When people celebrate Black History Month, the RAF may not be the first thing they think of when looking at outstanding contributions and courage in the Armed Forces.
The Royal Air Force has a long and distinguished history of diversity. For example, many RAF personnel who made huge contributions during World Wars I and II came from African and Caribbean nations.
Many people will be unaware that during World War II there were over 400 aircrew from the Caribbean who flew with the RAF, 70 of whom were commissioned officers, with no less than 103 personnel being decorated for distinguished service.
One of the many examples of ability and courage is Flight Sergeant Lincoln Orville Lynch. As well as receiving the Distinguished Flying Medal for his determination and ability as an Air Gunner during WWII, his skill was such that it was reported he shot down an enemy fighter during his very first sortie.
However, the RAF is not all about flying aircraft, and Trinidadian Lord Leary Constantine set an excellent example as an RAF welfare officer. He was one of the first people to challenge colour discrimination by a service industry when he was refused a job in a hotel. His efforts and contributions were recognised with an MBE in 1945 and a knighthood in 1962; he was also awarded a lifetime peerage.
Today the RAF is still encouraging and open to the many ethnic communities who call Britain their home. Don Walcott, father of England footballer Theo Walcott, served with the RAF for over 17 years, and so did his father before him.
Mr Walcott spoke of his military service, saying:
‘I had a fantastic experience with the RAF and I learnt a lot about discipline and hard work. It makes me very proud to find out about the contributions the Black community have made with the RAF over many years and I’m proud to have served with them”
The RAF is planning a tour of their ‘Diversity in the RAF’ exhibition, which will be launching in London before visiting a number of religious and community centres across the UK. The RAF’s aim is to make people aware of the part their own heritage has played within the RAF, as well as the wider Armed Forces, and that it is something they can be truly proud of.