Caribbean Airmen 1914-1945

Caribbean Airmen 1914-1945

An overview of the men from the Caribbean who flew for the RAF and their experiences as captured by Captain Mark Johnson. A beautifully designed presentation delivered at the RAF Museum and for Black History Month. Various aspects of this often forgotten part of British history are highlighted by the experiences of individual men.

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William Robinson Clarke 2-2B

Britain’s first black pilot

The website of the RAF Museum honours Sergeant William Robinson Clarke, Britain’s first black pilot, who received his Wings on 26 April 1917. Read his story here.

Caribbean Volunteers at War now available

The story of the RAF’s answer to the Tuskegee Airmen written by researcher Mark Johnson. Read more about the book here or see our Books section.

Now available in e-book format For King & Country – The Service and Sacrifice of the British West Indian Military

The book published by Irving Andre and Gabriel Christian in 2009 is now available online in e-book format at Shelf Wise. Read the press release here. Read more about the book here.

The Motherland Calls – Britain’s Black Servicemen & Women 1939-1945

A Tribute to the forgotten black servicemen and women whose contribution to the war effort has been overlooked until now. Read more here. Stephen Bourne is a leading authority on black history and has published 11 books on the subject, including A Ship and a Prayer, Black in the British Frame, Speak of Me as I Am and Mother Country. You can watch a TV-interview with the author here.

The Caribbean Connection

In 2006 the RAF-magazine Spirit of the Air published an article titled ‘The Caribbean Connection’ written by Val Simpson. The article features some interesting pictures and mentions the careers of Squadron Leader Ulric Cross and Flight Lieutenants Arthur Wint, Vincent Bunting and John Ebanks. Link to the article

Under One Flag

How indigenous and ethnic peoples of the Commonwealth and British Empire helped Great Britain win World War II This book by Erica Myers-Davies tells the stories of the unsung heroes and heroines of World War II from across the world. With personal forewords from Prince Harry and Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry VC, the first serving recipient of the Victoria Cross since 1969, it emphasises the vital contribution made by those from the Commonwealth and British Empire who volunteered during World War II. HRH The Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh KG KT (Grand President of The Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League) will be present when the book is launched in Canada House at an event hosted by the Canadian High Commissioner for the United Kingdom, James R. Wright. [Nov. 5th, 2009] More.

They also flew

S/L Ulric Cross of Trinidad: DFC, DSO, Judge, ambassador, High Commissioner F/L Dudley Thompson, OC, QC of Jamaica: lawyer, Pan-African activist, Order of Jamaica F/O Errol Barrow of Barbados: Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs F/L Michael Manley of Jamaica: Prime Minister, Member of Parliament, Member of House of Representatives F/L Edward Dalrymple of Dominica: Mayor, vice-president of Dominica Freedom Party, Professor of History, City College of New York, Princeton, Rutgers Universities F/L Arthur Wint of Jamaica: Olympic Gold Medalist, OBE, MBE, High Commissioner

This site aims to provide a permanent archive of the volunteers from the West Indies who flew for the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. The general public in the United Kingdom and elsewhere is scarcely aware of the involvement of Caribbean crew in the airwar of 1940-1945. In 1940, no so-called ‘men of colour’ could have joined the Royal Air Force; but by the end of the war in 1945, there were between 300 and 500 aircrew from the Caribbean out of a total of around six thousand volunteers who served during World War 2. About seventy were commissioned and one hundred and three received decorations. Yet these facts are not generally known even to the present Black British population in Britain. Since so little is recorded, we encourage surviving crew as well as their relatives and descendants to add to this body of information. Anyone who has a story to tell, information to share, or pictures to show is heartily invited to contribute to this website. How does this site work? The main body of this site consists of a list of names of aircrew that are known to us. The names are accessible either by country of origin, rank or decoration or by entering a name in the search-box. Each entry offers the option to add a comment.Here you can submit your information regarding the individual concerned. Pictures are best sent directly with a reference to the webmaster, who will place them in the entry.

