Oral History Interview - Eddie Noble

image w2016-53_em_noble_supporting_image


Audio file


Oral History Interview - Eddie Noble

Production date



Digital file (.mp3)


Audio recording of an oral history recording with E.M.Noble, who was born in Port Maria, Jamaica 1917, and moved to Hackney in 1943. He discusses 1.Caribbean background. 2.RAF volunteer. 3.London racism (physical)



Q. Talking to Mr. EM Noble, writer. Born in 1917 in Jamaica. Has been in Britain since 1943.
Mr. Noble can you tell me a bit about life in the West Indies before you came to Britain? What for instance did your parents do for a living? [00:12]

EN. Well my parents, I don’t like using the term but it is a fact of life, my parents were middle class. I was brought up by my grandparents. I was born illegitimate. My mother fell in love with a young man whom my grandparents felt could not keep her in a position that she was accustomed to. So he decided to immigrate to America to make his fortune. That was the practice in those days. As I understand it, the night before he sailed, for the first time they went to bed. After he got to America, my mother discovered that she was pregnant. At that time to be pregnant without being married was not the done thing, so my grandparents sent her away to an Auntie in Kingston before her condition was known.

I was born prematurely in Kingston. I was not expected to live,I was so poorly. My mother wanted to come back to St. Ann’s Bay with me, but my Auntie said no. I wouldn’t last the journey. And that it would be better if she waited until I died and bury me in Kingston and return to St. Ann’s Bay and then her secret would still remain a secret. But my mother felt so guilty, that she insisted on taking me home with her even if I died, at least I would be buried on the family property and she wouldn’t feel that she had abandoned me completely. I survived.

My grandparents had three daughters and never had a son, so when they realised that it was a grandson, they decided right, I was the son that they had always wanted. They packed my mother off to yet another aunt, this time in Port Maria, and they employed the leading paediatrician and got a live in nurse to look after me and bring me up.

So, to answer your question, I was brought up in a middle class. I had all the comforts and all that. Unfortunately, in those days, I didn’t appreciate how unfair the class division was there. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realised that it was one of those things.

Q. You came here in 1943 to join the RAF? [03:38]

EN. Yes. I’ll tell you the reason why I volunteered for the RAF. Going back to what we were saying. My mother had been sent off, as I said, to Port Maria. [Inaudible] My grandfather died when I was very young and my grandmother, when I was about the age of 10 decided to go to Cuba and I was sent to live with my mother for the first time.

Well, not really with my mother, but with the same auntie that my mother was sent to. My mother by then was a housekeeper at a place called Brymer Hall, a large estate house, the owner of the house was member of the legislative council for the parish he was an English man, of course. My mother’s job was to run the house and prepare for the shooting parties, because he spent most of his time in Kingston, particularly when the House was sitting.

Generally, she was in charge of the rest of the servants. To cut a long story short, while my grandmother was in Cuba, I was in Port Maria, I was sent to a private, fee paying school run by the Catholics. Over here they call it a public school, but back home it was a private school. My grandmother was paying the school fees and I was only black boy at the school incidentally. One of my school companions was having a birthday party, white, this boy. He lived about three miles from Port Maria at a place called Little Bay. When I went down in the early evening I caught a bus, but by the time the party was over, the buses had stopped running and I was the only guest there who didn’t have a parent who could come to pick them up in a car. But there was a lady who had to pass Brymer Hall and came to pick up her two children, and my hostess asked her to drop me off at Brymer Hall, which she agreed to do.

On the journey she started questioning me, asking me how was it, I was going to Brymer Hall, what was my name? I told her that my mother was the housekeeper at Brymer Hall. She said, but the housekeeper at Brymer Hall is Miss Walters, and I said ‘yes, that’s my mother’. And, I thought no more of it.

About a week or ten days after that, my mother had a letter from the head of the school asking her to pay her a visit, and asking her not to send me back to college until she paid a visit. Of course my mother wondered what mischief I’d been up to. I was just as mystified as she was. However, when she got there the head mistress told her that a number of parents had gotten together and told her that they were not going to have their children associating on equal terms with the illegitimate son of a domestic servant employed to one of their friends, and that unless they got rid of me, they would take all their children away from the college. She told my mother, that although she deplored it, she could not jeopardize the future of the college for one student, so my fees for that term would be refunded. So, I was turfed out.

