Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

Reminiscence by Connie Mark, ATS

THE WAR YEARS (1939 – 45)

Recruitment in Jamaica

When war was declared and more personnel were needed for the front line, you had English officers who came to Jamaica. I was 19 and I can remember, they would go into all the little corners of Jamaica and they would beg, literally beg you to come and fight for England because you see we were brought up that England was our Mother Country and obviously when your mother has problems you’ve got to come and help her.  So we all felt obliged to come and everybody was very happy to come.

Most of the men that came to England came from the country parts. Kingston is the capital of Jamaica and most of them had never even come to Kingston until they were going to war. I have actually had the opportunity of going on the troop ships.  The ships were so crowded there were four to a bunk and I wondered how some of these men who had never travelled on a boat before survived in such cramped conditions. It was like pushing animals together because they really had the ships all cramped to make sure they got as many as they could to fight for England.

The Reality of war

he first time the reality of war came to me was when I read in our local paper, The Gleaner that Enid Edwards, from Port Antonio, died in a ship returning to Jamaica. The ship was torpedoed by the Germans. She was my best friend and we went to the same piano teacher. Enid studied at the Royal College of Music in London and passed all her exams with distinction. We were so proud of her and looked forward so much to her return to Jamaica. I cried for weeks.

Warden and internment camps

We had wardens who went around the towns and villages in the island and, if by chance you had one speck of light showing from your house, you’d be arrested and fined. Another thing that people don’t know is that we had an internment camp in Jamaica. When war was declared, all the merchant ships that were in the Caribbean area that had Germans and Italian men working on board were stopped, and the men taken as prisoners. It must be remembered that England was at war with Germany and Italy and they were our enemies.

Army Service

Well I have found that a lot of people are not really aware of how involved we were in the war, in Jamaica. For instance, I went in the army. I volunteered myself as a Medical Secretary and I was assigned to the Assistant Director of Medical Services. When you are in the army you are on 24 hour duty. You know nothing about off duty, so I used to have my uniform hung up, ready at all times. My mother died and so I lived with my aunt and anywhere I was going my aunt had to know because if a troop ship came in at 2am in the morning, the Military Police would come to my home, knock on the door and, in five minutes flat, I had to be dressed and out. If I wasn’t there my aunt would tell them where I was, whether I in a night club or what ever, the Military Police would come and get me and I had to be down at the troop ship.

At the port side the reality of war comes home to you, because you saw men leaving hale and hearty and you see them coming back on stretchers and wheelchairs, some blind.

I get very annoyed that people don’t want to accept how the West Indies were involved in the war and how we were brought up to love the King and Country, love the Queen, to love England, and to respect England. Then when we came here after the war, what did we see? We saw signs that said ‘No Blacks, no Irish, no dogs, no children’. That really used to hurt.

Source: THE BLACK PRESENCE IN HAMMERSITH AND FULHAM: By Stephan Bourne & Sav Kyriacou – ISBN 1 871338 14X

Donations to Britain’s war chest

As a joint contribution, the people from the islands of the West Indies donated almost a million pounds towards Britain’s war effort. As well as this, they also gave, three million in interest-free loans, £500,000* towards war charities and a further £500,000 for the purchase of aircrafts.

* £1 in 1939 is worth £64.80 in today’s money.

Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

Antigua Fighter’s Fund

If you would like to join the war, and help to fight the Huns, take your pennies from your pocket and help to feed the guns.

Pay them gladly, pay them often, pay them smartly on the nail, other men are fighting for you, do not let your effort fail.

If you cannot sweep the minefields, man a gun, or watch the sky, if you never have to duck your head to let a shot go by, if you cannot join the fighting in the planes or in the tanks, send your pence to make the weapons, send your shillings for your thanks.

Give a penny, give a shilling, give a modest three pence bit; as your means are, pay your footing, serve your country, do your bit.

If you think you cannot afford it, then go without a drink, turn your money into weapons, you’re not as thirsty as you think.

Pay the price and pay it gladly, fit the fighters with their wings. If you don’t drink, give up something; give up smoking or other things.

Give it daily, give it gladly, pay your whack, and man your gun; remember some die daily to save you from the Hun*.

Antigua Broadcasting Service, c.1941

*Hun was the derogatory name used for Hitler and the Germans

The Caribbean Under Attack

Submarine Attacks

Throughout the war, German submarines ravaged the Atlantic shipping lanes; they prowled ports and torpedoed ships. By 1941 the water way around the Caribbean, was considered one of the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world.

