A Life in the RAF and POW
I came to Britain from Guyana (then British Guiana) in 1941 to join the Royal Air Force. Just one year before, ‘no man of colour’ would have been allowed to join; but crises caused a change attitudes and a restricted number from the colonies were allowed to join the club. In 1943, I was actually commissioned, thus becoming the only Black in the RAF. I flew on operations in a Lancaster bomber over Germany and was shot down after a successful bombing raid on the German town of Gelsenkirchen in the Rohr, our plane crashed in a field in Holland. I managed to bail out by parachute along with other members of the crew. Two did not make it.
The Officers’ Prisoner Of War Camp (POW) where I had been incarcerated for the duration of my captivity had been evacuated with the approach of the Russian army in early 1945. After days of trudging through snow piled roads we eventually ended up in a lice-ridden, sprawling POW camp at Lukenwalde – a vast complex with prisoners from all allied forces.
After many days of angst, American prisoners were evacuated. The drivers of the trucks who formed the evacuation squad were African American soldiers and their arrival added a new dimension to the whole scenario involving me as a Black man caught up in a race war.
I recalled that shortly after my capture a photo of me taken after a period of solitary confinement – a common experience for new arrivals at the camp – appeared in a German newspaper (the Volkischer Beobachter, July 1943) with the words “Mitgied der Royal Air Force von unbestimmbarer Rassel” – a member of unknown race!
With the arrival of the American truck drivers I seized my opportunity to escape the POW camp. A few days later I was driven to Brussels in time for VE Day celebrations.
The most striking part of this chapter of my life story is that in the midst of a ‘Boy’s Own’ adventure, we find the making and resolution of a personal tragedy in Holland, the formation of a lasting bond between Canadian and West Indian and English and Dutch, forged in the skies over Germany, and a relevant and compelling comment on racial attitudes of the time and how it affected and continues to affect my entire life.
Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II
Black Poppy Rose (pictured at top) from Black Poppy Rose.