Lost Pilots of the Caribbean

Glenn Parsons, a barrister practising on the North Eastern Circuit, is Chair of the Circuit’s Diversity Outreach programme, which spreads the word to schools that a legal career is open to everyone.

Finding himself with time on his hands at the start of lockdown, he researched his family roots and discovered that a career of a different kind had been taken up by his two uncles who had travelled from Jamaica in 1943 to join the RAF as volunteers to help Britain fight Germany in the war.

They were not alone.  Approximately 6,500 volunteers enlisted in the Caribbean after the islands received a plea for help from Britain. Of these, around 5,500 came to Britain, including about 4,000 airmen, who were stationed for their initial training at RAF Hunmanby Moor, near Filey, before being dispersed elsewhere. Many were employed in support roles, but out of those who became aircrew, flying Lancasters in bombing raids from RAF Scampton, nearly one-third were killed in action.

Glenn showed us some fascinating photographs of the arrivals, in November 1943. Appalled by the Yorkshire weather, they nevertheless look smart and resolute in their uniforms. The impact on the town of Filey, with a population of 2,500, many of whom had not seen a black person before, must have been considerable. Glenn’s uncles report, and the photographs show, that they were made welcome; in the pubs, in cricket matches with the locals, even in tea with the vicar. The visiting American forces were firmly rebuked by the townspeople when they tried to enforce the segregation that prevailed among their own troops.

These volunteers were among the best and brightest of their generation, including future Prime Ministers of Barbados and Jamaica, and others who found fame as musicians and in other walks of life.

Sadly, at the end of the war the Caribbean servicemen were sent home to be demobbed, and were denied their medals by bureaucratic obstacles. Glenn has an interesting theory that Churchill did not want to mark the Caribbean contribution to the war effort in case it hastened the break-up of Empire by fuelling the cause of independence.

Many of the servicemen returned to Britain on The Windrush in the 1950s to work and settle. It is a matter of regret that they did not receive the welcome that had been extended to them during the war, and that their contribution to the war effort was generally overlooked.

Glenn allied himself to a proposal made by Gifty Burrows, a historian with a mission to bring the history of people of African descent to a wider audience. The proposal was for a permanent memorial to the Caribbean men of Hunmanby. At first the local council appeared enthusiastic, and funds were raised, including from the barristers of the North Eastern Circuit. A blue plaque was made, enscribed with these words:

This plaque commemorates the 4,000 servicemen from the West Indies and the Caribbean, who trained at RAF Hunmanby Moor, Filey, during World War II.

In time of need, they answered the call and came to these shores as volunteers, to serve alongside and as part of the forces of the British Commonwealth and her Allies.


Filey Town Council turned down a request to put the plaque in the Memorial Gardens in Filey. They put forward a series of different reasons, but their failure to honour the servicemen of Hunmanby was such a shocking refusal, that having unsuccessfully addressed a meeting of the Council, Glenn went to the media, and BBC television gave the story considerable publicity.

This resulted in a couple from Filey offering to display the plaque on their wall at 85 Queen Street, ironically only 100 yards from Council offices.

The RAF was informed, and they came up with the inspired idea of unveiling the plaque on 1 April 2023, the official birthday of the RAF 105 years earlier. Air Commodore Sansom attended on behalf of the RAF. Glenn was able to organise for seven veterans, aged between 97 and 100, to travel from across the country to attend the ceremony, some of them wearing their medals.

In unveiling the plaque, Air Commodore Sansom said

It takes a special kind of person to volunteer to put themselves in harm’s way for a war taking place on the other side of the world. As a nation, we were indeed fortunate that such men and women were prepared to come to help us in our fight.

This plaque commemorates those that came over to help in our moment of greatest need. It is also a celebration of the warm welcome that they received from the people of Filey and the support that the town gave to all those who underwent training at RAF Hunmanby Moor.

After the ceremony, a local man approached Glenn and told him some older residents remembered the veterans. The locals had put £300 behind the bar at the Station public house to fund drinks for them after the ceremony, with anything left to go to charity.

The ceremony was attended by a rather embarrassed Filey Town Council Mayor, but the refusal to honour the airmen with a place in the Memorial Gardens still stands.

Glenn’s campaign continues, although he suspects that success will only be achieved with a younger generation of councillors in place. He left us with the email address of the Mayor, Councillor Jacqui Houlden-Banks.








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