The Black RAF by Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson talks about his great-uncle John Jellicoe Blair, one of almost 500 Black Caribbean air crew in the RAF during the Second World War

Caribbean Spitfire-pilots

14, 132 Sqdn,RAF Detling, JJ Caulton front row, 5th from rightPilots of No. 132 City of Bombay Squadron (Detling, 1943-1944), featuring three Caribbean Spitfire-pilots:

F/Sgt James Joseph Hyde (from Trinidad) – front row, third from left.

F/Sgt Arthur O. Weeks (or Weekes, from Barbados) – back row, fourth from left.

F/Sgt Collins Alwyin Joseph (from Trinidad) – back row, sixth from right.

Other identified pilots are:

Commanding Officer S/Ldr Count Franz Ferdinand Colloredo-Mansfeld DFC (1910-1944, born in Italy from an Austrian father and an American mother) – front row, center.

F/Lt Harold Edward ‘Harry’ Walmsley (British) – front row, eight from left.

F/O John Jeremy Caulton (from New Zealand) – front row, fifth from right.

Henry Lacey Smith (Australian) – front row, fourth from right.

(click on photo to enlarge)

[picture: copyright John Caulton, grandson of F/O J.J. Caulton]

Combat Film No 73. Flying Officer Weekes of 132 Squadron on 21/12/1943 at 1200, flying Supermarine Spitfire IX. Target: Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Fragment No. 73 is at 8:00 minutes into the film, which features a number of fragments from 132 Squadron.

[Copyright Imperial War Museum; courtesy John Caulton]

Blue Plaque to commemorate RAF-veteran Cy Grant

On November 11, Rememberance Day 2017 a Blue Plaque was unveiled at the former Highgate home of the initiator of this archive, the actor, singer and writer Cy Grant. Read more about it here.

West Indian Aircrew in East Yorkshire during WW2

Researcher – and highly valued contributor to this archive – Mrs. Audrey Dewjee has published an article about West Indians who served as aircrew in the RAF in the East Yorkshire area during the war. The article highlights well-known Jamaicans Billy Strachan, Lincoln Lynch, Arthur Wint, John Blair, Godfrey Petgrave as well as Vivian Florent, whose father was from St. Lucia. It is published on the website of the Africans in Yorkshire Project.
The website also remembers the 4,000 Caribbean ground crew men who trained in the area at RAF Hunmanby Moor, Filey. For more about them, click here.

E.R. Braithwaite, former RAF pilot and author of To Sir, With Love dies at 104

Edward Ricardo Braithwaite was born from university-educated parents in Georgetown, British Guiana in 1912. He was one of the first Caribbeans to join the RAF during the Second World War. After the war he got his doctorate in physics from Cambridge University but failed to find work as an engineer in post-war Britain. Instead he landed a job as a teacher in London’s East End. His acclaimed book ‘To Sir, With Love’ (1959) is based on his experiences there. After publication of the book he worked for the World Veterans Organisation, Unesco and as a diplomat for his native Guyana. He passed away on 12 December 2016.
Read his obituary in the Guardian and more about his life and career.

Digital Archive Project – International Bomber Command Centre: Looking for surviving veteran Caribbean Aircrew that flew for Bomber Command

The International Bomber Command Digital Archive Project is pulling resources together from all over the world to form the definitive central source of information on Bomber Command. Incorporating oral histories and videographies, never before digitized documents held by museums and institutions worldwide and those in private ownership. These will include log books, photographs, letters and service citations all pulled together in an indexed and searchable archive before the story is lost forever. Therefore preserving the rich heritage of the Command and ensuring the memory of those who served is available for generations to come.

For the oral-history section of the digital archive the curators would like to interview any veterans from the West-Indies that flew for Bomber Command that are still with us. Please contact Mr. Peter Jones of the project or the administrator of this website.

