Black History Month

Black History Month: West Indian Contribution In WW2 'Beyond Doubt'

Royal Air Force and Royal Navy veteran Allan Wilmot described his wartime service for Black History Month during a 2018 interview.

During the 2018 interview with BFBS, Allan Wilmot described in frank and honest terms the racism he sometimes encountered.

Allan Charles Wilmot was born in Jamaica in 1925. 

After leaving college in 1941, aged 16, he lied about his age to join the Royal Navy.

Mr Wilmot said: "They wanted you and they didn’t ask any questions.

"You are happy that you are serving, you’re helping the British Empire in their hour of need," he added.

Allan served on a minesweeper, HMS Hauken, escorting convoys to the Panama Canal, and picking up survivors from torpedoed ships in the waters around the West Indies.

A 16-year-old Allan Wilmot lied about his age to join the Royal Navy in 1941.

In 1943, he applied to join the Air Sea Rescue Services of the Royal Air Force.

En-route to England, his troop ship stopped in Virginia, USA, where he encountered segregation for the first time.

"The American authorities realised that there would be a bit of bother there, so they tried their best that we don’t need to go out in the towns or anything," he recalled.

"They had girls being bussed in and parties and all that and everything to keep us in, but a few of us decided to break the rule and go in town.

"These few Jamaicans now went in town and they saw the restaurant, not knowing about the racism, and they went in the restaurant.

"When we came out of the restaurant now, we saw a crowd of Black Americans and we said, 'What happened?'. They said, 'Oh, they’ve never seen any black face get in that restaurant before'.

"But because we were in the British uniform now, the restaurant owner, restaurant people, you know, and the public in general, the white public, accepted us."

A fellow airman with Allan Wilmot in their RAF uniforms.

During a posting to Southampton, Mr Wilmot and his friends headed to the dance halls of London at weekends, where he said they would dance until "four o’clock in the morning".

He also said he was generally welcomed when going into pubs: "You sit down, the public always accepted us, they said 'Welcome to come and help us'."

However, not all members on the Allied side were so welcoming.

Mr Wilmot explained: "You find two or three white Americans come to the door and look around and see us… they say 'Hey, [racial slur], get over here'.

"Well when you use that word to a Jamaican especially, it’s like you put a red cloth before a bull.

"We go haywire and then the white Americans couldn’t understand how these black fellows are attacking them, because they were not accustomed to that where they come from.

"A black fellow where they come from wouldn’t even dare look at them, much more to be fighting them and after they realised that these black fellows in British uniform are different altogether."

With their motto 'The Sea Shall Not Have Them', Mr Wilmot's rescue boat would race across the waves locating downed aircrew desperate to be saved.

He said: "As far as you are concerned, and you are managing the sea, you don’t know where he is from, whether he is Australian, New Zealand, or English or Canadian, you just pick him up.

"On one occasion, we picked up some German fliers and you know when you hand them the net on the side, and when they came and they looked up and saw the black faces, they stopped for a while.

"They couldn’t believe it that we were going to save their lives. Anyway, quickly they started smiling, happy that they were still alive."

After the war, Allan went back home to Jamaica in 1946. But he soon realised the government hadn't prepared for returning war veterans and there was a lack of jobs.

Allan took the opportunity to come back England at a time when Britain was desperate for help to rebuild the country after the devastation caused by the war.

He said he was disappointed, however, to discover the mood had changed.

"You helped us in the war, the war's over, what have you come back for," he says, remembering his experience of the general mood in post-war Britain.

Allan has become a leading member of the West Indian Ex-Services Association, where he has been highlighting the contributions made by black servicemen and women during the Second World War.

"It is beyond doubt the help that we gave," he said.