Film and photography project brought to you by The-Latest.com
Welcome to our youth-centred photography and film project about race relations in Britain during and after the Second World War. At its core are the testimonies of 13 surviving veterans, particularly those West Indian and African young men and women who volunteered to join the war effort and soon afterwards returned to live in Britain. They risked their lives to serve under the British flag in times of war, then faced a second battle – their right to remain under that flag, as British citizens. Until now their stories have not been properly heard. Nor has the contribution they made been fully recognised, both in helping win the war but also changing the face of British society. This project, brought to you by The-Latest.Com, seeks to both redress that balance and explore the sometimes painful evolution of a multi-cultural society from a unique perspective.
Our project explored the relationship between Caribbean and English World War Two servicemen and women against the backdrop of war. It documented the real-life experiences of 13 ex-servicemen. The hour-long film that was made recorded a frank exchange of views and discussion between the two groups, which has not been done before in the UK. Young volunteers were involved at every filming, photography, school assembly and historical research stage. They too held a dialogue with the veterans.Ivy Chen, 82, is the sister of George “Busha” Rowe, who joined the RAF in Jamaica with Laurent Phillpotts in 1943. Rowe, father of Marc Wadsworth, and Phillpotts became good friends. Chen remembers her brother going off to war, leaving behind his childhood sweetheart, Daisy..
During World War Two black people from across the British Empire enthusiastically joined the army, navy and Royal Air Force and played their part in fighting Nazi Germany and its allies. In the air, at sea and on land they risked their lives, yet very little attention has been given to the thousands of black servicemen and women who supported the war effort. An exception is a book by Stephen Bourne, one of the consultants to the Divided by Race, United in War and Peace (DRUWP) project.
It is estimated the West Indies provided more than 16,000 volunteers to defend Britain from the Nazis in the Second World War. Thousands of them joined the Merchant Navy, taking part in dangerous convoys that kept supply routes open at sea. Five thousand Caribbean sailors were killed as German submarines, known as U-boats, destroyed many ships. In Bourne’s The Motherland Calls – Britain’s Black Servicemen and Women 1939-45 (The History Press, 2012) he states that nearly 6,000 West Indian men served with the RAF: 5,536 as ground staff and 300 as aircrew. Jamaica and Trinidad donated fighter planes, and the Jamaica Squadron and a Trinidad & Tobago Squadron resulted from this.
In the DRUWP film, we learn about the issue of race relations in the UK during the war years of 1939-45 from their perspectives, in oral and visual accounts. Archive material and experts, Stephen Bourne and Tony Warner, provide a wider context. We discover how far race relations in Britain have improved (or not) from those who were called on to fight in a war against Hitler’s fascism.
The Black Caribbean ex-servicemen and women recounted their journey from the islands to what they saw as their British “Motherland”; the circumstances they left behind; their understanding of the political world order at that time; their expectations of England and how they were received by ordinary English people; and their fears and aspirations for the future.
The white English ex-servicemen recall their life in England before the war; their hopes and dreams as young men and women at that time; and their experiences, however limited, of Black people and preconceived views of colonial territories such as the West Indies and their inhabitants.Laurent Phillpotts, 90, left Jamaica to serve in the RAF in 1944 with George 'Busha' Rowe, landing at the port of Liverpool. He was sent to Filey's Camp, in north Yorkshire to train as ground crew, working in communications. He carried this through into civilian life, becoming a printer at the Daily Mirror and founded Colonial News.
The ex-servicemen and women discuss as a group the cultural barriers and racial tensions that may have affected the way in which they worked together in the war. As veterans they discuss the notion of Britain as a multicultural society and the vexed issue of immigration today. They all express their views about the rise of far-right political parties in the UK like the British National Party and in particular we learn how white English servicemen feel about the use of their wartime experiences in British National Party propaganda.
These stories are hidden histories that will be lost when the elders in our community pass away. That is why The-Latest.Com, Britain’s first dedicated citizen journalism website, embarked on this project to capture the narratives in a permanent form for posterity.
"Like so many of our people, we have now had a personal experience of German barbarity which only strengthens the resolution of all of us to fight through to final victory."
King George VI
Vince McBean, 56, joined the army in 1971. He served in Germany, Canada and Northern Ireland, as a member of the Royal Green Jackets light infantry. McBean has worked as a record producer in south London and is chair of the West Indian Association of Service Personnel.
Harold Lyons, 86, joined the army in 1944, just 10 weeks before the end of the war. He served in Germany and Egypt in the Royal Signals, the Royal Norfolk Regiment and the Royal Engineers. He became an investigations officer for the Royal Mail and helped jail the Great Train Robbers.
Paul Chambers, 52, joined the Jamaica Defence Force in 1980 and went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst a year later. He became a captain and served with Caribbean forces when they joined the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. He is secretary of the West Indian Association of Service Personnel.
