Caribbean Volunteers at War - The Forgotten Story of the RAF's 'Tuskagee Airmen', Mark Johnson

Caribbean Volunteers at War - The Forgotten Story of the RAF's 'Tuskagee Airmen', Mark Johnson

During the Second World War nearly 500 Black Caribbean volunteers served with the RAF, mainly within Bomber Command (mainly because by the time they reached Britain and the RAF that was the biggest command within the RAF). This valuable work looks at their experiences, from their pre-war life in the Caribbean, through the war, and in some cases into the post-war period.

The author himself spent ten years in the Jamaican Defence Force, while his great uncle was John Blair, DFC, one of the key figures in the book. Although the book ends with a note about attempts by some senior officers in the RAF to reintroduce a 'colour bar', Blair stayed in the RAF for 18 years after the war, rising to Chief Navigation Officer of No.216 Squadron before going on to hold senior posts in aviation in Jamaica.

We start with a look at life in the Caribbean in the pre-war period. Next comes a look at what motivated these men to volunteer - in most cases it was a realisation of the threat posed by the Nazis and a wish to stand up to a bully. Next comes a look at the difficult process of actually volunteering - a process that got rather easier as the war dragged on, but that could be rather difficult at first. The RAF was the most open of the British services, especially when it came to officer ranks, and thus attracted many of the Caribbean volunteers.

The rest of the book focuses on the volunteer's experiences in the RAF, starting with the training process and their arrival in the unfamiliar UK. This looks at both the survivors and the many men who were lost during Bomber Command's long struggle. There are also spirited defences of the Bomber Command campaign from the author and from the veterans themselves.

Two chapters look at the fate of those men who were shot down over occupied Europe and survived. The first looks at the shooting down itself and the period between reaching the ground and falling into German hands, the second at their time as POWs.

One way in which the British experience differed from the American is the lack of segregation. In the USAAF Black airmen served in segregated units, such as the famous 'Tuskagee Airmen'. In the RAF Black airmen were fully integrated, both at squadron level and within aircraft. As the pictures makes clear there was rarely more than one Black airman in the crew of an individual bomber. The same integration continued on into captivity. One gets an impression of acceptance and integration at squadron level, but of an increased level of racism at higher ranks, perhaps where there was less direct contact with the volunteers.

This is a useful study of a neglected group of RAF airmen, and a useful addition to the literature on Bomber Command.

1 - Island Life
2 - I Could Never Stand a Bully
3 - Piss Off! Cold as the Devil; Black Fighter Boys
4 - The Mediterranean Theatre; I Will Have None of that Nonsense; Part of Something Big
5 - The Air War
6 - The Bombs
7 - Lost over Europe
8 - Black Prisoners of War
9 - Bombing the Reich
10 - A Full Tour
11 - Forgotten Warriors

Appendix 1 - List of Coloured Caribbean Volunteer Aircrew 1939-1945
Appendix 2 - The Enemy

Author: Mark Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 248
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2014

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