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Lessons for the BNP on black military history

Patrick-Vernon1Lack of knowledge about the Black contribution to both World Wars has opened the door for the BNP to use military imagery. Patrick Vernon says that as Remembrance Sunday approaches, it’s time to reclaim our military history

Nick Griffin, as we now have come accustomed to, shoots from the hip by making provocative and controversial comments which are racist, sexist and homophobic in a deliberate attempt to court the media so he can get some ‘respect’ ……so watch out tomorrow night at Question Time for some more unleashed outrage. What is now interesting that the military establishment are now the latest targets of the BNP.

However, before the military and Nick Griffin continue their dialogue and lock horns it would be worthwhile reflecting for a moment – as we reach Remembrance Sunday – of the Black and Minority Ethnic contribution, not only to both World Wars, but also as far back as the Battle of Waterloo in making Britain ‘Great’.

Over 10,000 men and women from the Caribbean. 100,000 from Africa, and over 500,000 from India and modern day Pakistan fought for the ‘Mother Country’ against fascism during World War 2.

Many of these stories have not been shared with the public and in our school system, and that is why the BNP can use images and symbols from the armed forces based on this ignorance of society in general to peddle their lies and misinformation about immigration. I was very fortunate several years ago to befriend an ex-serviceman named Eddie Martin Noble who lived in Hackney.

He had such a powerful story that I have recently completed a documentary called ‘A Charmed Life’ about his life. Eddie was born in Jamaica in 1917 and volunteered at the age of 25 to serve in World War Two in 1943 where he was stationed in East Anglia at a RAF base.

Although he was not a pilot Eddie still played a significant role in the war by coordinating the logistics and transportation of bombs and ammunition for the fighter planes and bombers. Eddie highest rank was Acting Sergeant. In 1984 New Beacon Books published his first and most successful book called ‘Jamaican Airman’. The book was based on his war time experiences and learning the harsh realities in Britain during the 1950s.

Eddie is one of the last of the pre Windrush generation that played an important role in the reconstruction of post war Britain. His book the ‘Jamaican Airman’ is a seminal piece of work which has inspired thousands of people about Black people’s war time contribution. Andrea Levy whose award winning book ‘Small Island’ was based Eddie’s and other ex service men and women life is now a major BBC drama.

The documentary explores Eddie’s perspectives and values of inspiring young people and to give a historical perspective on the issues around colonisation of the Caribbean, the colour bar and racial inequality in post war Britain. He felt very strong about the lack of acknowledgment of the West Indian contribution to the war effort. Eddie talked in detail about the ‘colour bar’ within the RAF at the height of the war.

He was very critically of Winston Churchill. Eddie was of the opinion that Churchill did not value or respect the black contribution to the war effort and initially tried to block efforts of people from the Caribbean to volunteer for the armed forces. The Colonial Office and expats British businessmen in the Caribbean successfully lobbied Churchill who reluctantly agreed in 1943 to lift the ban for voluntary recruitment.

In 1972 Eddie was attacked by the National Front in Spitalfields Market where his tear ducks were completely destroyed and he was hospitalised for several weeks. Despite this set back and the ‘colour bar’ that Eddie experienced he was very proud to be British and also committed to his Jamaican heritage and identity.

Eddie who passed away over two years ago at the age of 90 helped to shape Britain along with the hundreds of thousands of British subjects from different parts of the Commonwealth. I would have to say that Eddie would turning in his grave if knew that some one like Nick Griffin has been given the platform at Question Time which has now allowed the very fascist which people in Britain and in the Commonwealth were fighting against during WW2.

Today, it is estimated that over 20% of front line troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are from different parts of the Commonwealth, along with Black British, British Muslim and mixed race. We are lucky to learn about the heroics and courage of Johnson Beharry in Iraq who received the Victoria Cross. However, there are many of stories of black women and men who also serve the country day in day out without acknowledgment since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

So the arguments raised by Nick Griffin that the military shares the same old British values of the BNP and that most soldiers on the front line in Afganistation and Iraq would vote BNP and the current military establishment is too ‘pc’ is yet another yarn for the dustbin.

I hope Bonny Grier or Jack Straw can give Nick a copy of Small Island and /or invite him to attend the screening of my film A Charmed Life at the BFI as part of his rehabilitation process in to mainstream politics.

Cllr Patrick Vernon is founder of 100 Great Black Britons(www.100greatblackbritons.com) and Producer and co Director A Charmed Life

A Charmed Life will be screened at the BFI Southbank on the 14th of November further details book office 0207 928 3232 or visit

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2 Responses

  1. Great, Patrick. I think the BBC re Question Time should be paying more attention to its statutory duty under RR(A)A to ‘promote good relations between persons of different racial groups’ in its public functions. Apparently they say their editorial function is not a public function.

    Perhaps we should, together ask for a judicial review of their decision

    greetings and affection Jane

  2. Thanks for posting this Patrick. I am delivering some workshops on this topic for Black History Month. Your work with Eddie is mentioned alongside Ulric Cross DFC, DSO; WAAF veteran Senator Odessa Gittens; the West Africa Frontier Force; and Cy Grant (http://www.caribbeanaircrew-ww2.com/); and as we know, I can only scratch the surface here.

    You’re are absolutely right about this needing to be taught in schools, and that it goes beyond the World Wars (my research found that the first black recipient of a VC was in the mid 19th Century – William Hall).

    What I also think needs to be exposed is that the BNP are so caught up in trying to make political capital out of the British military that they failed to even check that their publicity wasn’t of a British spitfire.

    That shows their level of scholarship, as did Griffin’s claim on Question Time that the “overwhelming majority” of British people are indigenous descendents of people who were here 17,000 years ago “just after the ice melted”!

    I hope to see you at the Charmed Life screening.

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