My father Roberto (Robbie) Ira Rose, born in Cuba to Jamaican parents, grew up in Summerfield in the parish of Clarendon in the county of Middlesex, Jamaica.
Despite having a job in Kingston, he, together with his childhood friend Carl Chantrielle, decided to volunteer to support the war effort. They both joined the RAF in 1943 and would have been about 18 or 19 when they embarked on this life-changing adventure.
The West Indian recruits made the dangerous crossing across the Atlantic to disembark in Liverpool before heading over the Pennines to RAF Hunmanby Moor at Filey.
As ground crew, my father trained as a mechanic. Conditions were hard. There was lots of square bashing, bayonet practice and basic weapons drills. He hated the cold and the food.
After the initial training my father’s squadron travelled around the UK, spending time in Scotland, Lincolnshire and the North West.
In Lancashire he was stationed at Weeton Barracks on the Fylde.
A keen dancer and swimmer, my father had very fond memories of the Tower Ballroom and Blackpool Derby Baths. He often missed the last bus or train back to camp but it was always worth the long walk. He also very much appreciated the kindness of some local families who welcomed these young servicemen into their homes for family meals.
On leaving the RAF Roberto chose not to be repatriated, despite the winter of 1946-47 which was one of the coldest of the century. He spent some time in London and even managed to attend the athletics events at the Austerity Games in 1948,
For a young man there was no problem finding employment and he was prepared to work hard. He worked on farms, did labouring jobs and even did a stint on a Hull trawler, fishing in the North Sea but it was too cold and far too stinky.
My father finally settled in Leeds after spending time at one of the resettlement camps there. This is where he met many Italians, Ukrainians, Latvians and Poles. With his beautiful copperplate handwriting, he was often in demand to write job application letters and love letters.
Roberto liked the cosmopolitan nature of North Leeds. The city was lively and industry was thriving. Accommodation was scarce and expensive so he tended to lodge with Jewish families. As a Gentile he was able to tend the fires and flush the toilets on the Sabbath. He was also probably the only Jamaican member of the original Polish Centre on Chapeltown Road. They served excellent food and jazz bands sometimes played in the basement on a Saturday night.
He worked as a fitter and in the fifties joined West Yorkshire Foundries. He met my mother, who was German, in Leeds and after a long courtship they married in 1957. At some point they toyed with emigrating to Canada or moving to Germany, where my father had a job offer at the Krupp steel factory in Essen but they decided to stay in Leeds.
They made many sacrifices to buy their first home. My father often worked nights and as a fitter was expected to work weekends and bank holidays. His garden and allotment at Chapel Allerton provided a welcome escape from the grime of factory life. He kept his plot and greenhouse going until he was in his mid-eighties and even appeared in a few episodes of Yorkshire Television’s series The Allotment.
Although their paths had diverged, my father never lost contact with his childhood friend Carl Chantrielle. My parents stayed with Carl when they visited Jamaica and he came to see us when he was in England, bearing gifts of Jamaican cigars and Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum.
Roberto died in 2016. He was very proud of his Caribbean heritage; he loved Leeds and Yorkshire; he loved Germany too! Who knows how his life would have turned out, had he not signed up all those years ago.
Roberto’s service number is unknown.