Flight Lieutenant John J Blair

Flight Lieutenant John J BlairMy great-uncle, John Blair, has always been my role model and my inspiration. Born in rural Jamaica in 1919, the youngest of eight, he was educated in tiny country schools before attending teacher training college in Kingston.

Descended as he was from former slaves, John feared what might happen if the Nazis conquered Britain:

“While we were fighting we never thought about defending the Empire or anything along those lines. We just knew deep down inside that we were all in this together and that what was taking place around our world had to be stopped. Few people think about what would have happened to them in Jamaica if Germany had defeated Britain, but we certainly could have returned to slavery.”

John volunteered for the RAF in October 1942. He trained as a navigator in Canada and the UK and was then commissioned. Posted to 102 Squadron, between December 1944 and May 1945 he survived a full tour of 30 bombing operations and was awarded the DFC. John was well-respected by his colleagues and he was asked to remain in the RAF after the war, serving until 1963. Uncle John passed away in Jamaica in 2004.

John Blair came to fight for our collective freedom. Had men of his ilk not stood up and fought Hitler, I for one would not be here. My Black father would have been enslaved anew and my Jewish mother would have been murdered. Indeed, this was the fate that befell her entire family in Holland.

Uncle John was also a ‘pathfinder’ for his people who overcame racism just as he struggled through flak and enemy fighters. In this he was greatly aided by the RAF which embraced the Black volunteers and ensured they took their rightful place in the fight for civilisation.

There is much we can learn from this tale of successful integration, as well as from the lives of all of its actors, Black, white and of mixed heritage. Let us not waste the opportunity.

Mark Johnson

(Courtesy Mark Johnson)