An emotional moment as Britain's first war memorial for the black people in WWI and WWII is unveiled
November 12, 2014
Jak Beula - Chief Executive of Nubian Jak Community Trust - stands
next to the unveiled memorial
ARMISTICE DAY 2014 – It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining, as a crowd gathered in the courtyard of the Black Cultural Archive Centre in Brixton yesterday for the historic unveiling of Britain’s first ever war memorial commemorating those of African and Caribbean descent who risked – and gave – their lives fighting for the ‘mother country’ in WWI and WWII.
A number of distinguished guests were among the crowd, including Paul Reid (Chief Executive at Black Cultural Archives), Mayor of Lambeth Cllr Adedamola Aminu and various high-ranking international representatives including Mr Tedwin Herbert, Acting High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago.
Before the ceremony got underway the sounds of the late John Holt filled the outdoor space as anticipation grew. The red carpet was laid and the shape of the memorial statue could be vaguely made out from beneath its veil.
After introductory remarks from Paul Reid and Jak Beula a traditional African call to the ancestors and libation was performed.
Following the two minutes silence, it was Mr Sam King MBE, heavily decorated in military honours and awards, who – fittingly – unveiled the memorial. King MBE volunteered to join the British Royal Air Force (RAF) as a young man and went on to prove himself as a skilled serviceman.
The memorial weighs a staggering two and a half tons and is sculpted from rare Scottish Wint. The monument was created by the Nubian Jak Community Trust in partnership with the West Indian Association of Service Personnel and is supported by a number of organisations including the Heritage Lottery Fund, Lambeth Council and the Black Cultural Archives.
A number of moving and inspiring speeches were given at the ceremony.
Mayor of Lambeth Cllr Adedamola Aminu described it as a “momentous and historic occasion” and said that it was fitting for the memorial to be placed in Lambeth. The Lambeth Mayor said, “Lambeth is a unique for people from Africa and the Caribbean […] so it is right for this memorial to take place [here] today.”
Mr Peter Kobina Taylor, Minister of the Ghana High Commission, gave a brief history of how Ghana contributed to the two World Wars, stating that, “Ghana raised five battalions for service in WWI […] nine in WWII.” He added that, “Today’s event has a rather humbling effect on us as we remember the stellar contributions of our forbearers.” The Ghanaian Minister also looked towards the future saying that, “Ghana, as a peace-loving country, will continue to contribute a quota [to global peace-keeping].”
Priest Professor Augustine John delivered a particularly eloquent and memorable speech. He reminded those present of the horrific nature of war. “This memorial which we are about to unveil is not to glorify war. War is inglorious […] ever inglorious. […] But rather, it is a reminder a) that this monument is just under 100 years in the making and should have been here at least from the beginning of the 1920s,” he said. The priest continued to reason that although the memorial is a significant step in the right direction, towards black history being recognised and celebrated, much more remains to be done. “This should be located on the green opposite the Houses of Parliament, with a finger pointing to the Houses of Parliament,” said John. He continued, “Let us ensure that all our children know these stories, let us ensure that all white people know these stories.”
In his closing remarks, Professor Augustine John said that understanding the massive contributions of those who the memorial commemorates – and many others – needs to be considered and remembered, particularly in regards to the current immigration debate taking place in the UK today.
Vince McBeam, of the West Indian Association of Service Personnel, echoed Professor Augustine John when he asked: “Where do we go from here?” Mc Beam argued that there should be similar memorials across the UK recognising the contributions of those belonging to the African diaspora who gave their lives in the wars.