The intention behind the attacks was to disrupt traffic travelling through the Panama Canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, to and from Europe and Asia. It was a route that Britain and her allies depended on to move troops, artillery and supplies.

Also under fire were ships serving the southern United States ports and oil installations in the Caribbean. Not only were ships at sea in danger of being sunk (at the close of 1942 around 270 ships), but ports were infiltrated, and anchored vessels and harbours were also attacked, reminders – should they be needed – that the war was close at hand.

SOURCE: The Caribbean at War – ‘British West Indies’ in World War II – The British Empire and the Second World War – Ashley Jackson

Elevated Status for Trinidad

Due to its location and harbour facilities Trinidad joined the ranks of the more significant ports – that of a convoy assembly point. Trinidad also ranked high in war-time Colonial Empire status, because it was one of the Empire’s few significant producers of oil. (In 1938 it was the largest imperial producer) In December 1942, one convoy left the island carrying 25 million gallons of fuel to North Africa for vehicles involved in Operation Torch. As well as oil, Trinidad also produced cocoa and sugar.

When the bauxite route from British and Dutch Guiana was exposed to severe U-boat attacks, the locally-recruited Trinidad Naval Force manned the tugs and performed salvage and rescue operations.

In 1940 a scheme for training pilots was set up in Trinidad, the first batch of candidates arrived in Britain in early 1941.

Proposed by A Williams STOCCA (Six Towns One City Carnival Association)

Ena Collymore-Woodstock (10 September 1917) set sail from Jamaica to England in 1943 in response to a recruitment advert from the British War Office. On arrival she was behind a desk. Objecting, she wrote to her army boss saying,

“I haven’t come all this way just to be stuck behind a typewriter!”

It set her on the path to become the first black female radar operator defending the coast of Britain with a team of ack-ack girls (women doing what was considered a men’s jobs at that period in history) during 1943 and 1944. Later she was deployed to Belgium, close to enemy lines.

She said: “There weren’t many women in the Army at that time and very few women of colour.

“I wanted to do my part and I felt special. We all knew we were doing things for the first time. I hadn’t joined up just to type and I was very insistent about that.

“I wanted to be where the action was. I felt British, I was young and single, so why not go and fight? My generation of women were determined to prove we were capable. I helped show what women could achieve despite there being no female role models at senior level of society at the time.”

Daily Mail 31 October 20 in the article Britain’s oldest surviving female WWII veteran

After the War she stayed in England and studied law at Grays Inn, where she was the only woman on the debate team, and was Vice President of the Inns of Court Students Union. She was the third woman to qualify as a Barrister in Jamaica and the first to actively practice.

Collymore-Woodstock had a distinguished career in the Jamaican and Caribbean judiciary – Her Honour Ena Collymore-Woodstock MBE OD

Read more about Ena Collymore-Woodstock

Discover Jamaica

The Gleaner – a lovely tribute to Ena Collymore-Woodstock

ISSU – Women in the Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Religion

Black Poppy Rose (pictured at top) from Black Poppy Rose.

Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

WORLD WAR II from 1939 to 1945

THE EMPIRE BECOMES A WAR ZONE

Strategic Planning On a Grand Scale

At the outbreak of WW2, not only was Britain the only super power in the world, but she was still at the centre of a very large empire. As such, all strategic planning for the war had to be organised and co-ordinated to cover over sixty different countries and their civilian populations.

This included replicating services like the “Home Guard” forces that were instrumental to civil defence, to implement the necessary services locally.

Evacuees – British Children arriving at their destination

The Second World War

The huge involvement of men and women from the West Indies, Africa, India and many smaller Commonwealth nations in the allied war effort is one of the lesser known stories of the Second World War. They provided man power, equipment and support in many areas throughout the world and made a vital contribution to the war effort.

At the end of the war over three million men were under arms, 2 million of them in the Indian Army, over 200,000 from East Africa and 150,000 from West Africa. This is a hugely impressive figure given that many thousands more civilians from the Empire were also involved in the war effort The vast majority were volunteers (but some colonies did use limited forms of conscription) who played a major part in the operations in Italy, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, East Africa and the Far East.