Here is a link to the International Bomber Command Centre website: And the digital archive:

‘Pilots of the Caribbean’ online now

The online version of the exhibition ‘Pilots of the Caribbean’: Volunteers of African Heritage in the Royal Air Force  is now available at . The original exhibition has been curated by the RAF Museum in partnership with the Black Cultural Archives. It has been on display in various venues throughout the UK and received much acclaim (see below). On Saturday 31 October 2015 the Black History Month Event will be held in the RAF Museum. There will be talks about RAF’s African-Caribbean volunteers and performances by storyteller Winston Nzinga. Also documents and artefacts relating to Black personnel will be on display. Read more:

Exhibition ‘Pilots of the Caribbean’ awarded for Excellence

Pilots of the Caribbean: Volunteers of African Heritage in the RAF was given a Highly Commended Award in the ‘Best Temporary Exhibition’ category at the Museums and Heritage Awards 2015 held in London on 29th April. The exhibition had been shortlisted for this year’s Museums and Heritage Awards for Excellence. The exhibition about the contribution of volunteers of African Heritage to the Royal Air Force was nominated in the category ‘Temporary or Touring Exhibitions’. The touring tribute to West Indian flyers was initiated by the RAF-museum London in cooperation with the Black Cultural Archives. Read the Press-release of the RAF-museum here.

Flt. Lt. Clifton Norman Rhys Pinks (1923-2014)

We have been informed by his family that F/Lt Clifton Norman Rhys Pinks passed away on September 7, 2014. In 1941, he volunteered to train as an officer in the Royal Air Force, based in Canada, and came to England in 1943 as a Signalman Air Gunner. After the war, he went to Aberdeen University to study medicine and was involved in top level athletics. The press alluded to Clifton as the ‘Dark Flash’. In 1950 he returned to the RAF and served with distinction till 1978. Untill 1988 he worked for the Ministry of Defence. Read more here


Exhibition ‘Pilots of the Caribbean’ opens in Cosford

The exhibition  ‘Pilots of the Caribbean: Volunteers of African Heritage in the Royal Air Force’ will open at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford on October 6th 2014. The exhibition opening will coincide with Black History Month, a national event celebrating the achievements of black men and women throughout history. Curated in partnership with the Black Cultural Archives, the exhibition will tell the inspirational story of these volunteers, commemorating and celebrating their vital contribution to the defence of Britain, her Empire and Commonwealth. Accompanying video footage and artefacts will bring to life the stories of these brave volunteers. Read more here.

Exhibition ‘RAF and the Commonwealth – Stories from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean’ opening in Glasgow on 21 July 2014

The exhibition will tell the story of the important role that African, Asian and Caribbean airmen and women have played throughout the history of the RAF, from its inception in 1918 until the present day. The WW2 history of 602 Squadron (City of Glasgow) – ‘Glasgow’s Own’ will also be part of the presentation that underlines the critical role that volunteers from across the Empire, the Dominions, the Commonwealth and Allied nations played in defeating the scourge of fascism. The exhibition also provides information on the importance of equality and diversity as core values in today’s RAF. At the Mitchell Library Exhibition Space, 22 July – 27 September 2014, admission is free. Download the poster here. View a TV-report of the opening here.

The Passing of Squadron Leader Phillip Louis Ulric Cross, DSO, DFC

We received the sad news that Phillip Louis Ulric Cross has died in Port of Spain, Trinidad at the age of 96 on October 4, 2013. Cross was the highest ranking West Indian World War II veteran still alive and one of the few officers left of the legendary 139 Pathfinder Squadron of RAF Bomber Command. Cross later became Attorney General of Cameroon, and an esteemed judge in Ghana and Tanzania. After his return to Trinidad he served as a High Court Judge and from 1979 as a member of the Court of Appeal. In 1990 he became High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago to the UK and Ambassador to Germany and France. Watch the video “On Target – A Tribute to RAF Squadron Leader Phillip Louis Cross, DSO, DFC” on YouTube [Proclamations by Ethiopian Crown Council and Maryland General Assembly; click on images for lager version] Read the obituary in the Trinidad & Tobago Newsday here. More: Trinidad Guardian, Trinidad Express [Courtesy Jerome Lee]

