Words by Philip Barnett
A letter to William Arthur Watkin (Billy) Strachan
Thank you for volunteering to join the Royal Air Force in 1940.
After requests for people from ‘the colonies’ to help in the war effort, you went to the British Army camp in Kingston, Jamaica and asked to be sent to England to join the RAF. You were told to make your own travel arrangements.
You went to all the shipping companies in Kingston, but no-one was interested in helping you until you approached the Jamaica Fruits Shipping company. You persuaded them to sell you a passage for £15, instead of the usual £45. As you didn’t have any money you sold your bicycle and saxophone for £17.
Aged just 18 you arrived in Britain, with one change of clothes and £2 in your pocket. You had to disembark in Bristol, and so spent most of your remaining money on a train ticket to London.
You trained to be a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and were soon flying dangerous missions on Wellington bombers over heavily defended German industrial cities. After 30 missions you were entitled to a ground job, but you asked to retrain as a pilot, flying Lancaster bombers.
At one point you were stationed at RAF Brough in Yorkshire. One day you were receiving dental treatment in an underground surgery, and on returning to ground level found that the RAF station had been bombed and all the buildings destroyed.
Thankfully you survived the war and lived until 1998, during which time you continued to make an enormous contribution to society through your career and voluntary work.
Thank you for being a valued member of the Royal Air Force.
And thank you for your example of service to our nation.
Rest in peace