Royal Air Force personnel, West Indian recruits, 1944 (Catalogue reference: AIR 2/8278)

10 April 2014

14:00-15:00

While the United States could boast the black fliers of Tuskegee, few people are aware of the important contribution made by 500 RAF aircrew recruited from the Caribbean and West Africa. Overcoming the legacy of the official British Colour Bar to serve over Europe as pilots, navigators, flight engineers and air gunners, these men were pioneers in the truest sense. After suffering a loss rate of more than 30% and, in some cases, incarceration as black PoWs in Nazi Germany, the men returned to their countries of origin and were lost from the historical record. Mark Johnson has spent 17 years researching this tale, based on personal interviews with survivors, one of whom was his Jamaican great-uncle, a former navigator with Bomber Command's No 102 (Ceylon) Squadron and a holder of the Distinguished Flying Cross. The presentation, which is supported by photographs of the men, outlines their backgrounds and motives for joining up It also describes their combat experiences and explores the possible significance of their legacy for integration and race. relations.

Mark Johnson is a former soldier, a cyber-security writer and historian. His first history title, which tells the largely unknown story of the black RAF aircrew volunteers, will be published by Pen & Sword in March 2014. The author posts regular updates on his website at www.markjohnsonbooks.com.

Sponsored by the Friends of The National Archives.

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