Dave Fellowes volunteered in 1942 aged 17 and joined the Royal Australian Air Force in Britain as tail gunner on a Lancaster bomber. After the war he was posted in India, and went into civil aviation. He featured in the Bomber Command memorial service at the Albert Hall in 2012.
Irwin Eversley, 54, was born in Barbados. He joined the elite Paratroop Regiment in 1980 and saw active service in Northern Ireland then in the Falklands, where he was among the team that raised the Union Jack in Port Stanley, the capital. He went on to become a firefighter, retiring after more than 25 years’ service.
Noel Davies, 92, joined the RAF in Sierra Leone. He served in Sudan assembling and testing Lancaster bombers and Spitfires. He came to Britain for the first time soon after the war, on extended service in the RAF. His experience, qualifications and ‘Oxford English’ enabled him to become a successful engineer.
Allan Wilmot, 87, left Jamaica to serve in the Royal Navy in 1941, for two years. He then served in the RAF’s air sea rescue unit until 1947. Wilmot was a member of the chart-topping Southlanders in the 1950s – the first black group to achieve popular success in the UK, and the longest-running.
Sam King MBE
Sam King MBE, 86, joined the RAF in Jamaica in 1944. He landed in Greenock, Scotland, that year and was shocked at the devastation German bombing had caused. He was a skilled aircraft fitter, stationed throughout Britain. A community activist, he became Mayor of Southwark in 1983.
Ron Crowder, 84, joined the British army Royal Artillery in 1945. He served in Germany, France, Egypt and Palestine. The latter was not yet Israel and British forces were attacked by Jewish fighters. Crowder served as president of the Dulwich Royal British Legion for more than 20 years.
Neil Flanigan MBE
Neil Flanigan MBE joined the RAF in Jamaica in 1943. As ground crew at Bomber Command in England, he specialised in instrument repair, servicing the squadron that sent men off to the ill-fated Arnhem mission. Flanigan is involved in community activities, for which he received the MBE, and is president of the West Indian Association of Service Personnel.
Peter Kempson, 91, was conscripted into the army in 1941 where he was a dispatch rider and drove Scammell Pioneer recovery wagons used to transport UK and US army tanks. Kempson fought in the battle of Arnhem, Holland, in 1944, where Allied forces were defeated by the Germans. He was involved in the D-Day landings in Normandy the same year.
Leslie Rice, 83, was born in Peckham, south-east London, where he still lives today. He joined the army in 1948 and went to Germany, where he was involved in the “mopping-up” operation after the Nazis had been defeated. He also served in Malaya, where he fought Chinese bandits. Rice’s first job after leaving the army was working as a crane operator on the River Thames.
Commander of 1st British Airborne Division - (Commenting on the British defeat at Arnhem) - January 1945:
"The losses were heavy, but all ranks would willingly undertake another operation under similar conditions…We have no regrets."
Major General Robert Urquhart
Daniel Knowles, assistant comment editor, Telegraph Online.
I awoke this morning, slightly bleary-eyed, to find an army outside. For a second, I thought a war must be on but then it transpired that most of the camouflage-clad young men and women standing in neat rows were about 15, all cadets. Then there were some dignified old West Indian gentlemen in dress uniforms, and a detachment of perhaps twenty real soldiers led by a man with a stick. I found some trousers and wandered outside. It was a commemoration for West Indian servicemen. And under my window!
Pretty soon, an order went up and the assembled teenagers, grandfathers and soldiers began marching towards Brixton Town Hall, five abreast, blocking off traffic. On the pavements, children and adults stood and cheered. Then several dignitaries gave speeches, before a minute’s silence. One man praised the West Indies veterans' organisation which organised the march: "we cannot rely on anything other than this spirit of endurance and our own endeavour". The Jamaican High Commissioner paid homage to West Indians "serving around the world, wherever the Union flag is flying" and to Jamaica's pride in its history and its part in the Commonwealth.
And I realised, as I watched this spectacle take over Brixton, that these hundred or so teenagers are a much fairer representation of the area than their contemporaries who hang out in children's parks smoking dope. They're more normal than the few hundred who came through smashing windows and stealing televisions in the 2011 riots.
Most of the Caribbean mothers standing around the edges were the sort you see arguing over the price of meat in the butchers' shops on Electric Avenue, watching proudly as their children spent their Sunday morning standing to attention to honour British soldiers.
We in the media are not switched on enough to things like this. Places like Brixton mostly get attention from journalists when riots break out, or when someone is murdered, or as part of angst-filled social commentaries written from the worst estates. It's important to cover those things, of course, and if all anyone wrote about was how happy the world is, the newspaper industry would be far closer to death than it already is. But it is too easy to think of areas like Brixton purely as poverty-struck, crime-ridden, welfare-dependent sink holes. They're not.
