16,000 volunteers came from the Caribbean in the Second World War, “bringing the fight to the enemy”. (See this sequence, from 53m45s, on an Antiques Roadshow Special Edition about ‘The Battle of Britain’ from Biggin Hill, with Mark Smith of Barbed Wire Tours.
“Allan was born in Jamaica in 1925. After leaving college in 1941, he volunteered to join the Royal Navy, serving on a patrolling ship, escorting mine sweepers, and picking up survivors in the West Indies. In 1944 he volunteered for Royal Air Force service, and joined the air sea rescue team.
He was demobbed in November 1946, travelled home to Jamaica and was fortunate to find employment n Customs & Excise. But, he felt there were more prospects in England and so returned to London in December 1947 to one of the coldest winters on record. Finding a good job and accommodation here was difficult. He often slept in the London Underground trains after the services had closed down at nights. He obtained factory work in Acton and washing dishes at Lion’s Corner House in the West End.
Between 1950 and 1953 he entered show business with limited success – the main problem was in obtaining permits to work abroad. It wasn’t until Eric Conner, the Trinidadian actor and singer came to Britain in 1954 to record some songs that prospects looked good. Some of the records they made were hits, and the group decided to form “The Southlanders”. They toured the UK’s variety circuit as well as travelling to Italy, Germany, France and Belgium. Their speciality was rhythm and blues, and they worked alongside the popular artists of the day – Shirley Bassey, David Frost, Joe Loss, Frankie Vaughn, Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele to name but a few.
The advent of the Beatles meant that the Southlanders were reduced to working in Cabaret to survive – eventually the group was disbanded and he got a job in the Post Office as a telephone operator. He was a member of and worked voluntary for the West Indian Ex-Service Association to highlight the contributions that West Indians made in World War 2. Allan was its president for a few years.” (Credit: The Windrush Foundation)
Interview with Allan Wilmot about his life in the military and in England since the 1940s.
Born in 1925 in Jamaica he speaks of his early life in Jamaica; his family background; colonial system in Jamaica; enlisting in the British Royal Navy after leaving college in 1941; working on a minesweeper the HMS Hauken; transferring to the Royal Air Force Marine Section during Second World War.
First experiences in Europe; first sight of snow; reactions from British people and their ignorance about the West Indies; encountering poor White people.
Rescue missions to recover pilots from water; danger of military service and casualties; return to Jamaica at the end of the War; lack of opportunities for Black people in the Merchant Navy.
Lack of rehabilitation for Jamaicans who had served in the British forces; return to England in 1947 because of lack of opportunities in Jamaica; negative reception from British people compared to when he was in military service; challenge of finding accommodation.
Finding job as dishwasher at the Cumberland Hotel; issue about citizenship for Jamaicans; West Indians being invited to come to England on the Windrush to work in factories.
Allan’s brother Harold move to England on the Windrush in 1948; his appearance in famous picture on the deck of the Windrush with two other men; starting a singing group; gradual improvement in living conditions; joining together with other West Indians to pay deposits on houses in pardner savings scheme.
Travelling around Europe with singing group The Southlanders; encountering racism and ignorance; explanation of the group’s name; some of the songs they sang.
Being targeted by police; successful records with The Southlanders; resignation from show business; working as telephone operator, difficulty of getting into the profession.
His retirement; his family; meeting his Jamaican wife when she moved to England to work as a nurse in the 1960s; spread of Black culture to White people, e.g. the Jitterbug; antagonism from White American servicemen in England.
Service with the West Indians Ex-Servicemen Association [now the West Indian Association of Service Personnel] after his retirement; stories of meeting politician Boris Johnson, Prince Charles, and Queen Elizabeth II; final reflections on his life; wrote an autobiography [published in 2015]; message to young people, encouragement to get a good education.”
Author: Allan Wilmot,Pages: 134Age: 14 to 100 years.Allan Charles Wilmot’s Memoirs are a must read, as they contain a summary of his life in 1920s Kingston, Jamaica and his volunteering in 1941 for service in the Royal Navy during WWII. He resigned from RN in 1943 and volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force’s air-sea rescue unit. After WWII ended in 1945, Allan was demobbed in 1946 to Jamaica, but after a year on the island he was back in London, England. There he had a number of jobs before joining a male singing quartet (The Southlanders) that dominated the music scene in Britain and Europe during the 1950s and 1960s.RRP: £14.99′