Not many people in Britain today are aware that during World War II, there were over 400 air crew from the Caribbean who flew with the RAF – about 70 receiving commissions, 103 decorations for distinguished service, and over a hundred who gave their lives fighting for the ‘mother country.’
Group Captain Larry Osbourne, the first Afro-Caribbean Officer to achieve the rank, having joined the RAF from Trinidad as a navigator in 1943. An accomplished pilot, who saw active service flying Catalinas and Liberators during World War II, Osbourne remained in the RAF after the cessation of hostilities, before receiving an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his work in the service. His son later followed him into the RAF as a pilot.
Walter Tull was the second black British professional footballer?as a forward playing for Tottenham Hotspur and, with great success, for Northampton Town. In 1914 he signed up for the British Army, joining the Football Battalion. Tull saw action at the Battle of the Somme before being sent to officer training school. In 1917 he received his commission, becoming the first black combat officer in the British army. A popular officer, he served on the Italian front and was killed on the Western Front in March 1918 at Favreuil.
During the First World War (1914-1918) a significant number of Afro Caribbean people arrived in Britain to fight. Soon after thousands arrived to work in the war industries and the merchant navy.
The following wave of Afro-Caribbean immigration in Britain was during the Second World War (1939-1945). Many workers came as volunteers to fight in the RAF and the armed forces to serve.
Born in Trinidad in 1902, Lord Leary Constantine became the first person ever to successfully challenge colour discrimination by a service industry. He was a welfare officer in the RAF, and was refused service in a London Hotel, he later wins damages. Constantine was made an MBE in 1945, knighted in 1962, and elected a life peer.