Of course I was humiliated. I left Port Maria the very next day and went to Linstead. By then my grandmother had sold the property in St. Ann’s Bay and bought a property in Linstead. One of my aunties was living there, and I went there. I vowed that I would never attend another educational institution in Jamaica.

So, to continue my education. I started a correspondence course with the Bennett College in London. Then the war came. I had a couple of jobs, one was as a solicitor’s clerk, in Jamaica, and after that I was a commercial traveller. I went to see a film called ‘In Which We Serve’ starring Noel Coward —written by him as well. I thought, right this is interesting, and I could, as it was, kill two birds with one stone. Although I did not have much time for the colonial civil servants in the island I had a great respect for Britain and the struggle that was taking place in Europe. And, of course, they were asking for volunteers, and so I volunteered.

Q. Had there been a history of military involvement in your family before that? [09:17]

EN. Yes, my father before me served in the 1914-18 war with the West India regiment as they were called in those days.

Q. Do you know where he served? [09:33]

EN. He served somewhere in Africa, but he did not pass through Britain at the end of the war, on his way back to Jamaica.

Q. What proverb do you remember from Jamaica, that might have helped you through life? [9:52]

EN. I can remember my grandmother used to say that ‘too much of a good thing, want for nothing’. What it meant was, anything that is worth having didn’t come easy. That is what it meant.

Q. So, joining the RAF was your first experience of leaving Jamaica. What is your strongest memory of travelling to Britain? [10:52]

EN. Yes. Well my strongest memory is after we left America, because we sailed to America first, and stopped there for about two weeks at a place called St. Patrick Henry and we travelled by train up to New York. We caught the boat from there and we were dodging submarines off the coast of Iceland and I experienced cold that I could never in my wildest experience imagine.(laughter) One other thing, because we were at sea for so long we ran out of some provisions, and for the last ten days of the voyage, we had sausage for every meal, breakfast, mid-day and evening. And from the end of that voyage to this day, I cannot eat a sausage. I cannot face sausages, and have not eaten a sausage since that time. I was so disgusted with it that after that just the sight of it I used to feel sick.

Q. When you arrived in England, what were your expectations? [12:47]

EN. Things were not exactly as I thought they would be. I thought I would be in the thick of things straight away, but it wasn’t like that at all. First of all, I was sent up to Yorkshire and underwent basic training. At the end of my basic training I volunteered to be a gunner. By the time I’d finished that training the war would be nearly over, so it wasn’t worth training me. One volunteer asked to remuster and I also decided I wanted to go for radar. But before I could go on the radar course I took ill and went into hospital up in Yorkshire. When I came out of there I was asked to remuster again and I remustered into clerical work, and so I ended up as a pen pusher, a clerk doing general duties.

My first appointment was down in Cornwall. I went to No 1 Overseas Air Dispatch Unit; my job was the dispatch of equipment and personnel to the war overseas. It may sound glamorous, but it was pretty sedentary[?] work.

Q. How were you received by the natives? [14:32]

EN. There again, I was fortunate, because down in Cornwall for instance, I can’t remember the names now, but there were airmen who were musicians in civilian life and they were interest in poetry and we had a poetry workshop where we used to meet where we would met once a month. None of us were writing poetry then but what we would do is recite something from our favourite poet or author and give talks about our favourite author, whoever that might be.

Q. Who was your favourite author? [15:40]

EN. At that time it was not poetry, at that time it was Tychosky was my favourite artist’. This was a multi—cultural group, who all shared a love of poetry’ and the arts. The amazing thing is that I met a young lady while I was stationed down there. She came down on holiday and she played the piano. She belonged to what was then known as En-sa Band. These were musicians who entertained the troops, and she was a pianist in the band. Her favourite author was Tychosky, so we had that in common, and we became very, very good friends. She was related to a very well-known poet named Drinkwater. Her name was Drinkwater. As a matter of fact, she later became a leader of the YWCA.

