During World War II a remarkable generation of Jamaicans – think future prime minister Michael Manley, Olympian Arthur Wint and Pan-African activist Dudley Thompson – donned the uniforms of the Royal Air Force (RAF), served, and sometimes died, defending the British Empire. And little thanks they got.
It’s a history that only now is getting a deserved hearing. Cy Grant, a 90-year-old former Guyanese airman recently launched an online archive, www.caribbeanaircrew-ww2.com, to record the contribution of these brave men. Grant was set to be honoured for his work by the House of Lords but he has just died.
Volunteering as navigator for a Royal Air Force bomber, Grant spent two years in a German POW prison after he was shot down in the Netherlands; became ‘Britain’s best-known black person’ as a famous Calypsonian and then actor…and all before finishing up as a cultural activist.
“Of course, I was aware of the racism in British society – witness what happened to me, an ex-RAF officer and a prisoner of war. After qualifying as a barrister – no job opportunities,” he told the Islington Tribune. “I was forced to confront myself, to stand up and be counted, so to speak.”
Among the archive so far are 136 Jamaicans. See, not all Yardie drug dealers.