A Portrait Exhibition
June 2023 marks the 75th year since the arrival of the Empire Windrush to British shores. This historic and celebratory year will mark a significant milestone in the lives of generations of British citizens of Caribbean descent. The subjects in the portraits have been selected to highlight individuals who have been sacrificial in their efforts during World War One and Two, and those whose contributions deserve recognition for their impact on British society and Black British communities.
There is an importance to share these stories for commemoration, remembrance and recognition. We are determined to continue to build on the legacy of strength and determination of a generation, who bravely paved the way through their fortitude for what is now known as Black British culture.
Past, Present and Beyond
George Arthur Roberts
Trinidadian born, George Arthur Roberts became known as the “Coconut Bomber” due to his proficiency as a battalion bomber while serving Britain in WW1. When the war began, Roberts enlisted in the Trinidadian Army and then signed up to the European Service, working his way from Trinidad to England. As a rifleman attached to the Middlesex Regiment, he fought in the battles of Loos, the Somme and in the Dardanelles. He was wounded while in battle.
Rumoured to be one of the first Black soldiers to enlist in the British Army, he was awarded several medals for his service. He was the first Black leading fireman for the London Fire Brigade and founded a branch of the Royal British Legion in Camberwell, campaigning tirelessly for ex-servicemen. Roberts played a crucial role in demanding equality for both Black men and women.
Jamaican born Constance Mark, a Medical Secretary was promoted to Lance Corporal and 6 months later to Corporal, serving Britain in WW2.
At 21, Mark joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Her duties included documenting horrific injuries to servicemen on the frontline. After the war, Mark chose to settle in Britain and became an activist after first being denied her British Empire Medal.
Mark eventually received the British Empire Medal for meritorious service in 1991 and an MBE 2 years later. She settled in Britain during the 1950s, and worked as a Medical Secretary. One of the highlights in her community work was the outstanding contribution she made for keeping alive the memories of Mary Seacole.
James Samuel Risien Russell
Professor of Medicine and Neurology
James Samuel Risien Russell (1863–1939) was born in British Guiana (now Guyana), his mother of African descent and a Scottish father. He was a renowned neurologist, acclaimed professor, and one of the first Black British consultants. He was elected a fellow in 1897. He clashed with psychiatrists for his belief that patients with psychosis should receive better care at home within their families, supported by their GP.
Careers of Black physicians like Russell are an integral part of Britain’s medical history. Often this narrative begins in the era of the Windrush migration after WW2. However, starting there overlooks earlier pioneering West Indian doctors. He was an exceptional scholar and his Edinburgh Doctorate of Medicine was awarded the gold medal for outstanding achievement in 1893.
Lorna Jackson MBE
Lorna Jackson MBE was born in Jamaica and came to England aged five in 1961. She endured discrimination as a child. Choosing a career in teaching and head teaching for many years, Lorna’s appetite for change was realised when fellow head teachers voiced support for her frustration racism was still rife and something had to be done through education. “I felt it was time for social justice and anti-racist education to be at the top of the agenda.” The Education4Change programme was created.
Realising the schools literacy hour was failing pupils, Lorna also introduced a phonic programme that improved the reading standards. Her pupils outperform other schools nationally in phonics screening and now Newham is one of the top-performing local authorities in the country. (lead. Autumn 2021)
First Black Metropolitan Policeman
Norwell Roberts was born in Anguilla. His grandfather was a police sergeant, and three uncles high-ranking officers too. His widowed mother, lured by promises of job opportunities and a better life, sailed for England in 1954. Roberts left behind, was raised by his strict grandparents. He was reunited with his mother at nine years old, after she secured employment in London. Life in England they found difficult, as it was for most post-war immigrants due to racism.
At 21, Roberts officially joined the Metropolitan Police and achieved media and public attention being the first Black police officer. He faced racial abuse, harassment and persecution from his own colleagues. Roberts stated about his early years with the Met, "Nobody should be subject to that treatment, ever." Succeeding every hurdle he become Detective Constable in 1977.
British born Lilian Badar, was possibly the first Black woman to join the armed forces. Badar graduated as a First-Class Airwoman and was promoted to Corporal and leading Aircraftwoman, serving Britain in WW2. At the outbreak of WW2, Badar embarked on a 12 week training course, qualifying as an Instrument repairer, a relatively new job that had been made available to women.
Her father Marcus Bailey was a Barbadian born migrant in England, with an English woman at the outbreak of war. In 1914, Marcus served in the Royal Navy as a Merchant Seaman until the end of the war.
Bader, one of three children was orphaned at nine years old. Overcoming racial prejudice, Lilian became an excellent student leading to her success.