The very day that the war in Europe ended, VE day, I was in Cambridge; we were both in Cambridge. She accompanied me to an invitation of the Cambridge branch of the Royal Empire Society, as it was known then, to give a talk on West Indian history and cultural development.

Q. So you started all this recording very early on? [17:11]

EN. I broadcasted for the BBC during the war, from the studio at 200 Oxford Street in a programme called ‘Hands Across the Atlantic’, and I had to submit my script to the Ministry for vetting before they would let me do it.

Q. When you came here, you said it was because you believed in what the British were doing. How much was it a sense of coming to the motherland? [17:35]

EN. I felt that whatever our differences back in Jamaica were. Like a family, you can argue among ourselves, but when you’re attacked by an outsider, you close ranks, and that was how I felt about it, and as far as the air force was concerned, the only discrimination I encountered was the lack of promotion, promotion didn’t come easily. But in other respects I got on alright with other airmen. At no time were there ever more than four or five West Indians in the same camp. The arguments I got into was usually because I was dancing with a white girl or going out with a white girl and they resented it. I got into one or two fights as a result of that.

Q. So the war is over, what happened, did you go back to Jamaica to work or did you stay here? How easy was it to find work? [18:58]

EN. What happened was, as I told you, when I came here my ambition was to continue my studies. With the supreme confidence of youth, I didn’t say ‘if I survived the war, I thought when the war is over I would continue my studies’. There was no question of my going home for good, but I did go back on holiday, II took my leave, because I was entitled to leave. I took my war leave and went to Jamaica. Although the servicemen who were returning were being offered free land, as you probably know, I declined mine, because I had no intention of staying.

I came back to Britain with the intention of working. Although I served in the air force for a year after that year I was stationed at the Polish resettlement camp at Mowbury near Leicester. My job was to prepare Polish airmen for settlement in Britain, because during the war Churchill promised General Anders, that the Poles who served with the British Army during the war could settle in Britain if they wanted to. Yet, when I tried to get a job when I came out of the air force, I couldn’t get a decent job. The only jobs offered to me was labouring work which I had never done in my life. I was forced to go back into the air force and I did another five years. The irony of the situation was that when I returned to the air force for the second time, I immediately went on the Air Ministry special duty list with Army and Airforce Legal Aid. I lived out in civilian quarters, wore civilian clothes, but was technically still in the air force.

Q. So for the next five years the air force looked after you? [21:15]

EN. Yes

Q. In those early days was there a particular incident which made you aware of the importance of colour? [21:24]

EN. Oh yes there are two. One involved an Englishman and one involved an American serviceman. I will give you the American serviceman first. When I was stationed at RAF Huntingdon, the Lancaster servicing section I was in charge of the technical library there. I was told that if you wanted a good weekend the place to go was Peterborough. So I decided to give it a whirl and I went into Peterborough one weekend when I was off.

I got off the train and walked into the town and the first dance hall I saw ‘servicemen welcome’ so I walked in. What I did not know at the time was that this particular dance hall was overwhelmingly visited by American servicemen. I went inside, and started dancing. In those days because there were more girls than men around, you had what was called ‘excuse me’ dances. If you were dancing, the Master of Ceremony would announce that that particular dance was an excuse me dance. Anyone could come and tap you on the shoulder, and you had to give up your partner. I was dancing with a young lady and there was a tap on my shoulder, but it was not an excuse me dance, so I ignored it. I continued and when I got back to the same spot I was tapped again and it was a white American airman and he tapped me again on the shoulder. I said to him ‘this is not an excuse me dance, will you buzz off’. He said, ‘where I come from, niggers don’t dance with white women’. I said ‘you’re not in America now, so piss off’ or words to that effect. The next thing I knew, he hit me! Oh yes. I’m only 5’6” and he was a 6’, and I thought to myself ‘I’ve bitten off more than I can chew here”.

