Workshop ‘Freedom Fighters: Diverse Identities in the RAF’
20 November 2021
This new RAF Museum workshop will explore the lives of African, Caribbean, South Asian and Irish volunteers who served in the RAF despite being opposed to British rule in their home countries.
Speakers will include Sunday Times best-selling author Shrabani Basu and RAF Museum Curator Peter Devitt, and the event will explore and celebrate the stories of key individuals from diverse backgrounds who served in the RAF and connect their experiences to the story of wider participation in the British armed forces during the war.
As well as exploring the diverse nature of those who served in the RAF the panel will also critically examine the motivations of those who fought in the RAF and identify a complexity that is marginalised in British Military History.
The event is moderated by Dr Harry Raffal, who says: “Freedom Fighters takes place within the context of the rapidly evolving debate about Britain’s imperial past, with the issues of slavery, the growth of nationalism and the cultural legacy of empire under close examination. The event is timely as it comes shortly before landmark anniversaries in the histories of Indian, Caribbean and Irish independence.”
Three volunteers will be considered in detail: Noor Inayat Khan from India; Errol Walton Barrow from Barbados; and Irishman Robert Gregory. The speakers will examine their individual motives for joining up, their treatment by British colleagues, and how they reconciled military service to the Crown with their political beliefs. These individual experiences will be set into wider context by two papers considering the experiences of Indian personnel and refugees and émigrés in the RAF during the Second World War.
- Sunday Times best-selling author Shrabani Basu will speak about Indian SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan GC, executed at Dachau concentration camp on 13 September 1944.
- RAFM Curator Peter Devitt will deliver a paper about Major Robert Gregory MC, immortalised in W.B. Yeats’ ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’ in 1918.
- Early Career Researcher Session (Second World War): Papers will include ‘Flying Officer Errol Walton Barrow: Navigator, Prime Minister’, ‘Indian service in the RAF’, and ‘Refugees and émigrés at war’.
- Tiegan Byrne, RAFM Access and Learning, will read the Yeats poem and selected quotations from Noor Inayat Khan and Errol Barrow.
- Roundtable discussion of the issues raised by the presentations, moderated by RAFM Historian Dr Harry Raffal.