Somerset's first black councillor speaks on growing up as a GI baby

  • Watch Richard Payne's report

Dave Greene was Somerset's first black councillor. He spent more than 20 years in local government, first as a Yeovil town councillor, then South Somerset district councillor and finally as a Somerset County councillor.

But long before his start in local politics, Dave struggled with his identity as the only black man in his family.

He was the child of an American soldier who was stationed in Yeovil and a local woman.

During the second world war, around 100,000 black American troops known as GIs, or General Infantry, arrived in the UK.

Dave kept in touch with his father who lived in the US

Mr Green's mother and father met at a dance he organised in Yeovil. His father was a career soldier in the US Army and had to return to the US shortly after.

Talking of his mother and father, Dave said: "I believe that he wanted her to go to the States, but not a good idea was it? Not back then, going over there, marrying a black guy? No, no."

His dad was a photographer in the army and went on to photograph the likes of Martin Luther King and several black performers. He eventually set up a newspaper in the US.

Although Mr Green never met his father as a child, they kept in touch through his childhood with regular letters and he helped out financially.

But Dave was not without the love and guidance of a father closer to home, his stepdad, a local man by the name of William 'Jock' Gartshore took on that role. A man who he still calls dad to this day.

"He chose to be my dad," Dave said.

Dave says his stepdad brought him as his own

Mixed-race babies born to GIs were nicknamed 'brown babies' in the press and there was societal pressure on mothers to give them up.

In Somerset, many of the babies born were taken in by the local council and placed in a temporary nursery called Holnicote House.

Mothers who relinquished their babies hoped that they would be adopted, but 'brown babies' were 'hard to place' according to adoption agencies at the time.

Dave said his mum was "extremely strong" for choosing to keep him when family members encouraged her not to.

Dave's mother was a single parent for four years before meeting and marrying Dave's stepdad

Mr Green's mother met and married his stepfather in 1950 when Dave was just four years old. He says that he counts himself lucky to have two men in his life whom he both considered to be his father.

Mr Green refers to his biological dad as his father and his stepfather as his dad. He has nothing but praise for his stepfather, who was a constant source of support and encouragement.

When Dave was born, the social stigma of having a mixed-race child out of wedlock came at a price for his teenage mother, but with her new husband Jock by her side, she fought to keep her baby.

"People shouted out to her, particularly if she was with my father. I feel now that there were things said that did actually stay in my mind. I guess it's the power of words."

Growing up in Somerset, Dave says his upbringing was generally happy but punctuated with racism at school and later in an effort to get a job.

He described one instance that has stayed with him all of his life. At 16 he went to a job interview and was told that he had secured the position. However, having come home with the good news that evening, there was a knock at the door. His stepfather opened it to the man who had interviewed Mr Green earlier that day. He said they could no longer give him the job.

He said: “We've been told by the head office in Bristol that employing someone like that won't work. So, I'm sorry, he hasn't got the job.”

Dave says he's lucky to have had two dads

Dave lost contact with his biological father as a young teen and didn't reconnect until much later in life. He was in his 50s before making contact with his father over the phone.

"Friends said I should have got in touch with him but it didn't happen until much later when I phoned him. We talked on the phone for hours, as if we'd always known each other.

"I said 'were you ever in Somerset or in England during the war?'

"He said 'what Yeovil, Somerset?'

"And I said 'Yeah'.

"He said 'do you know Joan Bagwell?'

"I said, 'yes I do. She's my mum and you're my dad'."

This photo was taken during Dave's trip to New York in 1999

The conversation between the two then stretched out for hours and in the summer of 1999, he took a trip to New York with his wife to finally meet his father.

"I said I'd get out to the States to meet him but he asked me to wait a while. I think he hadn't told everyone out there I existed!

It was the only in-person meeting they had before his father's death in 2010.

"Genes are pretty powerful things. I am so much like him, which my mother always said. When my wife and I arrived in Queens, New York, it was totally revealing.

"When I met him it was strange, I felt like I was a little boy. Even though I was coming up to 53 at the time. I met my two other brothers and saw some of their mannerisms which were just like our own son's."