Lionel Prince Roper
Own recollections supported by Jean Roper and Faith Tankard (daughters)
Our dad, Lionel Prince Roper, was born in Jamaica in October 1923. He arrived at Hunmanby Moor in November 1944 in the second batch of West Indian volunteer recruits. He recalls spending his 21st birthday aboard a troop ship with enemy submarines in the water.
Dad was at Hunmanby until February 1945 and remembers German bombers targeting the camp and bombing the surrounding area. From February 1945 to March 1946, he was at Harwell near Oxford which was the Operational Training Unit. He then moved to Fairwood Common near Swansea, then Bridgend between March 1946 and May 1947 for more training and to guard the Italian POWs. He was then moved to Bircham Newton in Norfolk where he stayed until mid-June. This was his last station as after that he was repatriated to Jamaica. His records show that he was discharged in September 1947 at the offices in Kingston.
Throughout his military career, Dad never flew the airplanes, but remained as ground crew. He learned to drive in the RAF and was also taught various trades. Dad recalled that he and his friends would get hassled from the white US servicemen (which was not an uncommon occurrence in view of their racist attitudes and segregation in America itself), but the West Indians could always match them. Despite this, Dad had fond memories of his time in the RAF. He felt that although they faced danger, they were able to rely on each other. He always spoke warmly of the way that the British people treated them and he would enjoy time off when they went to dances etc.
Dad went back to where his family lived in Balcarres in Portland, Jamaica and met my mum, Doris Espeut, who lived in the same area. They married in 1953 and soon had two sons. However by 1956, Dad had decided to go to England as there were few opportunities in Jamaica and as his family were reluctant for him to go, his plan was to come for just a few years.
He lived in Birmingham for a short time, before moving to Sheffield. Mum joined him in 1957 and they went on to have seven more children. Our two older brothers joined us in Sheffield in 1961. We moved to Leeds in 1964 as our parents wanted us to attend the Adventist School. Although only one of us ended up at that school, our parents were passionate about education. They encouraged us to grasp the opportunities available and we were always surrounded by books. We all had music lessons and we were all encouraged to stay on at school, even though money was sometimes short.
Mum and Dad paved the way for their brothers and sisters to come to England in the 1960s. Three of them eventually settled in America and Canada, but one uncle lives in London with his family.
Dad has had a variety of jobs. He worked on the buses in Birmingham and Sheffield (pictured left in the 1960s), and then in various factories when we moved to Leeds. He eventually retired about 25 years ago, but worked part-time cleaning at the university after retirement. Mum trained as a nurse and worked for the NHS all of her life.
At one point, Dad became very friendly with the family of John Charles, the Wales and Leeds United football player. He remembers being invited into their home for meals and being made to feel very welcome.
We have taken Dad back to Jamaica a few times and he was able to take us to his childhood home in Portland. It was a great experience for us and we were able to see where our grandparents were buried. They died when we were still young, so we never actually met them. Dad made real sacrifices to make the journey to England, but he has never regretted it and we have had opportunities here that we may not have had in Jamaica.
Dad is now 97 and often talks about his experiences of life. He has twelve grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren (with another one on the way).
Lionel's service number was 715807.
RAF WW2 recruits
Discover more stories about the Caribbean RAF personnel who trained at Filey.
Read further stories about servicemembers of African descent in the East Yorkshire area.