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Reflections on Remembrance

Freeman Major Brett Bader comes from a military family with fascinating stories of dedication and sacrifice. He has experience within information operations and civil military cooperation in Iraq and the Middle East.

His family include some of the first people of colour to serve in the British armed forces over two world wars, which was filmed by the BBC for its Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall last year.

His great grandfather Marcus Bailey was born in Bridgetown, Barbados in 1883.

During the early part of the war, he held the position of a mate which was at the time an extremely unusual role for a black man. But Marcus’s most notable achievement came when he served on HMS Chester during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Chester sailed ahead of the British Grand Fleet. These were the days before radar and Chester was scouting for the enemy. Unfortunately, she did indeed encounter the Germans. HMS Chester was targeted and was hit 17 times: 29 men were killed and 49 wounded. Luckily, Marcus was not amongst them, but he was one of the few black servicemen to serve at Jutland. “I think it’s that moment just to reflect on the difference that they’ve made to make a change for other people.”

Though Marcus and his wife died between the wars, their legacy of service lived on with their children, who were brought up as orphans. Jim Bailey served in the Merchant Navy. He sadly died, aged 25, when his ship was torpedoed some 400 miles south of Iceland.

However, Jim’s sister Lilian’s story of service in the forces during the Second World war is striking. Brett tells the story of his grandmother: “On the outbreak of the Second World War, she ended up joining the army as a canteen assistant at the NAAFI in the Catterick Camp. However, after just seven weeks, she was kicked out of the Army. They told her to leave because they said her father was an ‘alien’. That’s how they referred to it if you were from Barbados.

“This experience didn’t put my grandmother off though. She’d heard some West Indians being interviewed on the radio… They’d been turned down by the Army and accepted by the RAF.”

As a result of this Lilian started a 12-week training course, qualifying her as an instrument repairer; a relatively new job opened to women in 1940. Her abilities and personality came to the fore and after passing several exams, Lilian graduated as an Aircraftwoman in the RAF finally promoting to Corporal and leading Aircraftwoman.

In 1943 Lilian married Ramsay Bader – Brett’s grandfather.

Ramsay was born in Essex and his father was from Sierra Leone. He had served too, this time in the First World War. Ramsay was adopted as well. His parents were strong Quakers and pacifists.

Even though he understood their position, Ramsay was appalled by the Nazi regime’s treatment of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics. So, Brett’s grandfather determined, if he could, to fight a regime that he said ‘would see coloured people suffer the same fate as Jews’.

Brett: “Ramsay fought all the way through Europe from D-Day, through Belgium and Holland to Germany. My grandfather had lots of memories of those campaigns of people who didn’t come back. It was something that he had nightmares about.”

Both his grandparents have recordings of their experiences at the Imperial War Museum.

Brett’s story of service also includes other relatives. His great uncle Ben (Ramsay’s’ brother) served in the West Indian Regiment in Far East and was awarded the Burma Star.

His uncle was an officer in the Fleet Air Arm and attended Dartmouth at a similar time to when Prince Charles. Geoffrey was one of the only black officers that served at the time. He achieved his wings and went on to serve on Ark Royal and completed two years in the Far East and South Asia Sea.

Understandably, Remembrance Day holds a special significance for Brett. As an army officer he has participated in numerous parades. This year he attended a small ceremony on the south coast and he explained the thoughts that may well be in his mind. “You look back on people’s sacrifices and the families that have lost loved ones and it’s not just service personnel, there’s many civilians that have also contributed, from lots of different nations that have also helped to make a difference. And I think it’s that moment just to reflect on the difference that they’ve made to make a change for other people.”

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