When I hear politicians use phrases like the "broken society", as David Cameron still occasionally does, it makes me deeply uneasy. What amazes me is how well things are actually still working, especially when you consider the state of the economy. Sure, we've got problems, but I'm inclined to agree with the Army officer I spoke to this morning: I suggested that this is a pretty good show of why society isn't broken. He cheerily replied that all these politicians "are talking out of their f***ing a***s".
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.”
I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Producer and Project Manager
Marc Wadsworth was project manager and film producer. He is a highly experienced working journalist, broadcaster, published author and Editor of The-Latest.Com. A visiting lecturer in journalism at a world-renowned university in London, he is also a community trainer who has worked as a Morley College tutor at Kids Company. He did his master’s degree in Contemporary British History at King’s College, London, achieving a distinction, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Pam Fraser Solomon
Pam Fraser Solomon was the director and mentor for part of the project. She is a broadcasting professional who has worked as executive producer on popular BBC TV soaps including EastEnders and Holby City. She has also made her own short films. Fraser Solomon is an honours graduate in the creative arts and holds a teaching qualification. She is a member of the Institute for Learning, The Radio Independent's Group and The Film and Video Workshop.
Director and Film Editor
Jimmy Haisman took over from Pam Fraser Solomon as camera operator, director and film editor. He runs Chiba Visuals, which has carved out a name for itself making short documentaries and music videos.
Tony Warner is the founder and director of Black History Walks guided tours, which highlight influences and contributions that people of African descent have made over the centuries to some of the most popular places in London. He is a special advisor to the Imperial War Museum.
Scriptwriter and Archives
Steve Haisman is a freelance writer, researcher, photographer and documentary maker, who worked on script development and archive material. His film Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus won the Seattle documentary award in the US.
Harris “Harry” Dickinson, 16, is a former pupil of Highams Park School, who now attends college where he is studying filmmaking and drama. Dickinson was the camera operator on a number of film shoots for our project and proved to be competent and professional in this role and was happy to be guided to learn new skills. His grandfather, Harold Lyons, was one of the veteran participants.
Stephen Bourne is a historian of black Britain. Raised on a council estate in Peckham, after graduating from university in 1988, he worked for the British Film Institute on a project that documented the history of black people in British television. A qualified librarian, his books include The Motherland Calls: Britain’s Black Servicemen and Women 1939-45, unearthing the hidden history of black Britain and the Second World War.
Associate Producer and Administrator
Deborah Hobson was associate producer, head of administration and worked on archive material. She is deputy editor of The-Latest.com and a freelance writer specialising in human interest, celebrity and lifestyle features. Hobson is also a Curator at Ohmy News International and a blogger on The Huffington Post. She has written scoops for The-Latest.com using the Freedom of Information Act.
Brian Usher is pictures editor of The-Latest.com and head of photography. He is a highly experienced editorial and commercial photographer whose work has been published throughout the world in many well-known magazines and newspapers. He has featured in several books and is a writer and photographer for the Royal Photographic Society magazine.
Pupil at Highams Park School
Sidney Bishop, 15, attends Highams Park School. She has a keen interest in filmmaking and photography and volunteered to work in our Photography and Exhibition group. Bishop thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the oral history training run by the Oral History Society as part of the film project. She attended a marchpast and parade of the West Indian Association of Service Personnel where she was a valued assistant to the project film director.
Pupil at Highams Park School
Amelia Griffiths, 15, attends Highams Park School. Amelia is interested in history and the treatment of World War Two servicemen and women, particularly those from different nations. She interviewed some of the veterans and also volunteered for our Photography and Exhibition group and took part, with Sidney Bishop, in Oral History training run by the Oral History Society as part of the film project.
Information And Communications Teacher
Melinda Adams-Cambran is a senior information and communications teacher at Harris Academy Bermondsey and a former director, producer and archivist for MTV networks and VH1. Adams-Cambran has a passion for media, education and working with young people. A keen photographer and former journalist, she co-ordinated the Schools and Education group and ensured that as many students as possible took part.
Ngozi Ideh was associate producer. She has a bachelor¹s degree in sociology from the University of East London and a post-graduate diploma in integrative counselling from Newham College, London. Her achievements include the writing and co-production of a ballad (remix) called You Don¹t Try which reached No 2 in the UK Drum and Bass Charts in 2000. She has since been working with different Nollywood film directors and is currently involved in the promotion of the newly released The Last Flight to Abuja.
Oliver Barrett worked as a photographer and curator on the project. He is a freelance photographer and journalist who has contributed to The-Latest.Com since 2011, after his work was included among the finalists of the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust’s Street Photographer of the Year competition. His work regularly features in a broad range of publications, both in print and online, and he specialises in arts, politics and travel, particularly in relation to the black diaspora.
Today we may say aloud before an awe-struck world: "We are still masters of our fate. We are still captain of our souls."
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