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Trinidadian WWI veteran nominated for Southwark blue plaque

VOTE: George A Roberts has been nominated for a Southwark blue plaque [Courtsey of Stephen Bourne]

A TRINIDADIAN soldier who fought for England in the First World War and then went on to spend the next world war fighting fires in Southwark, has been nominated for a blue plaque award.

Sergeant George Arthur Roberts, who earned the nickname, ‘Coconut Bomber’ in WWI, is a contender for this year’s Southwark Blue Plaque award for his contribution to the borough at a time of great change and turmoil.

Roberts was born in 1890 on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and enrolled in the Trinidad Army as a youngster.

When the war began, the enthusiastic young volunteer signed up to the European Service and worked his way to England, where he was placed in the Middlesex Regiment, Southwark News reported.

After fourteen months of training, Roberts was shipped off to France.

He was taken back to visit Trinidad in 1921 and 1935 to help recruit others to the war effort. He is said to have given “vigorous speeches on behalf of his adopted country”, which were so rousing that 250 men signed up immediately.

After the First World War, Roberts settled at 84 Meeting House Lane in Peckham. When he met his first wife, Margaret in 1920, they moved to 40 Bournemouth Road before settling in the Lewis Trust Dwellings in Warner Road, Camberwell and this remained Robert’s home until he died in January, 1970.

Not a man to shy away from danger, as the Second World War began, Roberts signed up to the National Fire Service.


WAR HERO: A portrait of George A Roberts by famous wartime painter Norman Hepple [Curtsey of Stephen Bourne]

In 1943, Roberts was made a section leader and the following year he was awarded a British Empire Medal for “general duties at New Cross Fire Station and for his part as a founder and pioneer of the Discussion and Education groups of the Fire Service throughout the Second World War".

Local historian, Stephen Bourne, who nominated George Roberts for the Southwark Blue Plaque, has spent years researching who he calls a “forgotten Camberwell hero.”

Bourne, who is the author of the award-winning Black Poppies - Britain's Black Community and the Great War, told The Voice: "Before the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948, there were many West Indians who made an impact in this country, but few of them have been given attention in the history books.

"George A Roberts served Britain as a soldier in the First World War and then he made this country his home. He worked tirelessly for the British Legion from 1925 and in 1931, in Peckham, he was a founder member of one of the first black-led organisations to assist black Britons.

"It was called the League of Coloured Peoples and George remained an active member until it folded in the early 1950s. His association with the League demonstrates his need to take care of the needs of the black community in Britain. During the London Blitz of 1940/41 he risked his life for Londoners when he served with the London Fire Brigade. He is a forgotten hero who deserves greater recognition."

The historian added: "I hope readers of The Voice will vote for him."

To vote for George A Roberts, visit: www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZFYHYZ6

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