Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II
Assisting the War Effort
Empire citizens working in Britain
1. Up to a million foreign troops could be stationed here in Britain at any one time
2. This included, thousands of personnel from the Empire
3. Many came to work in industry, some of these were skilled technicians
4. 5,500 West Indians were recruited by the RAF for ground crew duties, and 300 as pilots
5. A forestry unit of 525 men from British Honduras were employed by the ministry of Supply to work as Timber Jacks in the Scottish highlands
King George VI inspecting African Merchant seamen in Liverpool
Not forgetting the merchant seamen from India, Africa, Malaya, Burma, the West Indies, China, Yemeni and Malta who risked their lives every time they went to sea carrying vital supplies for Britain and her Allies.
*Most British people can only recall American GI’s. Occasionally this is extended to personnel from Australia, New Zealand and Canada – mainly those of European decent.
As a 24-year-old in 1941, Ulric Cross sailed from Trinidad to join the RAF to fight Nazi Germany. He trained as a navigator and excelled to the extent that he joined the elite Pathfinder squadron of Mosquito bombers.
By the end of the war, he had flown more than 80 bombing missions, including 21 over Berlin, and crash landed seven times. He later told how his plane once limped back to Britain after losing an engine. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order before becoming a lawyer and eminent judge.
In 1956 Ulric went to Ghana to work for the Attorney Generals Office, then to the Cameroon to take up the post of Attorney General. From here, he went on to Tanzania where he first served as a High Court Judge and then the Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University. In 1974 he returned to Trinidad as a High Court Judge.
And in his own words, Ulric Cross:
I did almost eighty operations. I was lucky…I crash landed I think five or six, seven times…the strange thing is that when you’re really young you feel immortal. That may well be a defence mechanism, but you do feel immortal, and you knew that obviously the possibility existed, that every time you got up in an aeroplane and flew over Germany you wouldn’t come back. That possibility always existed. But the young feel they will live forever…And I felt I was doing the right thing in trying to stop Hitler. I never felt I was going to the aid of the mother country. Some people did but I would say the majority of us didn’t. Reasons differ, but certainly for myself, you’re young, this was a tremendous adventure and you were doing it for the right reasons.
More than 100 West Indians were decorated for courage
Squadron Leader Mohinder Singh Pujji
Statue of Mahinder Sigh Pujji at St. Andrew’s Gardens, Gravesend, England
Mohinder Singh Pujji joined the Indian Air Force in 1941 when he was twenty-two, the youngest of his group that came over from India to complete their pilot training. He refused to remove his turban to wear a helmet, and was told that he would be sent home, but he stood his ground.
The RAF needed good fighter pilots such as Pujji, so a special leather helmet was designed that would fit over his turban. It was tested and worked. Mohinder Singh Pujji successfully won countless dogfights against German fighter planes.
On one mission, of the seven pilots that went out he was the sole survivor. He remained in Britain until the end of September 1941. From London he was stationed in the Western Desert (North Africa) for six months, followed by Afghanistan and Burma where he was made Flight Commander.
In 1945 Pujji was given a special assignment of locating 350 American troops who were lost in the jungle. In both locating and rescuing these troops, he was successful.
He was the only RAF pilot to fight in all three main theatres in the Second World.
Read more about Mohinder Singh Pujji in Kenley Revival
The Newham Recorder reflects on the life of Mohinder Singh Pujji
On the Home Front, Black Britain’s Assisted Too!
Major Charles Moody and the war service of the Moody family
Dr. Harold Moody came to England from Jamaica at the age of 22, to study medicine he qualified as a doctor and set up his practice in Peckham.
During the Second World War, five of Dr. Moody’s six children (all were British by Birth) received army or RAF commissions. In 1940 his eldest son Charles Moody, born at 111 kings Road, Peckham, became the first Black British officer in the British Army during the Second World War when he joined the Royal West Kent Regiment.
Charles served in the infantry and the artillery in England and Africa, then in Italy and finally in Egypt, where he became a Major in 1945. At the end of the war he settled in Jamaica with B Company of the Caribbean Regiment. Charles Moody became Colonel in 1961, and was awarded an OBE in 1966 as the first Commanding Officer of the Jamaican Territorial Army.
Dr. Moody’s son Ronald served in the RAF. His daughter Christine, and son Harold, both qualified as doctors and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. Christine was promoted to the rank of captain and Harold to that of major. His youngest son, Garth, was a pilot-cadet in the RAF.
In 1944 Dr. Harold Moody (pictured on the right) was the first on the scene at New Cross in London, after a German V2 rocket landed in the area. Nearly 200 were killed and hundreds are injured. The dead and injured were mainly mothers and their children out Christmas shopping.
Read more about Major Charles Moody by Phil Eyden
Born in Fulham in 1912, to a black father and a white mother, Esther Brice was a black working class girl. During World War Two, Esther worked as a cleaner and a fire watcher at Brompton Hospital in London. She recounts, ‘Times were hard during the war. Food was rationed … things were so bad that they began to sell whale meat, but I wouldn’t eat it. I didn’t like the look of it’.
Esther’s father, Joseph Bruce, was the son of a Guyanese slave. Joseph arrived in England around the turn of the century. He was killed in March 1941 whilst making his way to work in blackout. After her father’s death, a kind neighbour gave Esther a home.
Esther wrote to her father’s brother in Guyana and asked him if he could send her some food. Two weeks later a large big box filled with goodies arrived. It was the first of many.
Book: Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-1945, by Stephen Bourne, Published by: Greenwood World Publishing 2009
And on BBC, Stephen Bourne relays the experience of his Aunt Esther in A Black Londoner At War in 2003
Aunt Esther’s Story by Stpen Bourne was written in 1996