RAF

'RAF Integrated From Day One': Author On Great-Uncle's WW2 Service

Flight Lieutenant John Blair volunteered for the RAF in 1942, surviving 30 bombing operations and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The great-nephew of a Second World War veteran has been speaking about why the RAF navigator is his inspiration.

Flight Lieutenant John Blair was born in 1919 in Jamaica and volunteered for the Royal Air Force in 1942.

The Second World War veteran survived a full tour of 30 bombing operations and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his work during the conflict.

His great-nephew, Mark Johnson, write a book about the experiences of wartime volunteers from the Caribbean, based upon the conversations he had with his great-uncle.

"He described himself, so I'm using his words, as 'This little black boy from Jamaica in a bomber aircraft, flying over the UK while completing the last phases of training'," Mr Johnson recalled.

"He found it hard to believe he was there, but he was."

Flt Lt Blair trained as a RAF navigator in Canada, before being commissioned in the UK.

Speaking about his great-uncle's experience in Britain, Mr Johnson said he had found the country "extremely welcoming".

"He was posted to Yorkshire. He described people in Yorkshire as extremely friendly."

Mr Johnson added that his great-uncle was "very, very clear in his mind" as to why West Indians volunteered during the Second World War.

"It was because they recognised that if the Nazis – if Hitler – succeeded in conquering and invading Britain, that the British Empire, the dominion countries, would be under threat and that they may return to slavery in places like Jamaica," he said.

Flight Lieutenant John Blair wears RAF uniform during WW2 USED ON 191020 CREDIT Lynch family cropped
Flight Lieutenant John Blair served in the RAF from 1942 until 1963 (Picture: Courtesy of the Lynch family).

While Flt Lt Blair's experience in the United Kingdom was positive overall, his great-nephew explained "there were certainly incidents of racism".

"There were cases in officers' messes where some RAF officers would refuse to sit next to, or have a drink next to, a black airman," Mr Johnson said.

However, he remarked that "in the main" people were "welcomed and integrated".

"The crews were integrated crews in Bomber Command," Mr Johnson added.

While the armed forces in the United States were segregated in the majority of instances during the Second World War – the Royal Air Force "never did that", the veteran's great-nephew said.

"The RAF integrated from day one.

"I think it's quite exceptional that an organisation like [the RAF] was able to adapt so quickly, in the space of a year or two, and accept people from all around the world."

RAF Halifax Bomber WW2 aircraft USED ON 191020 CREDIT MOD.jpg
The Halifax bomber was used in the Second World War and is the aircraft Flt Lt Blair navigated during the war (Picture: MOD).

Flt Lt Blair went on to serve more than two decades in the British military, having been asked to remain in the RAF after the war ended, eventually leaving in 1963.

He passed away in 2004.

"I think we've lost sight of the tremendous, tremendous contribution that immigrants have made and continue to make to this country – immigrants of all races," Mr Johnson said.

"We've lost sight of the fact that Britain would be a much poorer place materially and culturally, were it not for the arrival of outsiders and the contributions that outsiders make."

He added that he finds it "sad" when people "don't understand that, don't appreciate that".

"The main message is: it's possible to integrate," he said.

"It's possible to appreciate and recognise the contribution of outsiders.

"It's possible for an outsider to want to build this country to the same extent [and] with the same passion as someone born here wants."