But, I was always very resourceful, and what I did was I backed off from him and bent down and got hold of the ends of his trousers and yanked them, and he fell on his back, and I was just about to put the boot in, because I knew that if he got up, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I mean it I was going to kick his head in so he couldn’t get up. However, someone held me from behind. He turned out to be a Canadian airman. He said ‘Oh no airman I don’t like these Yanks any more than you do, but you don’t kick even a Yank when he is down. He said ‘you’d better come with us’ and he led me over to where his friends were, there were five or six of them, and he said now look ‘where’s your camp’, and I told him. He said now, I don’t know what your plans are, but I suggest that you let us escort you out of here now, because if you remain until this dance is over, they will be waiting for you outside. They escorted me to the station and I caught a train back, and I haven’t been to Peterborough since.

The next incident occurred when I was stationed up in Lancashire. I used to go dancing at the Nuffield Centre, which was the Dean’s Gate end of Manchester. The people who ran it had a system whereby they would invite eligible young ladies to come along to these dances as partners for the servicemen. No hanky panky, just straightforward dancing partners. On one occasion I was escorting the young lady I had danced with that evening, my companion for that evening. I was escorting her to her bus stop. On the way we had to pass a number of pubs. People were just coming out, because in those days pubs closed at 10 p.m. or something like that. As we were passing, and a man came out and started following us and calling me names. I was inclined to argue with him, but my friend said to me, ‘ignore him, he is obviously drunk’, so I did. And he must have heard what she said. Continued to follow us, and he called her a ‘slut’ and a ‘nigger lover’. Well, it was alright as long as he was attacking me, but when he turned on her, because she was nothing of the sort, I turned around and belted him. And he hit the deck.

Before I knew what was happening a crowd gathered, and a policeman turned up on the spot and he wanted to arrest me. I tried to explain to him that I was provoked and two women came forward who turned out to be his wife and his sister. The wife told the policeman that her husband was entirely to blame, that he had had too much to drink and he had followed me and provoked me. What I told him was the truth, it wasn’t right for him to arrest me. So he let me go. But, even then he didn’t do anything, such as speak with the chap, but he let me go. Had he taken me into custody, of course he would have had to phone the camp, and although they would have released me to camp, I would have been in trouble in camp for getting involved in a fight. So those are the two incidents.

Q. How much were you aware of the differences between the natives, some from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, did those differences matter to you? [28:53]

EN. No, only in the way accents are concerned. I was stationed up in Scotland for a little while. One thing I learnt before I went up there I was hearing how mean the Scots were. But contrary to that I found them very generous and friendly. Careful yes, but I certainly I couldn’t accuse them of meanness. I will give you an example of what I mean. I was stationed at a place called Lannark which is ten or twelve miles from Glasgow. So for entertainment we used to have a bus which would come and pick us up and take us to Glasgow. The first time I caught this bus, I got on the coach and the young lady came to collect the fares, I said “a single to Glasgow please”. She said, ‘aren’t you coming back” and I said ‘yes’. She said ‘why waste your money a return is cheaper’. At that time I made friends with someone who was the Income Tax commissioner for Glasgow and I used to make up a foursome with him and his brother and another friend. Whenever I was free for the weekend we used to make up a foursome for bridge.

Q. I have always thought that there are strong links between Jamaica and Scotland. [31:05]

EN. Yes. As I said I came from a middle—class family in Jamaica and how that came about is that I’m told that my great, great going back how many great grandfather was a Scotsman, and he owned a whole district. He went to bed with a number of native women, housekeeper, nursemaid, whatever and one of those was my great, great grandmother and when slavery ended the children of these liaisons, they are the one who formed the middle class the mulattos and of course through marriage the colour increases or decreases depending on whether you marry whites or blacks. That is why purely by an accident of history, I have that Scottish connection. As a matter of fact the name Noble is very much Scottish. As a matter of fact, the last minister for Scotland in the last government, the Thatcher government was a Noble.

Q. What brought you to Hackney? [33:35]

EN. I left the RAF in 1951 and went into the fashion trade. I was then living in Hampstead. I started out as a warehouse clerk and by the end of thirteen years by then I had become supervisor of the workroom of a clothing factory in Bromley-by-Bow. The firm had showrooms in the West End just off Oxford Circus and the firm was taken over by one of the larger groups and I was made redundant. I was given what was then called a golden handshake, but it wasn’t golden, but it was alright, so I went into business for myself.

