Friday, June 19, 2009

Caribbean WW II Veterans to be honored in Washington ceremony

By Thomson Fontaine

Few people know that thousands of British West Indians including from Dominica served in the British armed forces during World Wars I and II. Those who served in World War I, such as Norman Washington Manley (Jamaica), Captain Arthur Cipriani (Trinidad), and Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler (Grenada/Trinidad) went on to become leaders for beneficial social change which enhanced freedom and democracy in the British West Indies.
Cy Grant
Grant was shot down over Holland and survived a Gestapo prison camp.

When World War II broke out on September 19, 1939, many British West Indians answered the call. About 16,000 West Indians volunteered for service alongside the British during the Second World War. Wendell Christian and Twistleton Bertrand served in the South Caribbean Forces which was created to secure the southern part of the region closest to Trinidad’s oil industry and the vital refineries in Curacao then under attack by marauding German U-Boats.

Over 100 British West Indian women were posted overseas of which 80 chose the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) for their contribution, while around 30 joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). There were many more ATS and WAAF service women who stayed in the Caribbean region and did local duty.

Around 7,000 West Indians served with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in roles from fighter pilots to bomb aimers, air gunners to ground staff and administration. No other colony contributed more airmen to the RAF than those from the British West Indies.

Tonight these brave men will be honored and on Saturday the general public will have an opportunity to meet and greet some of the survivors of this great campaign. The Saturday June 20 event is scheduled for 1:00 P.M. – 3:00 P.M. at 3060 Mitchellville Rd, Suite 216, Bowie, MD 20716.

The Rt Hon Baroness Patricia Scotland of Ashtal, QC, Attorney General of England will be the keynote speaker at Friday's event honoring the many Caribbean veterans who fought for Great Britain during the two world wars. She will also give a speech at the Saturday event in Bowie.

The event dubbed Caribbean Glory is the brainchild of Dominicans Gabriel Christian and Judge Irving Andre who just last year published For King and Country; a book detailing the sacrifice, courage and dedication of the many fighting men from the Caribbean who took up arms to help defeat Nazi Germany.
baroness scotland
Dominica born UK Attorney General Baroness Scotland.

Undaunted by racial and other stereotyping, the grandsons and great grandsons of former slaves eagerly signed up alongside their colonial masters to wage war. They fought bravely and with dignity in the British Armed Forces thus helping assure victory in the battle against fascism in both world wars.

The event will be held at Andrews Air Force Base Officers Club on June 19, 2009, just outside of Washington D.C. It will be under the auspices of Trinidad & Tobago's Ambassador to the US and the OAS, HE Glenda Morean Phillip, and will pay tribute to the many Caribbean heroes of that campaign.

Many of the RAF veterans returned to the Caribbean and gave much to our societies by their civic leadership; they include: Dominican scholar, journalist and politician Edward Scobie, Jamaica's Michael Manley, Barbados Errol Barrow, St. Vincent's Milton Cato, among others.

A few of the surviving members of this brave campaign will be present at the event. Already well into their late eighties and early nineties, Ulric Cross and Dudley Thompson of the Royal Air force, and Wendell Christian and Twistleton Bertrand of the British Army will represent the men of the greatest generation that ever lived. Former three star general of the United States army and Undersecretary of Defense for Education Policy, Lt General Samuel Ebessen (Ret), who was born on St. Croix, has also promised to be there.

Ulric Cross, was the only black in his squadron, rising through the ranks to become its leader. He would lead his squadron over the skies of Europe and was honored at Buckingham Palace by King George VI with the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), and later given command over the demobilization of all colonial forces. He would become a judge, and serve as former High Commissioner to the UK, and ambassador to France and Germany.

Dudley Thompson, Rhodes Scholar and Oxford graduate flew over Europe to defeat fascism and famously defended and freed former Kenyan leader Jomo Kenyatta from jail. He would serve for many years in the Jamaica parliament
Dudley Thompson
Dudley Thompson flew sorties over Europe and later became a leading lawyer.

The daring and heroic story of Cy Grant is one that must be told. Shot down over Holland, interrogated by the dreaded Gestapo, this son of Guyana was able to survive prisoner of war camp and was liberated by the advancing Red Army in 1945.

When caught, the unbelieving Germans took a look at his dark complexion and publicized his photo in a national Nazi paper with the caption: “A Captured RAF Officer of Indeterminable Race.” Later, a lawyer and brilliant actor, Grant was the first person of color to have a show on BBC. He acted alongside notables of the stage such as Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton.

Although, he will not be present at the ceremony, Grant will be honored for his outstanding service during the war.

Wendell Christian and Twistleton Bertrand, both from Dominica served with the Caribbean forces and later took leading roles in their country’s fire and defense forces.

For her part, Hon Baroness Scotland who was born in Dominica became the United Kingdom’s first black female Queens Counsel (QC) at the age of thirty-five. She later became a judge and served on the British Privy Council – the country’s highest court of appeals.

Baroness Scotland is into her fourth term in British politics having served in former prime minister Tony Blair’s foreign and home offices, and was elevated to the top legal position in her country with the ruling Gordon Brown administration.

A fifteen minute film - West Indies Calling - unearthed from deep within the archives of the Imperial War Museum will also form part of the event. The film features West Indians in London at the height of the war (1943) speaking of their experiences and contribution for the freedom campaign then underway.

It is considered to be the oldest film with West Indian notables that anyone in our generation will have seen. The famous Lord Learie Constantine is featured in that film alongside the British West Indians.

Also of note at the event will be a preview of the documentary Caribbean Glory! - The story of the British West Indian Military. The event is open to all interested parties for a small $100.00 contribution.

Collaborators for this event include: the Dominica Academy of Arts and Sciences,www.caribbeanaircrew-ww2,, The Institute of Caribbean Studies, Godfrey De La Rosa’s Under the Coconut Tree Restaurant, CariBeat Events and the West Indian American Military Members Association.

Further information can be obtained by sending an e-mail to [email protected] or calling the law firm of Gabriel J. Christian and Associates, LLC at 301 218-9400 to pay by credit card.CLICK HERE FOR INVITATION.

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Good Article
I've been doing re4search on my grandfather (Dr.Richard Fleming of New Haven Conn.) nephews from Trindad who were trained as RAF bomber pilots in Canada in 1942. The surviving nephew went on to be the first Attorney General of Trinidad in 1962/63 and later became a Judge.
Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Hal Fleming [email protected]

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