Stranger Bwoy – a poem by Ralph Ottey

For Black History Month 2023, we present a literary gem that is quite possibly unique: a poem written a black RAF veteran of the Second World War, Ralph Ottey. Ralph volunteered in Jamaica in 1944. He was among the first intake of approximately 5,000 Caribbean recruits who trained as RAF ground personnel at RAF Hunmanby Moor. Thereafter he was posted to RAF Woodhall Spa, then the home of the famed 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron. After the war, Ralph served for some time at RAF Coningsby, before opting to take a bookkeeping qualification at the County Commercial College, Wood Green, Staffordshire. Ralph wrote this poem at the conclusion of his course in 1947, en route to RAF Sealand and repatriation to Jamaica.


Stranger bwoy you come from foreign
You a lion
You a sailor on Nelson’s Column
You a Mary Seacole
You a Constantine, Turpin and Buxton
You a squashed lemon
You a broken pub glass
You an empty bus seat
Stranger bwoy you inconvenient
Stranger boy you black.

The sense of rejection – or at least of the lack of appreciation of the service he and his compatriots had offered to ‘the Mother Country’ during the war – is very strong.

Ralph was not in Jamaica long before he returned to the UK. He married and settled in Boston, Lincolnshire, where he still lives today at the age of 99. His was a different experience to those who congregated together in cities like London, Leeds or Nottingham: there was no Caribbean community in the making in Boston, and as such he had to work hard to adapt to this community in order not only to survive but thrive – which he succeeded in doing.

There are several references to well known black people of the 1940s in his poem, and indeed from much earlier times. A black sailor features on one of Carew’s bronze reliefs at the base of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. He is one of 27 sailors of African or Caribbean origin known to have served on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.[1]

Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was born in Jamaica. She was an intrepid traveller and drew on her hospitality experience (managing hotels, catering) in many challenging settings, including in Cruces, Central America and setting up the British Hotel at Balaclava, during the Crimean War. Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, was published in 1857. A statue in her memory was unveiled in London in 2016.

Learie Constantine (1901-1971) was one of the most famous Caribbean cricketers of all time.[2] He was born in Trinidad and played for the West Indies in 18 test matches before the Second World War, as well as pursuing a professional cricketing career in England. During the War, he worked for the Ministry of Labour and National Service, with responsibility for the welfare of Caribbean workers in factories in the UK. After the war he became active in politics, both in Trinidad and the UK. He became the UK’s first black peer in 1969. Ralph met Constantine on at least two occasions. Constantine had been among the party of dignitaries who welcomed Ralph’s troopship to Liverpool in 1944 and attended the passing-out parade of his intake at RAF Hunmanby Moor later that year. At this parade, Constantine stopped to speak to Ralph and gave him this advice:  ‘Very soon you will be rubbing shoulders with English people. Just behave in England as you would in Little London, with your grandparents around, and you will get along fine. The English are a fair-minded people and quite friendly when they get to know you. I say this as someone who has taken a London hotel to court for their refusal to accept me as a paying guest because of my colour.’ Constantine’s successful case against the hotel for racism had only recently been heard in court (June 1944). It attracted much publicity at the time. Constantine also visited the Commercial College in Wood Green while Ralph was studying there.

Turpin and Buxton were both well-known boxers from families of boxing brothers. Randolph, better known as Randy, Turpin (1928-1996) was from Leamington Spa and had already achieved boxing success by the mid-1940s. He became world middleweight champion in 1951.[3] Alex Buxton (1926-2004), whose family lived in Watford, was the most successful of his brothers, making his professional debut in 1941. In the immediate postwar period, he was at the height of his success, winning the British light-heavyweight title in 1952.[4]



[1] See ‘Black History Month’ at Accessed 1 October 2023.

[2] See The National Archives, ‘Sir Learie Constantine’ at Accessed 1 October 2023.

The accounts of the meetings with Ralph Ottey are taken from the latter’s memoir, to be published in 2024.

[3] See Wikipedia entry on Randolph Turpin at Accessed 1 October 2023.

[4] See ‘An interview with Allan Buxton’ on the Sporting Heritage blogsite at Accessed 1 October 2023.

Remembering Richard Hill

To mark International Abolition of Slavery Day on 2 December, this post features a prominent abolitionist with strong links to Lincolnshire, Richard Hill – someone who deserves to be far better known in this region.

The Hon Richard Hill. From

Richard Hill was born in Jamaica on 1 May 1795. His father, also Richard, came from a well-established family in the Horncastle area and  emigrated to Jamaica in 1779, with his brothers George Edward, Charles and Robert.[1]

Richard senior settled in Montego Bay, became a successful merchant and married a woman of colour. They had three children, Richard, Ann and Jane. In the pernicious race classifications of the time (how much ‘black’ blood was there?), Richard and Ann were registered as ‘quadroon’, while Jane was registered as ‘mestee’.[2]

When he was still very young, Richard junior was sent to live with relatives in England and attended the Elizabethan Grammar School in Horncastle. On his father’s death in 1818, he returned to Jamaica as the head of the household and to sort out inheritance matters. His father had already made him ‘pledge himself to devote his energies to the cause of freedom, and never to rest until those civil disabilities, under which the Negroes were labouring, had been entirely removed; and, further, until slavery itself had received its death-blow’.[3]

In pursuit of this end, Hill travelled widely in the Caribbean, the United States and Canada,  and returned to England in 1827 to secure the assistance of the Anti-Slavery Society and its leading figures including Wilberforce, Buxton, Clarkson, Babington, Lushington and Zachary Macaulay. He delivered a petition to the House of Commons and remained in England for some time, writing and lecturing.[4]

It is of note that his sister Jane accompanied him to London; she remained in the UK until the early 1830s. Like her brother, she was active in the anti-slavery movement  although frustratingly little is known of her role.  According to Ryan Hanley’s Beyond Slavery and Abolition: Black British Writing c.1770- 1830,  they seem to have been on good terms with Thomas Pringle, secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, who was well connected to a network of black women in London. It is likely that the Anti-Slavery Society supported both siblings financially.