I did reasonably well until the miner’s strike of 1972, three day week and all that, and I had cash flow problems. I went to the bank but they wouldn’t bail me out. They wouldn’t lend me any money although I took all of my books to them to show them that my business was solvent. They wouldn’t bail me out; they didn’t want to know. So, I was forced to close down. Obviously all my savings had gone on that, and by then I had left the fashion trade for nearly five years, and I was well into my fifties. There was no chance of me getting back into the fashion trade. I had to start to rebuild my life. With my civil service background, I decided it would have to be either local government or the civil service.

But before that the first job I had was a traffic warden for the Metropolitan Police and I was stationed at Kings Cross. One day I was going for my tea break to the police canteen at the Barbican and I had to go through Smithfield Market and I was attacked in Cowcross Street, by three white youths, beaten up pretty badly and ended up in hospital. I nearly lost the sight of my right eye. I was attending Moorfield Eye Hospital for well over two years to try to save the sight in my right eye. I got some compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, but nobody was ever prosecuted. Although this happened at 4.30 in the afternoon, when I was beaten up and left lying unconscious in the gutter.

As you know Smithfield Market is near to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where a doctor was going off duty, saw me revived me and took me to the porter’s lodge and called an ambulance for me. The police claimed that they couldn’t link anyone to it because no one admitted that they even saw anything.

I know it was a racist attack because they didn’t try to rob me and I hadn’t issued a ticket or anything. I was just on my way going for my tea break. At that time Smithfield Market was one of the strongest National Front areas. We are talking about 1972-73. I decided I had had enough of that, and that was when I went into the Civil Service and I went to work for the British Library.

Q. So you have had a number of situations where you have had jobs. You said earlier that getting promotion was a problem for you within the air force, was that also the case with your work outside the air force and what was going on there? [38:32]

EN. Yes. Promotion never came easily. There is a story behind this, even when I came out of the air force for the second time in 1951, the first job I had was when I went to work for the Post Office, as a telephonist. I mentioned before, that when I went back into the air force for the second time, I was on the Air Ministry special duty list with Army and Air Force Legal Aid. Now I was working on a case of a Jamaican Airman, who was still serving in Britain but whose wife was running around in Jamaica. I had interviewed all the witnesses in England here and prepared the brief for Counsel and I couldn’t get any further. The authorities in Jamaica just weren’t co-operating.

The commanding officer of the unit where I was, decided to send me out to Jamaica. He said that he figured that as a Jamaican I would be better at dealing with my own people than if he sent out an English officer although my rank was only a corporal. There again had I been English, I would be a sergeant at least, but because I was black my rank was corporal. You see that was the normal practice. If you were a serving airman with legal knowledge and you are selected to go into legal aid work, you would be you would automatically be promoted to sergeant so that you could draw the equivalent pay for the work which you did. It was also for the status that went with the job.

I was sent out to Jamaica with a first class return ticket, and two letters of introduction. One was to the civilian legal authorities in Jamaica asking for them to give their co-operation, and one to the commanding officer asking them to provide me with an office from which to work and transportation. At the end assignment, I was to have two weeks leave. Well on the return journey after completing my assignment one of my fellow passengers was Captain Gummons, Conservative MP for Hornsey. W.J. Brown Independent Labour MP for Rugby and their wives, and the Chief Rabbi of Jamaica, Rabbi Silverman who was coming up to England to visit his sister and relations in Manchester.

I mentioned before that I was a good bridge player and they were looking for a fourth person, and I made up the foursome. So it was Captain Gummons, WJ Brown, Rabbi Silverman and myself. For the fourteen days or whatever time the voyage lasted, I was Captain Gummons bridge partner. We ended up on the winning side. When we got to England, arriving at Havenmouth, there was a dock strike on. The dockers at Havenmouth were striking in sympathy with the Canadian dockers who were on strike. The only people who left the boat on the day that we arrived were Silverman, the two MP’s and myself, because I was the guest of the two MP’s. Office staff unloaded our luggage and a charaband was put to our disposal, to take just us up to London.