Britain’s population of about 7,000 people from the ethnic minorities also played a significant role. Many were merchant seamen who prior to the war had settled around the ports of London, Cardiff, Liverpool and South Shields. As the war progressed, the Merchant Navy, which had continued to employ sailors from all over the world, lost many of its men to the Royal Navy, recruited under the Naval Discipline Act, Seafarers from India, Africa, Malaya, Burma, the West Indies, China and Malta also provided manpower to assist the Allied cause at sea.

The Royal Air Force also looked to recruit personal from across the Commonwealth. At First, recruitment concentrated on British Subjects of European descent. However, after October 1939 questions of nationality and race were put aside, and all Commonwealth people became eligible to join the Royal Air Force on equal terms. By the end of the Second World War, over 17,500 such men and women had volunteered to join the RAF, in a variety of roles, and a further 25,000 served in the Royal Indian Air Force.

The Second World War in Africa, South of the Sahara

When Italy entered the war by attacking British African territories in 1940, local troops of the Kings African Rifles and the Somaliland Camel Corps were immediatelymobilised.India despatched a substantial force that helped to defeat the Italians in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Two complete Divisions of African infantry, comprising Nigerian, Gold Coast and Kings African Rifles soldiers, were all involved in the Italian East African campaign which ended with the surrender of Italian troops at Gondar in November 1941.  African troops also helped conquer Madagascar and were later deployed to Burma to assist in the defeat of the Japanese.

Naval presence in African waters was maintained from various bases around the African coastline.  Several Colonial naval forces had been established in African states during the 1930’s and were maintained by their Colonial Governments to protect their territorial waters.  Close collaboration between these forces and the Royal Navy East Indies Fleet assisted with the protection of convoy traffic around the continent. 

The RAF created a chain of airfields and other installations in West Africa to support the vital 3,600 mile air reinforcement route between Takoradi and Cairo – the ‘Takoradi Route’ – and to make it possible for maritime reconnaissance aircraft to patrol German Navy U – Boat operating areas of the African coast.  The RAF employed large numbers of civilians form Gambia, Sierra Leone, Gold Coast and Nigeria to maintain these bases.  In 1944 the West African Air Corps (WAAC) was created as an ancillary force, enabling the recruits from these states to be better trained in a variety of skilled ground trades; by 31 December 1944, the WAAC had expanded to nearly 5,000 men.

Side by Side

Nowhere did British soldiers, sailors or airmen fight without men from the Territories, Empire or Commonwealth either by their sides or by forming vital rear action units to support them.

Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

THE STORY OF WOLVERHAMPTON VETERAN

RADCLIFF JOHNSON

Interviewed by Syrona Nelson

Radcliff Johnson was born in the Parish of Hanover Jamaica. He went to Clifton School. When he left school he became a tailor. In the Second World War he served in the R.A.F in Stafford. He was 23 years old at the time.

He came to the United Kingdom by boat from Kingston, Jamaica, docking at Bermuda for the night. His boat left from there to pick up a convoy in mid-sea. He later landed in Liverpool, then from there travelled to Wiltshire by train. “At first I wasn’t feeling so bright,” he said, as people stared at him getting off the train. Probably being the first black man they had ever seen.

He worked with the Equipment Assistant Board, delivering items to planes going abroad. He did the job, making sure that the planes had the parts that they needed.

Jamaica was under British Colonial Rule. Britain asked for volunteers to join the R.A.F. He chose the R.A.F. as he felt he would be supporting the Mother Country.

The most frightening feeling he had was when he walked on the deck of the ship in the mid-morning and saw many destroyers surrounding them. He said, “The most miserable time I had was to go out in the cold and to do our training.”

After the war he had the choice of joining the regular Air Force or stay in England to take a course and go home afterwards. He chose to go home, but returned to England at a later date. 

The problem, he felt, was that people from The Commonwealth who contributed to the War effort did not receive the credit that they deserved. “People didn’t know that there were bases in the Caribbean.”

The most frightening thing that I remember in the War was being at the Transmission station in the Guyanese jungle. “I was all alone with the weapons car or the jeep at the post. It was very frightening, just God and I in the deep jungle; no one to call if I needed help”.

Footnote: Radcliff Johnson is father to Josh Johnson, Wolverhampton’s Black Belt Karate expert. Josh was the official Karate coach for England (2005).

In 1993 Mr. Radcliff Johnson received a medal for his service to the war. In 1998 a special award was given to Mr. Johnson by the community in recognition for his contribution/service to the war. The award was presented by Wolverhampton Windrush Working Group, in the spring of 2009 Mr. Johnson senior was laid rest.

Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

Black Poppy Rose (pictured at top) from Black Poppy Rose.

Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

The Story of Birmingham Veteran

EUSTACE GRAHAM MEDFORD

Interviewed by Selina Medford

I joined the Barbados Volunteer Force in 1940 at the age of 17. We were later taken over by the British Armed Forces in 1941. I was not quite 18 so I was told that I could not continue to be a soldier when the British Forces took over.

My mother was asked to sign a form of consent, which she was very reluctant to do. As I was the only son of seven children this was a very difficult thing for her to do, so she took the form to our neighbour and discussed what she should do. His advice at the time was for her to sign the form because it had the phrase “On His Majesty’s Service” on the letterhead, which meant she had no choice but to sign.

After it was signed I was transferred to the British Armed Forces and the British soldiers, who had come over from over England, trained with us. I was given one shilling and, in the presence of a padre, had to swear to the Almighty God to defend our King and Country. I was placed at Charles Fort on a machine gun post, protecting the harbour. We were all on full alert at all times and were told that an attack by a submarine was expected at any time. We had just put down some torpedo net, two merchant ships were in the harbour and I remember that it was a bright sunny day.

When I was relieved from my term of duty at 16:00 hours, I rushed to the guardroom to listen to the BBC’s World Service. The forces’ favourite Vera Lynn was singing “There’ll be blue birds over the White Cliffs of Dover.” This was the time the war came to Barbados. We were shaken by a large explosion and were being attacked by a submarine. The alarm sounded. We took up our positions: I was number one on the gun. After a while six torpedoes were fired. I did not see the first but I saw the other five. Four hit the torpedo net but two hit one of the ships, lifting it out of the water before it went down. As the ship had been in the harbour, some of its cargo was salvaged. We did not see the submarine – it did not surface. Later, we found out that it went to another island and did the same thing.

Footnote: Mr Medford’s first job in England was with Birmingham City Transport as a bus driver. He later took up driving for R M Douglas Construction. He retired from work in the mid – 80’s. He and his wife Diana have been actively involved with their local church.

Black Poppy Rose (pictured at top) from Black Poppy Rose.

Remembrance Day is drawing near. These posts are to redress the balance and to remember that Black people supported the war effort from Britain, Europe and men and women from the Commonwealth and the Empire. The posts are also to acknowledge the deep-seated racism in the European armed forces at the time, ‘Lest We Forget’.

British historian, Professor Davis Olusoga, sums this up. He wrote this poignant article on Sunday 11 November 2018 in the Guardian entitled ‘Black soldiers were expendable – then forgettable’.

“These people were les races guerrières, whom the infamous French general Charles Mangin would forge into his ‘force noire.

“So dedicated were the French to these theories that they convinced themselves that West Africans, being supposedly more primitive than Europeans, could better withstand the shock of battle and experienced physical pain less acutely. This justified deploying them as shock troops in the first line of battle. As a result, West African soldiers on the western front between 1917 and 1918 were two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed in action than white French infantrymen. The British held similar views of the people of India. Dismissing most of the people of the subcontinent as passive and effeminate, they only recruited from certain ethnic groups, the so-called ‘martial races’.

Black Poppy Rose (pictured at top) from Black Poppy Rose.

Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

Remembering the one million men and women who joined the British war effort for World War I from the British colonies and the British Empire.

George Blackman

Out of the Caribbean soldiers who served in the British army in WWI, only Stanley Stair (died 2008) outlived George Blackman who died at the age of 105.

George Blackman – also thought to be the oldest living Barbadian in 2003 – had been admitted to hospital with severe pains. “He was reported to be doing fine and was due for release from hospital, but succumbed to his illness,” said an official at the Barbados ministry of foreign affairs.

Mr Blackman was one of 15,000 men who volunteered for the British West Indies Regiment at the outbreak of war in 1914.

Instead of the glory of fighting for the mother country, they found casual racism and horrific danger. Often denied the status of combat troops, they were instead given dangerous tasks in no man’s land such as laying telephone cables or carrying ammunition.

After a mutiny of Caribbean soldiers at a British base in Taranto, Italy, at the end of the war, many were shipped home without victory parades.

The scar above his left eyebrow, he said was a bayonet cut on the eye.

George Blackman (1897 – 2003) was in the 4th Battalion of the British West Indies Regiment from 1914 to 1919.