Pilots of the Caribbean: Volunteers of African Heritage in the Royal Air Force

The RAF Museum London and subsequently the RAF Museum Cosford will celebrate the Afro-Caribbean contribution to the RAF – the first service to instigate an equal ops policy. Beginning with WWI through to WWII and The Cold War to currently serving members, the exhibition will include personal recollections, photos and more. The exhibition will open in London 1st November 2013 and run for six months, after which it will transfer to Cosford for a further six months. In the press: The Times, The Jamaica Gleaner, Blacknet, RAF-MOD,

West Indians in Britain (1944)

In this film, made during the Second World War by the Ministry of Information, a group of West Indians, led by Una Marson and Learie Constantine, assemble at Broadcasting House in London. They describe to listeners of a popular BBC radio series, ‘Calling the West Indies’, how people from the Caribbean are supporting the war effort. Constantine speaks about factory workers, and introduces some war-workers, including Ulric Cross, a bomber navigator from Trinidad. Cross speaks of West Indian volunteers in the armed forces and Spitfire-pilot James Hyde (killed in action later in the war) is portrayed briefly.

[Adaptation of the original caption by Stephen Bourne; You-tube link courtesy Peter Devitt, RAF Museum London]

RAF Bomber Command Memorial Unveiling

The RAF Bomber Command Memorial was unveiled by HM Queen Elizabeth II on June 28th 2012. ‘Bloody marvellous but long overdue’ (The Telegraph)  

Dudley Thompson

F/O Ambassador Hon. Dudley Thompson OD QC passed on January 20, 2012. He was a day past 95. He was buried with full national and military honors at UP Park Camp, Jamaica on feb 10th. Read the commemorative text by Gabriel Christian.

Red Tails: Tuskegee Airmen portrayed in Lucasfilm production

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American pilots to fly in a combat squadron during World War II. Red Tails Trailer X

Approval for Bomber Command Memorial

Westminster City Council in London has given the go-ahead for the erection of a memorial to the 55,573 aircrew of Bomber Command that were killed during World War 2. The monument will be built in Green Park and should be ready by 2012. Cy Grant, the founder and inspirator of this website who died recently, devoted the last years of his life to promoting the memorial – which he referred to as a peace memorial – and emphasizing that the Caribbean sacrifices made in service of Bomber Command should be explicitly commemorated. the Telegraph BBC News More news

George Stanislaus Lau

Sqn Ldr George Stanislaus Lau, died peacefully on 1st April 2010. Beloved husband of Elaine. Funeral Service will take place at St Augustine’s, High Wycombe on Thursday 8th April at 1.30 p.m.

RAF-veteran Cy Grant dies at 90

We received the sad news that RAF-veteran Cy Grant, the great inspirator for this website, has passed away during the night of Saturday February 13th, 2010. Right up till the end his mind and energies were aimed at the acknowledgement of the Caribbean contribution and sacrifices to the Second World War. May he rest in peace. Cy was to be honoured personally at a meeting in the House of Lords on March 4th 2010. The Attorney General Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC presented an award to his daughter Sami instead. The tribute was organised by the Bomber Command Association which presented its plans for the Bomber Command Memorial. Wikipedia BBC Guardian Times-online Kurt Barling’s blog Telegraph ATV Network Caribbeanworldnews You can leave a message in our guestbook. -

Appointment in London

In 1953 the movie ‘Appointment in London’ was released. The story was about a Bomber Command squadron in 1943. Someone involved in the movie had the knowledge and courtesy to include a reference to black aircrew. It lasted only a few seconds, but must have confounded the audience at the time – as it did me when I watched a few days ago! Above is a screen shot. It shows the Wing Commander (played by Dirk Bogarde) chatting to a black airman. One of the script writers for the movie was John Wooldridge, a commander of 105 Squadron RAF during WW2. It seems reasonable to assume that he was aware of the presence of black aircrew in the RAF and inserted the scene into the movie as a mark of recognition and respect. [courtesy Tom Graham from Perth, Australia] Wikipedia

