Prince Charles Praises Contribution Of Black Servicemen In World Wars

The Prince of Wales has paid tribute to the "remarkable" contribution servicemen from the West Indies and Africa made during the First and...

The Prince of Wales has paid tribute to the "remarkable" contribution servicemen from the West Indies and Africa made during the First and Second World Wars, as he met veterans in south London.

Speaking during a visit to the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, the heir to the throne praised the institution which is home to a wealth of documents chronicling the history of black people in Britain. During an impromptu speech, Charles said: 

"It's so encouraging that now, at last, you have a centre such as this which allows you to develop so many opportunities, but also to bring the message to so many people in this country and elsewhere about the remarkable contribution made over so long by people from African and Caribbean descent, who have contributed so much to this country. And we're very lucky that you have made that contribution, and particularly so, if I may say so, during the First World War and Second World War."

Tens of thousands of African and Caribbean soldiers, sailors and airmen fought on behalf of the "mother country" during the First and Second World Wars.

Their contribution is still being recognised as the Black Cultural Archives - the first national black heritage centre in the UK - is actively seeking documents, testimonies and other archive material from the families of those who fought, to build up a true picture of their efforts.

Charles told the audience, which included supporters and staff from the centre: 

"When we think of how many people were in that war from all around Africa and the Caribbean, their legacy is a truly remarkable one, and I'm so glad that you were able to ensure that story is told properly."

During the visit, Charles, who was joined by the Duchess of Cornwall, met a group of veterans including Jamaican-born Allan Wilmot, who had a two-year stint in the Royal Navy during the Second World War before joining the RAF's air sea rescue unit.

He was also a member of the 1950s group 'The Southlanders' - best known for the song 'I Am A Mole And I Live In A Hole' - with his brother Harry Wilmot, father of the entertainer Gary Wilmot.

Asked why he joined up, Mr Wilmot, who proudly wore his medals for the royal visit, replied: 

"At the time I had just left college and the war was on and they were asking for people to help and thought 'this is a chance to start life' because if you survived you would have a trade or something. And then we were British at the time - we were more British than anything - and the mother country was in trouble."

During the war he helped rescue pilots and aircrews, both Allied and German, who had ditched in the waters around the UK and he joked about the reaction he got from the Luftwaffe: 

"The Germans couldn't figure out how they had black faces fighting against them, so to the Germans I was more of a novelty than anything".

Speaking about how The Southlanders started, he said: 

"I was in a British vocal group, in those days everything was American and a friend of mine got the idea that we could do the same as the Americans which we did and it ran for years."

As the royal couple toured the archive centre they were shown letters, newspaper cuttings, photographs that illustrated the contribution of Black and African people to British life.

They learnt about the Guyanese barrister, writer and actor Cy Grant who voiced the character Lieutenant Green in the popular 1960s children's series Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons.

And the Prince was left fascinated by a screening which showed Nelson Mandela's trip to Brixton, hosted by him, in 1996.

He watched as Mandela danced during a visit to the Brixton Recreation Centre, with himself in the background.

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