Hundreds of mourners attend funeral of black WWII veteran Flight Sergeant Peter Brown who died alone

25 May 2023, 17:58 | Updated: 25 May 2023, 18:18

Hundreds gathered at the church in central London to give the war veteran a hero's send-off
Hundreds gathered at the church in central London to give the war veteran a hero's send-off. Picture: PA / Handout

By Chris Samuel

Hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral of one of the RAF's last black World War II veterans after a campaign was launched to give him a "fitting send-off".

Flight Sergeant Peter Brown passed away aged 96 in Maida Vale, west London in December with no known relatives, prompting an appeal to find the Royal Air Force pilot's family.

His funeral service was initially scheduled to be held at a chapel in Mortlake, south-west London, with a capacity of 140.

But the appeal was inundated with people wanting him to be given hero's farewell, and it was moved to the RAF Central Church, St Clement Danes, in Westminster.

On Thursday, Peter was given a moving send-off at the church on The Strand, with 600 mourners in attendance - including a few famous faces.

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Batman Begins and Outlander star Colin McFarlane, BBC journalist Clive Myrie, Top Boy actor Michael Ward and Coronation Street's Trevor Michael Georges were among those paying their respects, as well as representatives from Caribbean community groups and those who helped in the search for his relatives.

A cousin, Brooke Alexander, travelled over 4,000 miles from the Jamaican capital Kingston to make the service.

Flt Sgt Brown was believed to be one, and perhaps the last, of the so-called "Pilots of the Caribbean".
Flt Sgt Brown was believed to be one, and perhaps the last, of the so-called "Pilots of the Caribbean". Picture: PA

She said the airman "dedicated himself to the protection of people”, adding: “Because of this we will remember him. His legacy will live on in the minds and hearts of people who have connected with this story.”

Peter - who came to the UK from Jamaica as part of the Windrush generation - was believed to be one, and perhaps the last, of the so-called "Pilots of the Caribbean".

Retired major Johanna Lewin, 64, chair of the Jamaica Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association, who helped find the veteran's family, said: “He’s a Jamaican, he’s a veteran and he served, yet he was almost unknown when he died.

“That’s unacceptable for anybody, much less somebody who served and fought and sacrificed for the freedoms that we appreciate today.

His funeral was moved to the RAF Central Church after the appeal was inundated with mourners wishing to pay their respects
His funeral was moved to the RAF Central Church after the appeal was inundated with mourners wishing to pay their respects. Picture: PA

“Today is a celebration of Peter’s life and his service, and it’s symbolic of those African and Caribbean servicemen who to a large extent are forgotten.”

Peter was born in Jamaica in 1926, and signed up to the RAF Volunteer Reserve in September 1943.

After training as a wireless operator/air gunner he served in Lancaster bombers during the WWII.

After the war ended he re-enlisted in the air force, working as a signaller.

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Ahead of the funeral, Westminster City Council leader Adam Hug said: "The national response to Peter Brown's story has been overwhelming.

"The details of his life and subsequent search for relatives have truly captured the public imagination and moved people around the world.

"Our priority has always been to ensure Mr Brown receives a fitting, dignified send-off which allows those wishing to pay their respects the opportunity to do so.

"We are grateful to the RAF who have stepped in and provided a perfect venue to reflect Peter's military service.

One of Flt Sgt Brown's relatives travelled over 4,000 miles from Kingston, Jamaica, to make the service.
One of Flt Sgt Brown's relatives travelled over 4,000 miles from Kingston, Jamaica, to make the service. Picture: PA

"We will continue to work with the RAF, community groups and well-wishers to ensure the service represents the many aspects of Mr Brown's life."

An spokesperson for the RA said: "Flight Sergeant Brown is an example of the selfless contribution of all Commonwealth personnel who have served throughout the RAF's history.

"We should never forget their sacrifices which have defended our freedom and kept us safe."

Peter came to the Britain from Jamaica as part of the Windrush generation
Peter came to the Britain from Jamaica as part of the Windrush generation. Picture: Handout
After training as a wireless operator/air gunner he served in Lancaster bombers during the Second World War
After training as a wireless operator/air gunner he served in Lancaster bombers during the Second World War. Picture: Handout

Peter Devitt, curator at the Royal Air Force Museum, previously told the BBC that as well as having to be the "ears and voice" of the plane, he would have had to tackle emergencies on board, and from time to time step in as a gunner.

"If the aircraft had to ditch in the sea he would have to stay at his post as long as possible to give the last position of where they were," he said.

"He was a brave, proficient, selfless man who chose to put himself in danger so we might be free."

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