On Saturday, 1st April 2023, the 105th anniversary of the RAF, a plaque was placed at 85 Queens Street, Filey to commemorate the recruits from the Caribbean who volunteered to come to the ‘Mother Country’ to help during World War Two.
This was the culmination of 3 years of tireless effort on the part of Glenn Parsons, supported by Gifty Burrows, who had attempted to get the local Filey Town Council to agree to a permanent location in the Memorial Gardens but without success. Instead, the location of the plaque is the outcome of the generosity of Linda Burrows, a local hotelier, who after hearing about the refusal of Filey Town Council to allow these recruits to be commemorated in the town’s memorial gardens on the basis that they "were not from the town" offered her premises to host the plaque. Linda, like many of the other past and present residents of Filey, was outraged at the stance taken by members of the Town Council, who continue in their reluctance to understand the important and unique role played by the town in welcoming these young men. These men risked their welfare in becoming members of the British Royal Air Force, and were stationed far away from home and all that was familiar.
Over 200 people gathered to witness the plaque being unveiled and the occasion was honoured by the presence of six veterans: Gilbert Clarke, John 'Jack' Crawford, Neil Flanigan MBE, Alford Gardner, Prince Albert 'Jake' Jacob and Ralph Ottey.
It was a truly remarkable occasion with friends and family of those brave airmen who sadly were no longer with us supported by former residents of the town who had travelled hundreds of miles to witness the unveiling of the plaque.
Speeches were made by Air Commodore Adam Sansom (the regional representative of the RAF) who acknowledged the tremendous bravery and sacrifice of the Caribbean servicemen. Major Johanna Lewin JP (retired), Chair of the Jamaican branch of the RAF Association, read a statement on behalf of the Jamaican Government. Glenn Parsons, who had contributed so much in support of the memory of his family and others also gave a speech. The Mayor of Filey attended but did not speak.
On this occasion Glenn stated in his speech:
"It is so important to remember that the arrival of these overseas servicemen represented the first mass immigration of people from the Caribbean to these shores, several years before the Empire Windrush even set sail. Many of those that came were teenagers, some may even have lied about their age and were perhaps not really old enough to serve, but they came nonetheless, they came because the ‘mother country’ was in need.
They came and they were proud to do so. Some lost their lives and never returned home. So let no one be mistaken, these men made a real and significant contribution to the war effort and some made the ultimate sacrifice for their troubles. However, after the war, their selfless service and acts of bravery were almost completely erased from the history books.
These men and their courageous deeds became invisible in that great story of those that fought for the rights and freedoms that we all enjoy in this country today. There are people both young and old who simply have no idea that people of colour fought and died alongside their British counterparts in both World Wars. It is an omission and a most grievous wrong that I and many others just could not let stand. That is why this plaque is so very important."
The fight for a permanent presence in the Memorial Gardens will continue, but for now the plaque remains prominently displayed for all to see in Queens Street.
Photo credits: Glynis Neslen, Glenn Parsons
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