Nick Thomas-Symonds marked Black History Month by hosting an event at Trinity Methodist Church in Abersychan where he spoke about the all-black 320th Balloon Barrage Battalion, who were billeted at the church and served during the D-Day landings.
The event was attended by local Senedd Member Lynne Neagle, Torfaen Council Leader Anthony Hunt, local Councillor for Abersychan Lynda Clarkson, members of the Church, and descendants of one of the soldiers who stayed at the church.
The soldiers stayed in the basement of the church and were welcomed into the community by residents in Abersychan and Pontypool, a welcome change from the treatment they received in the segregated US Army. A plaque at Trinity Methodist Church was unveiled by the BBC commemorating the all-black American unit as part of their documentary series Black and British: A Forgotten History.
The story of the Black soldiers who stayed at Trinity Methodist Church is told in a book by Linda Hervieux, Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War, in which a solder describes Abersychan as a ‘temporary paradise’, compared to the treatment they receive at home.
Nick Thomas-Symonds spoke at the event of his pride of how the local community welcomed the soldiers with open arms, and the great courage they showed in serving on D-Day. Present at the event were Clare and Ann Johnson, who are descendants of one of the soldiers who stayed at the church.
Nick Thomas-Symonds commented: “It was an honour and a privilege to organise this event to mark Black History Month, and to welcome Clare and Ann to Trinity Methodist Church to speak in memory of their ancestors and the impact they had on people in Torfaen.
It is a source of pride that the people of Abersychan and Pontypool treated the soldiers with the dignity and respect they deserved.
This is an important story both in Black history, but also in Torfaen’s history, that unfortunately not enough people know about, and I hope it inspires more people to research our local history.”
Reverend Steve Boxall, from Trinity Methodist Church commented: “The way that Trinity Methodist church welcomed and sheltered the black GIs of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion reflects one of the important traditions of the Methodist church, that of service, and being a good neighbour, and challenging injustice.”