Spitfire pilots

Flight Sergeant James Hyde of San Juan, Trinidad, a Spitfire pilot who arrived in Britain in 1942 to begin his training, here pictured in 1944 with his Squadron’s mascot, a dog called ‘Dingo’. He is wearing a life jacket, known universally as a Mae West, and is holding an oxygen mask and his flying gloves. Most air battles took place at altitudes in excess of 15,000 feet (c. 5000 metres) and oxygen and thermal protection were vital. [Source: – Imperial War Museum (IWM) Reference CH11978] F/O Julian Marryshow with 602 Sqn in 1943 Flying Officer Julian Merryshow (on the right) with B-flight of 602 Sqn at Sumburgh (Shetlands) in January 1943. [Photo: Royal Air Force Museum - Click on image to enlarge] “In September 1942 the squadron moved north to the Orkney and Shetland Islands to intercept the high level German reconnaissance raiders over Scapa Flow. It flew from bases in the south of England from January 1943 and transferred to the Second Tactical Air Force in November flying offensive sweeps over France and providing fighter escorts. Involved in the “D” Day Invasion, 602 later flew from airfields in Europe before returning to England in September 1944 to concentrate on strikes against V2 rocket sites and other prime targets. The squadron disbanded on 15 May 1945 by which time it was credited with the destruction of 150 enemy aircraft.” [Source: 602 (City of Glasgow) RAuxAF museum]

Do you recognise any of these men?

• A group of colored RAF-officers. Front row, from left: [1] unknown, from Jamaica or Belize; [2] Dusty Miller, from Guyana; [3] S/L Corbett (liason); [4] Ulric Cross, from Trinidad; [5] Johnny Smythe, from Sierra Leone; [6] Vivian Romero, from Trinidad; (previously erroneously identified as: Mark Walker, from Trinidad;

Second row from left: [1] E.A. Gordon from Jamaica; [4] Percy Massiah, from Trinidad; [5] possibly his brother C.A. Massiah from Trinidad; [6] Vivian Thomas from Manchester, Jamaica; [7] Jellicoe Scoon from Grenada.Third row from left: [1] E.R Braithwaite from Guyana? The rest are as yet unknown to us. We invite our visitors to share the names of any person they recognise. [Names courtesy P.L.U. Cross a.o.; Photograph courtesy Audrey Elcombe, copyright unknown - click to enlarge]


RAF honours ethnic minorities

To celebrate the contribution that members of the Afro-Caribbean, Indian and other ethnic communities have made to the growth and development of the Royal Air Force, as well as the defence of the U.K. during times of adversity, the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford will be honouring their achievements with a permanent exhibition Diversity in the Royal Air Force. This display does not explicitly address the historial perspective of West Indians who volunteered to serve in the Royal Air Force in WW2 of whom about 400 actually flew as aircrew, with an estimated 103 honoured with distinguished service medals. Despite the MOD’s ‘We Were There’ Touring Exhibition, the current exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum’s ‘War to Windrush’ and the RAF Cosford Museum’s ‘Diversity in the RAF’ we still do not have a complete record of the contribution of volunteers from the Caribbean. There seems to be no official record at the Ministry of Defence, the Air Ministry or the National Archives. This site makes an attempt to redress this oversight. .

Royal Mail issues RAF Uniforms stamps

Royal Mail issued a series of six unique stamps focusing on the RAF’s illustrious history as reflected through its uniforms and flying kits. Each stamp bears an illustration of a uniformed member of the RAF by the artist Graham Turner, who illustrated last year’s Army Uniforms stamps. (Click on image to go to Royal Mail website) .

Telegraph supports Bomber Command Association

The Telegraph has joined the Bomber Command Association to help raise funds to erect a permanent memorial to the 55,000 bomber aircrew killed in the Second World War. The website of the newspaper features many articles with stories and backgrounds about the men who flew the risky missions for Bomber Command. Article fails to recognize Caribbean contribution Under the heading ‘Bomber Command to be honoured after 63 years‘ the website of the Telegraph features an article on the campaign for a memorial for the men of Bomber Command that served during the Second World War. In all, 55,573 were killed and 8,325 were lost. Sadly, where numbers of casualities from Canada, Australia and New Zealand are separately quoted in this article, the Caribbean contribution remains unmentioned. The Telegraph has however published an interview with Guyanese Navigator and POW Cy Grant.