Tyneside, Armstrong demonstrates that although this area had refused the British Fascists, racial prejudice was still widespread.

Within the article Armstrong provides detail surrounding refugees and their experiences in Tyneside as well as the reaction from residents and local authorities. An example he gives is at the start of the war when internment was up for discussion. With refugees flooding into Britain, the majority being Jewish, the conservative press such as The Daily Mail became concerned that many of them were enemy Nazi agents and in 1940 ran various articles which backed the internment of all aliens. Armstrong highlights how such campaigns by the press were favoured by the Tyneside community and had influenced large numbers of people in supporting internment and the restrictions placed on enemy aliens. When they were interned, this had a huge impact on companies. Armstrong gives the example of the Austrian engineer Heinrich Ernst Beck who had left Austria in 1936 to work for Angus George and Company in London and was relocated to Newcastle in 1938. At the start of the war, Beck was given permission to remain in Britain, however had significant restrictions imposed on him. He was eventually arrested and interned with his colleague, Ferdinand Hebelka in 1940. Both men were sent to a camp in South Devon prior to being sent to Canada aboard the Arandora Star where they were both killed.

Armstrong also demonstrates the hostility towards black ethnic minorities which is shown in a Colonial Office Report that found a great deal of prejudice towards coloured seamen in Tyneside where, “coloured men on land remained in a perpetual state of un-employment, as the white man considered them only fit to perform the most menial task in a segregated atmosphere of a cargo ship at sea”. Armstrong goes onto identify the work of the Colonial Office, Mr Bullied, Mr Minto and Mr Larbi who all assisted in the welfare of the black community and served to improve the attitudes of the white population of Tyneside.

The Irish were also a group looked on with suspicion as a result of the IRA campaign prior to the war. However, Armstrong notes that in Tyneside the Irish were an assimilated part of the local community and did little to cause any anxiety.

The article concludes that overall, there were significant tensions between the Tyneside local community and immigrant groups. Despite a willingness to show toleration of minority groups, there still remained a prejudice and negative attitudes. The liberal attitude remained to an extent; however this was tarnished in 1940 due to fear and doubts over the contribution of certain minority groups.     

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