Herbert Pritchard  - a Jamaican at RAF Cardington 1950's.

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Scribbled on the back of this photo dated April 7, 1954 - Front row - myself, CPL Francis, Sgt Bodeu, CPL Faulkner, ACI Stokes. Back row - AC Davis, AC Freeman, CPL George and CPL McIntosh. All of 'F' Flight, all of us are Marshallers, Royal Air Force Station Cardington Bedfordshire, England"

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Christmas 1956 - Uncle Herbert showing off his new three stripes - no description just a note to my grandmother his sister Zadie Pritchard

A picture of my men whom I am in charge of, the one with the white arm band is learning. Taken at "Royal Air Force" Cardington on June 14, 1954.

This month I received some very interesting e-mails from Audra who lives in Canada. Audra and her grandmother have been researching her Great Uncle Herbert's past and in the process came across several references in letters sent home to Jamaica about his time spent at RAF Cardington. Amongst other things his letters sadly reflect the social history of the 1950's when immigrants in the UK were not always treated kindly. Although Audra is writing a book about her great uncle she has genorously allowed me to include extracts and photographs on this website before her book is published for which I am extremely grateful.

Below is a brief summary of Herberts time at Cardington in Audra's own words:

This month I received some very interesting e-mails from Audra who lives in Canada. Audra and her grandmother have been researching her Great Uncle Herbert's past and in the process came across several references in letters sent home to Jamaica about his time spent at RAF Cardington. Amongst other things his letters sadly reflect the social history of the 1950's when immigrants in the UK were not always treated kindly. Although Audra is writing a book about her great uncle she has genorously allowed me to include extracts and photographs on this website before her book is published for which I am extremely grateful.

Below is a brief summary of Herberts time at Cardington in Audra's own words:

Herbert Athelston Pritchard was born in Trelawny, Jamaica. He served in the RAF West Indian Regiment during WW2, however he couldn't find work after returning home, so headed back to England, and enlisted with the regular British RAF (he became part of the British Air Forces of Occupation in Germany). Although his Royal Air Force (RAF) colleagues knew him as Bruce, he was our Grand Uncle Herbert, and our family patriarch. In fact, a 1967 hand-painted black and white photograph of him is proudly displayed in the homes of family living on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (e.g. Canada, Britain, and Jamaica).

In that image, Uncle Herbert is receiving a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. However, what is highly unusual about the photograph is that no one in the family knows the details behind why Uncle Herbert received that honour. He never talked about it, or shared details about his own personal moments in the RAF. When he did talk about the RAF, he always talked in generalities.

Therefore, to ensure his story did not go untold, my grandmother Zadie Pritchard (his sister) and I began a project of piecing together his life story. To do so, we searched through various genealogical records, government and RAF documentation. As well, we pulled together old photographs, and started capturing my grandmother’s own personal accounts.

However, as a result of sheer serendipity in 2010, we found a collection of long forgotten letters Uncle Herbert had written to my grandmother while he was stationed at Cardington, Bedfordshire in the 1950s.  Finding those letters seemed to have been a sign that Uncle Herbert was not only ready for his story to be told, but he also wanted to participate in the telling of it..

In his first letter dated May 13,1954 he writes that he is extremely unhappy at Cardington. Even after being in the RAF for 5 ½ years, he is having difficulty coping with not only being a Jamaican immigrant in the RAF, but also being a Jamaican immigrant in England in the 1950s.

At the time he wrote to my grandmother, she was still in Jamaica, and had owned a small shop on the grounds of the University of the West Indies in St. Andrews. My grandmother explained, “I sold everything…toothpaste, shaving cream, soap… to coconut drops, fried fish, cigarettes and white rum.”

Since most everyday items in Britain at the end of the war and into the late 1950s were being rationed, or were not readily available, she frequently packed and sent Uncle Herbert items from her shop. After receiving the parcel, Uncle Herbert would then write back and confirm in painstaking detail what he received and the condition that each item had arrived in.

The letters were written between 1954 and 1956. And beneath a backdrop of Uncle Herbert confirming what he received, he would also talk about who he shared his peppermint sticks, Zephyr cigarettes, and bottles of white rum with. Letter after letter, his tone becomes lighter. For instance, in one letter, he (obviously) thrilled talks about being given additional responsibilities by his commanding officer. Then in later letters, these additional responsibilities eventually lead to a promotion.

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It is also possible that Uncle Herbert met Lillian Lane, his futire wife and Cardington canteen manageress at the time through a similar exchange of a peppermint sticks or cigarettes. However, the heart-warming part of Uncle Herbert’s story is how something as mundane as the sharing of items from a parcel can enable sociability among people, and as a result break down either real or perceived barriers."

Uncle Herbert and Lilian in Cyprus in 1963

Lillian Pritchard (formerly Lane). The photo was taken in 1958.

A Cardington Christmas Card sent by Herbert in 1956.