Peter Brown, a 96-year-old Jamaican man who volunteered and fought for Britain in World War II, passed away in London alone with no relatives. His story touched the hearts of strangers who flocked to St. Clement Danes Church to properly see him off. Brown left his home in Jamaica at the age of 17 with no one, like the millions who lost their lives in World War II, and promised to return to his hometown. He trained to become a radio operator and gunner in Jamaica and Canada and flew five missions in Lancaster bombers in the final year of the war.
When Mr. Brown died at his home in December, Westminster City Council attempted to locate his family but could not find anyone. As news of his death spread, historians, military researchers, genealogists, and community groups began to investigate the matter. This led to a larger funeral service being held at the 1,000-year-old St. Clement Danes Church, the spiritual home of the Royal Air Force, but largely destroyed by German forces and had to be rebuilt.
About 600 seats were reserved for the public, most of them filled, many with Jamaican roots, as well as a few distant relatives and relatives who learned of his death. Dozens of Royal Air Force officers and noncommissioned officers wore dress blue. Brown’s cousin, grandmother Myrtle Gutzmore, attended the funeral with other family members. Leonie Gutzmore, who lives in the UK, said his aunt saw the news of Mr. Brown’s death, realized he was a relative, and informed his family in Jamaica.
Brown served in Tripoli, Egypt, and Malta and was decommissioned in 1950. After that, he became a civil servant in the Ministry of Defense. In his neighborhood, he was known for his simple favorites: cheese, onion crisps, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bars, Bell’s whiskey with ginger ale, and the sport of cricket. He rarely spoke about his time spent in combat. Brown’s burial was held privately in line with his character.
The marginalized black soldiers who fought for Britain in World War I and World War II have not received proper recognition. Susan Hutchinson, who has spent the past four years trying to get recognition for the Caribbean soldiers who fought for Britain in both world wars, said she feared that if Brown’s neighbors had not drawn attention to his life, it would have been a modest service at the crematorium. “They are buried in pits and mass graves, our soldiers, our black soldiers,” she said. “Our ancestors are not represented. We seem to be ignored all the time and everywhere, and that is why I am here today.”
The Reverend Ruth Hake said that Brown’s willingness to risk his life for this country as a teenager and after seven years in the Royal Air Force should be respected and is a debt owed by all who have lived their lives to the freedom of this country. Brown was one of the last of a rapidly disappearing generation, perhaps one of the last to be called “The Group” and “Caribbean Pilot.” Brown’s resilience was amazing right down to the end, and he was determined not to bother those who showed care and concern.