AN unsung and often forgotten legacy left behind in Dorset by the Second World War is examined on stage over the coming weeks.

Written and performed by State of Play theatre company, GI Joe in Dorset is the story of the black American soldiers who were billeted in the county during the build-up to D-Day.

The play pulls together several strands of history used by local author Louise Adjoa Parker for her book 1944 We Were Here: African American GIs in Dorset and turns it into one bittersweet story.

GI Joe links two apparently unrelated stories from Dorset’s history.

Pete, played by Moses Hardwick, is a man of few words who works hard to make a living. But a phone call out of the blue causes him to reflect on his past and rethink his identity.

Meanwhile, in 1944, young GI Joe (Anyebe Anteyi) arrives in Dorset with his tank regiment, the Black Panthers, feeling homesick and perplexed as to why he only gets to do ‘humdrum’ jobs in the run up to the invasion of German occupied France.

Everything changes when he meets Lily at a dance. Romance quickly blossoms, only to be threatened by unexpected forces beyond their control.

“Dorset is still a mono-cultural place, by and large, so it is fascinating to explore what life was like in the county for someone of mixed heritage,” said playwright Tony Horowitz, who put the play together with Sharon Muiruri of State of Play.

“There are historical details of a former slave who ended his life in Bournbemouth and said that everyone was very welcoming, but the Second World War saw the biggest influx of African-Americans ever to come to Dorset and it had a profound impact of the local people.”

The black GIs were billeted in camps in Poundbury, Bridport, Broadmayne, Lyme Regis, Corfe Mullen and elsewhere. In Dorchester, the white GIs had proper barracks while their black colleagues slept under canvas.

“An 85-year-old man came to one of our shows in Bridport and said he remembered as a lad going to see the African-American GIs and that they were very friendly and less brash and flashy than their white counterparts,” said Tony, who was commissioned to write the play by educational charity DEED (Development Education in Dorset). “But he also said that there were fights, and blood on the streets of the town at night.

“Of course there were romances with local girls, and that forms the basis of our story. It’s a bit like Romeo and Juliet, with the girl’s brother and a white GI conspiring against the romance.”

To tie in with the play, an exhibition surrounding the source book 1944 We Were Here: African American GIs in Dorset is running at Dorchester Arts Centre from October 7 to October 18.

You can see GI Joe at Melbury Osmond village hall on October 11 (call 01935 83410 for tickets and details), Broadmayne village hall the following night (call 01305 854205) and Durweston village hall on October 13 (call 01258 453170). These performances are at 7.30pm.

The performance at Dorchester Arts Centre on October 18 is at 8pm. Call 01305 266926 for tickets and full details.