By the lime I got to London it was late at night. It was too late for me to get to Hounslow East, where I was then based at the eastern command, Legal Aid Division. Captain Gummons invited me to spend the night at his flat at Buckingham Palace Mansions, in Victoria with he and his wife. Next morning when I was leaving he gave me his card and said ‘if ever you need a friend, or help, give me a ring’. I put the card in my wallet and forgot about it. Then when I came out of the air force in 1951 and applied for a job at the GPO as a telephonist, I had, in addition to my service discharge papers, I had to provide one civilian reference. I thought of captain Gummons and I rang his home number and I got his wife on the phone, and I told her who I was. She said ‘Oh I remember you alright, and we wondered what became of you’. She said ‘I’m quite sum that the Captain would have no objection to giving you a reference but just to put your mind at easy I’ll get him to contact you’.

By then Churchill had won his first post-war election. Attlee was out, and Churchill was back in power. Captain Gummon was now the Post Master General. Of course I got a letter from his PPS —Parliamentary Private Secretary telling me that Captain Gummons apologizes for not getting in touch himself. I think he was out of the country or was still busy attending some conference or the other. He asked him to tell me that he has fond memories of our bridge days, and that he had no objection to me using his name as a reference. Well, when I went for the interview, when I mentioned that Captain Gummons would be willing to give me a reference, he couldn’t believe me. He more or less said ‘pull the other one, there are bells on it’. I said if you doubt me I’ll give you a number that you can ring, and I gave him the telephone number from the letter from the House of Commons. He actually rang, and I don’t know what they said to him, but when he came back he was as humble as pie. It was ‘yes sir’ no sir’ ‘two bags full sir. I got the job alright, but promotion never came. I acted as supervisor, but I was never actually promoted as such. That was when I decided enough was enough and went into the fashion trade.

Q. How did you come into Hackney? [46:36]

EN. I didn’t come into Hackney until 1970. When I came out first I lived in Hampstead and I lived at a place called Fellows Road in Hampstead. The flat that I lived in was owned by a housing trust. They sold to one of the developing companies, at that time after the war; a lot of this going on. They were big luxury flats. Those of us who were living in them before had first option when the new flats were built. But, of course they were well beyond my means I couldn’t afford it so I moved to Finsbury Park and lived in Finsbury Park for six years and then from Finsbury Park to Stoke Newington and I lived in Stoke Newington for a further six years before I moved here, in 1979 this is a disability flat. Because of my wife’s disability so we were recommended for a disability flat. It’s the first fine that we have lived in council premises.

Q. When you arrived here you had a sense of being a Jamaican as opposed to being from one of the other islands. How much is that changed, how much do you still regard yourself as a Jamaican? [48:11]

EN. Well funny enough, although I am very critical of some of the things that have taken place in Jamaica since I left there. As a matter of fact, on my visits to Jamaica I am usually asked to comment on the changes that I found and on one occasion during the Seaga government period I was very critical of certain aspects of his administration. I was literally [inaudible]. I’ll give an example of what I mean. At the time, when Seaga, the first election that Seaga held after he became Prime Minister, Manley didn’t contest it. So he had to appoint a so called opposition and one of the members of that opposition was the then editor of the Gleaner. Winter was his name. But I was not aware of this. It was just when Jamaican Airman was being published. Just before publication I had written him from England and he agreed that he would publish excerpts from the book.

And I was going out on holiday and he said when I came back from holiday to get in touch with him and we would sit down and draw up a contract agreement. But when I arrived in Jamaica I telephoned his office to make an appointment to see him. And in the meantime they asked me to write this article, and I wrote the article, which was very critical, prior to going to see him. When I arrived for the appointment, I was told that he was not in his office, but was called away rather unexpectedly. I asked when will he be able to see me, I was told that he would get in touch with me, which he never did. Although I spent a month in Jamaica, I never met him. One reporter interviewed me and two of my poems were reviewed, but my book was never mentioned.

