As Boris Johnson lights a solitary candle on the eve of VE Day in Westminster Abbey void of congregation, we await the thanksgiving service on this commemorative day. On this day, the 75th anniversary marking the of the end of WW2, it is a day that should have been filled with rejoicing and we will rejoice in our hearts. It is a day filled with the hopes for the future, the dread and ultimate victory of the past. We remember with pride all those who sacrificed themselves one way or other.
Whilst more and more information comes to light about the sheer number of African and Caribbean soldiers who fought and served in World War 2, not least to mention African-American soldiers it is not surprising that the desire to erect further monuments is gaining momentum as the few remaining with us to this day join the struggle for proportionate official recognition. Here are just a few of those who fought.
Learie Constantine MBE who became Britain’s first Black peer , with a Black Community Centre set up in his honour in North West London is just one of those. Mostly remembered as a cricketer, he worked tirelessly during the second world war looking after the interests of the West Indian munitions workers in factories throughout the nation.
Many African and West Indian nurses trained during the second world war to look after the war wounded, a speciality sector Princess Ademola from Abeokuta Nigeria was one of those nurses. Many nurses who trained during World War 2 became members of the founding staff of the great NHS formed in the post war era.
Ulric Cross served in the RAF with the bomber command and eventually became squadron leader. In June 1945 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, already holding the Distinguished Flying Cross that had been awarded the year before. He is thought to be the most decorated West Indian of World War 2. Originally from Trinidad, he was regarded in his day as the model for the Black character, having completed 80 missions over Germany and occupied Europe.
Wilford Leslie Allen joined the RAF and was a wireless operator. He returned to Jamaica after the war and continued his life as an ordinary civilian never returning to the UK but speaking fondly and with pride of his memories for the rest of his life.
Johnny Smythe was a Sierra Leonean pilot who spent 2 years in the Stalag Luft 1 prison camp. He joined the RAF in 1940 answering the call from Britain who needed pilots. After training he successfully navigated an impressive 26 air raid bombings over Germany. Johnny Smythe’s illustrious career did not end with the war. He was appointed to travel out with the SS Windrush in 1948 as the senior officer in charge of the soldiers returning to their home countries and was in charge of the well being of the first set of Windrush migrants who came from Jamaica and Barbados to Tilbury Docks on that historic voyage.
Charles Leroy Thomas an African American and United States Army major was posthumously awarded, in 1997, the Medal of Honour for his actions in France during World War 2 alongside six other Black Americans. The six Rutherford brothers whose story came to light in 2019 (written by Joy Sigaud for Black History Month US feature) were acknowledged in Rutherford with a day of celebrations in the small New Jersey town in May 2019.
These are just a handful who represent so many from all walks of life. Some going on to have distinguished careers, others returning to the UK after the war to make new lives for themselves here and others who simply continued with the lives as before, all the richer and wiser for their experiences.
So many stories yet to be told and so many stories yet to unfold.
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