The Society sent Hill to San Domingo in 1830 to investigate social and political conditions there. His visit lasted nearly two years. Back in Jamaica, he was witness to the formal ending of slavery, for which he gave credit to the struggles of both enslaved and free black people:

Slave uprising on Roehampton Estate.

‘The year 1830 saw the fires of rebellion lighted on the very mountains where the Maroon negroes had sounded the signal of insurrection thirty-five years before. The neighbouring valleys that had remained tranquil under the shock, were now the scene of general havoc and disorder. “Physical strength is with the governed.” That strength was felt, and roused into action … The struggle brought to a rapid close the question of colonial slavery. Two years after these events, in the month of July, 1834, I visited these very scenes in the quality of a magistrate specially commissioned to prepare both masters and slaves for the general emancipation’.[5]

Abolition was to be followed by a so-called apprenticeship phase, during which plantation workforces were to transition from slavery to wage labour. Hill was intimately involved in this process, having been appointed a magistrate to adjudicate cases between formerly enslaved apprentices and their employers.   Although highly regarded by British officials, Hill found himself criticised for his perceived  leniency towards apprentices; this led to him to resign his position.[6] He subsequently accepted the post of  Secretary to the Special Magistrates Department at Spanish Town – a sort of ‘deanship’ of all the stipendiary magistrates [7] and a position he held until 1871.

James Thome and J. H. Kimball, the authors of an anti-slavery study of 1837, wrote of him,

‘We spent nearly a day with Richard Hill, Esq., the secretary of the special magistrates’ departments … He is a colored gentleman, and in every respect the noblest man, white or black, whom we met in the West Indies. He is highly intelligent and of fine moral feelings. His manners are free and unassuming, and his language in conversation fluent and well chosen…. He is at the head of the special magistrates (of whom there are sixty in this island) and all the correspondence between them and the governor is carried on through him. The station he holds is a very important one, and the business connected with it is of a character and extent that, were he not a man of superior abilities, he could not sustain. He is highly respected by the government in the island and at home, and possesses the esteem of his fellow citizens of all colors. He associates with persons of the highest rank, dining and attending parties at the government house with all the aristocracy of Jamaica.’[8]

He held many leading civic and political roles through his long career. These included Agent General of Immigration, and serving on the Privy Council, Board of Education and the Royal Society of Arts and Agriculture.

The last-mentioned is a hint of his greatest love: nature and the natural history of Jamaica, on which he published many scientific papers. He corresponded with Charles Darwin and the curators at the Smithsonian and advised the famous naturalist Philip Henry Gosse on his Jamaican research. His contribution to natural history is slowly being recognised – for example, Sessions’ recent study argues that Hill influenced Gosse to treat nature and emancipation as intimately linked.[9]

Hill also wrote extensively, and eloquently, on Jamaican history: A Week at Port Royal (1858), Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History (1859), Eight Chapters in the History of Jamaica, 1508-1680 (1868), and The Picaroons of One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago 1869). He died in 1872.

In very recent times, there have been attempts to remember Richard Hill in Lincolnshire. The Horncastle History and Heritage Society ran an event with students from the grammar school, which knew nothing of him until said event. The Society also discovered that Hill had corresponded with Horncastle historian, printer and auctioneer George Weir; letters between them are held in the National Library of Jamaica.[10]

There is a way to go before this crusading emancipationist and naturalist occupies a proper place in a reimagined Lincolnshire.

Heather Hughes

[1] F.J. DuQuesnay, Richard Hill – Son of Jamaica at  draws on family letters to shed light on his early life. [Accessed 1 December 2021].

[2] Elisabeth Griffith-Hughes, A Mighty Experiment: The Transition from Slavery to Freedom in Jamaica, 1834-1838. PhD Thesis, University of Georgia, 2003, p. 75.

[3] Frank Cundell, Richard Hill. The Journal of Negro History 5, 1, 1920, p.37

[4] Frank Cundell, Richard Hill, p.38.

[5] Richard Hill, Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History; Being Three Lectures Delivered in Aid of the Mission Schools of the Colony. Kingston, Ford and Gall, 1859, p. 93. Available at Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History: Being Three Lectures, Delivered in … – Richard Hill – Google Books [accessed 1 December 2021]

[6] Griffith-Hughes, A Mighty Experiment, p.75

[7] Monica Schuler, Coloured civil servants in post-emancipation Jamaica: two case studies. Caribbbean Quarterly 30, 3/4,  1984, p.95

[8] Jas A. Thome and J. Horace Kimball, Emancipation in the West Indies. A Six Months’ Tour in Antigua, Barbadoes and Jamaica in the Year 1837. New York, The American Anti-Slavery Society, 1838, p. 425-6.

[9] Emily Sessions, Anti-picturesque landscapes, entangled fauna, and interracial collaboration in post-emancipation Jamaica in the work of Philip Henry Gosse and Richard Hill.  Terrae Incognitae, 53, 1, 2021, 26-47.

[10] Email Ian Marshman to Heather Hughes 22 July 2021. Many thanks to Ian Marshman, Chair of the Horncastle History and Heritage Society, for this information.