Hundreds of people attended the funeral of a forgotten World War Two RAF airman at a church in Westminster after a campaign was set-up for him to have the send-off he deserved. Jamaican-born Flt Sgt Peter Brown was one of the last pilots of the Caribbean, who volunteered as RAF personnel. He died in at his home, in north London, in December.
At the service, his coffin was covered with a Union Flag, which had an RAF hat, a spray of flowers and his war medals, at the Central RAF’s St Clement Danes Church, and was attended by Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, along with other members of the armed forces, representatives of the Caribbean community, friends, former neighbours and members of the public. Several celebrities were also at the service, including Batman Begins and Outlander actor Colin McFarlane, Top Boy star Michael Ward and Coronation Street star, Trevor Michael Georges.
Mr Brown enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1943, before becoming one of the famed ‘Pilots of the Caribbean’, carrying out missions as a radio operator and gunner. One of his distant family members, his cousin Brooke Alexander, flew from Jamaica for the service, having been tracked down by genealogists investigating the was hero’s life story.
Flt Sgt Brown's funeral was originally going to be held at Mortlake Crematorium in south-west London in March, but organisers moved it after they were inundated with requests from his former neighbours, and the general public, for him to have a big send-off. Reverend (Group Captain) Ruth Hake, who conducted the funeral, said that it was important that the service was held in the Royal Air Force’ ‘spiritual home’.
Few knew much about Flt Sgt Peter Brown's military service until after his death, but it took Suffolk-based genealogists, from Anglia Research, who took on the task of investigating his past and tracing any living family members. He was one of 450 young Black volunteers, from the Caribbean, Africa and parts of the UK, who joined the RAF in World War Two and flew aircraft such as the Lancaster and Spitfire.
According to RAF records, he enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve in September 1943 after travelling to the UK. He trained as a wireless operator and air gunner, posted to RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire. After the war ended, he re-enlisted in the RAF, working as a signaller.
Genealogist, Lisa Hill, said he had flown five missions in Lancaster bombers before the age of 20. "His bravery speaks for itself," she said, adding: "The warmth with which he is remembered - by friends, neighbours, local shop owners and his family is remarkably striking."
A former member of the M.C.C. (Marylebone Cricket Club), his neighbours said they used to hear him cheering at cricket matches in his flat. Flt Sgt Brown, who lived alone, was said to be well-known and well-supported in his community. “He was never lonely”, one attendee said.
He was 96.