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Memorial unveiled for black soldiers who fought for Britain

RESPECT: Veteran Allan Wilmott, centre, with activist Patrick Vernon (left) and Paul Reid from the Black Cultural Archives

WAR VETERANS, High Commissioners from Commonwealth nations and members of the public gathered in Windrush Square on June 22 for the unveiling of Britain’s first war memorial dedicated to black men and women who served during the First and Second World Wars.

This date and location is particularly significant – it was Windrush Day and at a location which commemorates the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush ship from Jamaica in 1948.

The campaign for the African and Caribbean War Memorial has been three years in the making. It was originally conceived by the Nubian Jak Community Trust, as an extension of the 36 blue plaques installed around the country, commemorating iconic black figures who have helped to mould British history.

The Nubian Jak Community Trust’s mission is to ensure there is a lasting legacy recognising the contribution made by African and Caribbean Military servicemen and servicewomen, as well as addressing the historical erasure of their efforts and contributions. In raising greater awareness of the contributions made to the wars by commonwealth citizens, it is hoped that a legacy of remembrance will be attained, not only for those African and Caribbean heritage servicemen and servicewomen, but also for the African and Caribbean regiments and veterans associations that continue to provide sustenance to veterans and their families.


SUPPORT: London Mayor Sadiq Khan spoke at the unveiling

The memorial itself is made up of two obelisks in Scottish whin stone, erected on to a 12-foot pyramidal plinth, weighing just over five tons. The plinth carries an engraving of the names of every regiment, force, contingent and troop from Africa and the Caribbean, as well as those currently serving in the forces today.

The unveiling was hosted by BBC correspondent Brenda Emmanus and broadcaster Henry Bonsu.

Proceedings opened with instrumental offerings from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) military band, London All Stars Steel Orchestra and African and Caribbean drummers. These were followed by neutral prayer, delivered by two children, as well as a Christian prayer and a Muslim one. A libation was given by Professor Gus John, a priest of African traditional religious persuasion – an ode to the diverse beliefs nurtured across this country.

The ceremony began with a spectacular, traditional military salute and a display of flag and ensigns for each regiment by commonwealth defence representatives of land, air and sea. This was followed by African commemorative war music and dance. Medals were given out to the ex-servicemen and women who made extraordinary contributions to the war effort and public life. This comprised of the Right Honourable: Alhaji Grunshi, Lionel Turpin, Walter Tull, William Robinson Clarke, Cy Grant, Ulric Cross, Sam King, Una Marsons, Charles Drew, Allan Wilmott and Norma Best.

In a heartfelt address, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan told those in attendance:

“These people should be honoured and remembered for their valiant service. What better place than here, on Windrush Square, and what better day than this, Windrush Day?

“If we’re honest – and we have to be honest – there’s still a lot more that needs to be done to highlight the diverse contributions of Commonwealth soldiers during the First and Second World Wars.

“Their stories might not be widely known, but what’s clear is that what they did for our country, and the world, is remarkable.”

Many in the square were elated about this development and the general consensus was that this was ‘long overdue’.

Social commentator and political activist Patrick Vernon told The Voice:

“I am happy with what’s taken place today, and it was a beautiful ceremony – however, there’s more work to be done.

“If you go around the city, different regiments have their own statue. So this is a start, but we must continue.”

For now, it is hoped that historical archives will be improved, families will be remembered and people of African and Caribbean heritage will honour those who served, during the national period of reflection for the world wars.

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