Anyone old enough to recall the innovative BBC TV programme ‘Tonight’, broadcast in the late 50s and early 60s, will surely remember Cy Grant, whose regular appearances on the show made him the first black entertainer to have a regular spot on British television (although he was already established as a stage, film and TV actor).
What former television viewers will be unaware of, however, is that in addition to his career as an entertainer, Cy was also a qualified barrister and had been one of the ‘black few’ – about 400 Caribbean personnel who qualified as aircrew and took to the skies with the RAF during World War Two. He was one of an even more select few from this group to be commissioned as officers.
Cy, originally from British Guiana, travelled to England to join the RAF in 1941 and after undergoing flying training and qualifying as a navigator, was posted in 1943 to No.103 Squadron, based at RAF Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire, as one of the seven-man crew of an Avro Lancaster bomber. But Cy’s flying days were to be short-lived; he and his Canadian and British crew mates were shot down over Holland on only their third mission over Germany in 1943. Two were killed and the rest became prisoners of war.
The curious title of this book derives from the appearance of Cy’s photograph in a popular German newspaper shortly after his capture by the SS. Under his image appeared the caption ‘A member of the RAF of Indeterminate Race’, presumably intended to demonstrate the depths to which the British were prepared to stoop in fighting their war.
What followed for Cy was a two-year period as a prisoner of war, in increasingly harrowing conditions, during which he had time to reflect on the irony of having fought to defend a country that had, in former times, enslaved one line of his ancestors.
His memories of his eventful RAF years, narrated here with modesty and good humour, make for compelling reading.
- ISBN 1-84683-018-4
- 148 pages
- many b/w photos