The World Wars

World War One (1914-1918 )

During World War I black people (both those who were already living in Britain and those residing in the British colonies in the Caribbean and Africa) supported the war effort on the home front and on the frontline. Stephen Bourne has uncovered many hidden stories in his book Black Poppies: Britain’s Black Community and the Great War.

South Africa enlisted 75,000 black workers to serve in Europe and Africa in the South African Labour Contingent. From the Caribbean nearly 16,000 volunteered, from British West African colonies 25,000 volunteered, and over a million Africans were pressed into service as bearers in African campaigns.

In 2021 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission issued a formal apology after it discovered that at least 116,000 – but potentially up to 350,000 – predominantly African and Middle Eastern First World War dead had not been commemorated by name, or in any way, after losing their lives in the conflict.

World War Two (1939 -1945)

After World War II is declared, a bar banning anyone who wasn’t a British-born man of British-born parents from joining the British Forces was lifted. 10,000 people from the Caribbean and hundreds of thousands from African countries would go on to fight for Britain. 

John (Jack) Desmond Crawford

John Crawford was born in Lucea, Jamaica in 1923 and in 1944 he volunteered to train as ground crew for the RAF to help the war effort. 

John was trained at RAF Hunmanby Moor, Filey, East Yorkshire and the School of Technical Training for ground crew and technicians at RAF Melksham . After the war he returned to Jamaica before coming back to the UK in1953 and enjoying a long and successful career in the RAF, gaining expertise in designing and building instrument test equipment and rising to the rank of Chief Technician. 

John was awarded four medals including a Long Service medal and a B.E.M gained in 1974 in recognition of his achievements in the RAF. He now lives in Shipley in Bradford with his daughter Heather Esiri. Heather worked for Bradford Council for over 20 years a senior manager in the Youth Service.
For more information on John’s story and other African and Caribbean people who served in the world wars go to   –