Not only that but when I came back to England here, in 1987 I think it was, it was the 25th anniversary of the Queen’s reign and there was a function at the Commonwealth Institute which I attended, and a reporter from the Gleaner U.K. — someone pointed me out to him, and he came over. He asked if I was the author of Jamaica Airman and I replied ‘yes’. He said, ‘will you give me your address and telephone number, because I would like to come and interview you in depth for the paper’. I don’t know what happened, but that was the last I heard from him. Not only that but since that time I’ve had four books published, I have been on the BBC television two or three times; Central television Birmingham; Granada television Manchester. I have been on the radio; Radio Nottingham: Radio Leicester; Radio Manchester as well as radio in London here. I’ve been on the LBC phone in programme and the BBC Rush Hour for motorists, BBC Black Londoners and yet the Gleaner which represents West Indians and Jamaicans in particular has never mentioned me once or reviewed one of my books.

Q. How well do you get on with people from other islands? [53:58]

EN. I have no problem with them. As a matter of fact, my last book which is an abridged history of Jamaica from 1494 Christopher Columbus and all of that to the granting of Independence. It gives brief glimpses of Trinidad and Barbados and a final chapter on Haiti. I included with Haiti, because in my opinion Haiti gave birth to the greatest nigger who ever lived; that is Totissaint LOverture. I have a Barbadian friend, and when the book came out he said I must have a copy of it. He bought a copy and I was very worried and hoped that I was not going to lose his friendship because I was very critical of certain aspects of Barbados. When I next saw him, he came up to me and I said ‘are you still speaking to me’. He said ‘of course man, I have no problem with you, you have spoken the truth’. Unfortunately, not all West Indians are like that; they don’t like to hear the truth.

Q. So what was the truth then? I know it is often said that Barbadians are too English? [54:14]

EN. All give you an example, Barbados has never had a labour strike, or labour troubles. Whereas Jamaica for instance got its independence as a direct result of the 1937-1938 labour disturbances. Also you’ll find that Barbados is the favourite holiday destination for British tourists. The reason is that Barbados is still the only Caribbean island where the European is still treated like a tin god.

Q. What are the stereotypes of the various Caribbean people here in England? If you had to summarise the essential nature of these people, in a nutshell, let me run through the different islands. What would you say about the Jamaicans? [55:34]

EN. Jamaicans living in England? It is impossible to answer in one sentence. There are two types of Jamaicans living here in England. There is the intelligent Jamaican and for want of a better word, there is the ignorant Jamaican. They are as different as cheese is from chalk.

Q. What about the Guyanese? [56:27]

EN. Well I served with Guyanese during the war. I have a few Guyanese friend and I have no problems with them. During the war they tended to differentiate themselves from other West Indians. They preferred to be thought of as South Americans rather than Caribbean or West Indians. But, that’s no big thing, and certainly strictly speaking they are part of South America. They were lumped with Britain purely for political convenience you see.

Q. In terms of their character how would you sum up their character of the Guyanese? [57:19]

EN. Of course I was a great admirer of Jagan.

Q. What about the Trinidadians? [57:41]

EN. Of all, apart from my Jamaicans of course, the other West Indians, the Trinidadians are the ones I admire most of all. Their exuberance, their love of life, their cheerfulness is what I like about them.

Q. What about the St. Lucians? Dominicans? [58:07]

EN. I don’t know too much about St. Lucians. There are one or two of them whom I‘ve met, but I don’t really know too much about them to form any deep opinion of them. The same applies to the Dominicans.

Q. You were here before the Windrush. You had been here five years. How did you perceive those people who came after you, in response to the ‘Mother Country’s’ appeal? [58:37]

EN. Well, when the Windrush arrived it was a news item just as much for me as it is anyone as I was still in the air force. The first time I met anyone that had come up from the West Indies after the war was a good two years after Windrush. And that was my brother-in-law. My sister had married and I didn’t know this happened in Jamaica at all. And she gave me my address and I went down to meet him at Paddington station he arrived. This was a couple years after the Windrush. But what I do know is that they had a far harder time in discrimination then us servicemen did. And also because of the branch of service I was in and the work I was doing, I don’t know how to put it without sounding ostentatious, but the English civilian population that I came in contact with, were always of the middle or upper-middle class. I am not saying that they didn’t have prejudice but their intelligence didn’t let them to wear it on their sleeves.

Object number


On display?


Back to top