Foundation Archivist, Charlotte Gallant shares a few words about a recent event that took place to commerate the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.
On Friday 23 June we were honoured to receive some very special visitors to the King Edward’s School site…
During the Second World War parts of the King Edward’s School site were requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence. The Girls and Boys independent schools were still in the process of being built following the decision to move from New Street to Edgbaston, but large wooden buildings had been assembled on the school playing fields in which lessons could be taken.
These were the aptly named ‘Temporary Buildings’ of which we still have some photographs of:
As most children were evacuated in 1939, these buildings were free to be used by the MOD to house large military units, the most famous being the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. This was the only unit designated as a predominately African American battalion of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) to serve in Europe during World War II. It consisted of 855 women under the command of Major Charity Adams – the highest-ranking black women in the US Army during the war. Their motto was “no mail, no morale” and their task was to sort the millions of pieces of undelivered letters and parcels between the troops and their loved ones. The hope was that by reminding soldiers what they were fighting for, their fighting spirit would be boosted and morale improved.
Nearly 80 years later, relatives of those who served in the 6888 Battalion- their sons, daughters, grandchildren, grandnieces and grandnephews, came to visit King Edward’s School and see where their ancestors worked.
The day started with a presentation by Helen Murdoch on the work of American and British women’s organisations such as the Air Transport Auxiliary and the Women’s Army Corps. Helen is the founder of ‘Women at War’ – an educational organisation which explores the history of women’s roles in conflict. She described the work the women would have done while wearing the same type of clothes they would have worn in 1945.
After some tea we then took the group to Big School and then down past the original site of the temporary buildings on the playing field to visit the blue plaque dedicated to the battalion, situated on the Bristol Road. Original footage from the 1940s shows Major Charity Adams inspecting the troops in this very location and our best was done on the day to recreate this, again with retired Army Colonel Edna leading the way.
To see this being recreated was surprisingly emotional. The tours unofficial tagline, coined by one descendants is ‘Walking In Her Shoes’. To visit somewhere where a late family member worked during the war, away from their home country and often in real danger of bombing. To stand where they stood, to see the trees and some of the buildings they would have seen. To gain some perspective of what a mother or grandmother had and to have that connection to events 78 years ago was very moving for many of the visitors. There was a lot of reminiscing and even a few tears.
The day was part of a legacy tour, organised by Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours. The journey started in Glasgow harbour which is where the women of the Battalion landed after days of trying to avoid German submarines. After their time at King Edward’s School, the party left us to inspect some of the postal warehouses the 6888th women visited to collect and drop off mail. After this they are travelling to Rouen and Paris where the battalion was billeted after Birmingham.
The 6888 Battalion was the only predominately African-American WAC unit of World War Two which makes them a unique part of military history. It was a moving experience to be a part of and an important part of the Foundations history.
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was a remarkable group of women who made significant contributions to the war effort. Their story is also being told in an upcoming Netflix film, Six Triple Eight, starring Kerry Washington and Oprah Winfrey, which is scheduled to be released later this year.