Eugene and John Brown

Brothers Eugene and John Brown came to England from the Ghana, West Africa, to study just before war broke out. They wanted to help out so they stopped their studies and joined the British Army in 1914.  John was killed and Eugene badly injured. After the war Eugene got married to and had two sons, Roy and Doug Brown.  

Eugene later died of his war injuries and the boys were raised by their mother Daisy, an English Woman from Stoke-on-Trent. Roy was a talented footballer and was signed up by Stoke City and Doug was appointed Lord Mayor.

According to the book Black Tommies: British Soldiers of African Descent in the First World:

“West African volunteers include Nigerian father and uncle of the British-born footballer Roy Brown, Eugene and John Brown (Roy Brown was a teammate of Stanley Matthews at Stoke City in the late 1930’s). Eugene and John served in the 5th Staffordshire Regiment having originally come to Britain to attend college. Roy’s father Eugene was killed in action, while his uncle John ended his war days in hospital. Eugene’s other son, Douglas, became the first black mayor of Stoke on Trent in 1983.”

It seems unlikely that Roy and Doug Brown’s father Eugene died in the war as they were born after the war, Roy Brown in 1923 and Doug Brown in 1922. So it is more likely that their uncle John either died in the war or ended his days in hospital. Doug Brown’s family believe that their grandad went back to Ghana.

It is unclear whether Roy and Eugene came from Nigeria or from Ghana to England, though all accounts suggest that they came to England to study.  

Note: In the history of Staffordshire University, the industrialist Alfred Bolton set up college at a site on College Road in Stoke in 1906 for mining classes.

Eugene and John had travelled from either Nigeria or Ghana to study before WWI and their history in England focuses in Staffordshire. Did they study in Stoke, did they study mining there?

Ghana was sometimes called the Gold Coast. The Ashanti Goldfields Corporation for example, was one of the largest at the time and was set up at the turn of the century 1900 by Fante merchants based in Cape Coast – Joseph Etruson Ellis and Chief Joseph Edward Biney along with their accountant, Joseph Peter Brown. They purchased from the king of Bekwai (the Bekwaihene) the right to mine an area of Asante territory spanning 100 square miles around the village of Obuasi, for 100 years.

Stanley Stair

Stanley Stair was the last British West Indies Regiment veteran. He enlisted into the Infantry in 1918. At the end of the war he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Born in October 1900, Stair died in Animal Hill, Lucea, Jamaica, in April 2008 at the age of 107.

Black Poppy Rose (pictured at top) from Black Poppy Rose.

A Life in the RAF: Cy Grant – 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.

THE STORY OF A WOLVERHAMPTON VETERAN

DONALD RICHARDS

Interviewed by Darees Nelson

Donald Richards was born in what was then British Guiana. This is in South America. He attended St. Andrews School in the village of Coven John. His first job was as an apprentice tailor and then he branched off to do masonry work.

He served in British Guyana on a military airbase as a military policeman. He was around 22 years of age then, guarding installations such as transmission stations located in the jungle in the heart of British Guyana.  He also had to guard the docks too. On other occasions he had to guard the main gate and entrance to see that no unauthorised person entered the base.

He became a military policeman because the air bases were where most of the action was. He had two options, either to go to America as a farm labourer or to become a military policeman. He decided that the police job would be a challenge as he was Guyanese and the war was getting serious.

He came to England in 1956 because in British Guiana he was taught that England was the Mother Country and he would have a better opportunity when he got here.

He had mixed reactions when he got here. In certain sections he was accepted but he was surprised generally at the reactions of British people to black people at the time.

“People looked at us in a strange way,” he said, “and we felt funny about it. They didn’t know much about us but we knew all about England.

“There was a lady on the TV who said she couldn’t understand why we had come to England and taken all the jobs away from people. She had helped in the war too but didn’t seem to understand the role that we had played. She also didn’t realise that as a part of the Commonwealth we had been invited to support the War effort. We had become like the “Forgotten Army.”

Footnote: In 1998 a special award was given to Mr Richards by the community in recognition for his contributions/service to the war. The award was presented by the Wolverhampton Windrush Working Group.

Mr Richards’ first and only job, from the time he came to England until his retirement he was working at Goodyear’s in Wolverhampton. After retiring from work in the mid 90’s he and his wife Doreen kept themselves busy and active working in the community doing voluntary work. They did this for a number of years before leaving to go back to the place of their birth – to the country which is now referred to as Guyana.

Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

Black Poppy Rose (pictured at top) from Black Poppy Rose.