Black History Month: Aylesbury's Errol Lewis reveals how he became the first black recruit for Royal Green Jackets

Errol Joe Lewis was the first black recruit for the Royal Green Jackets and has lived a fascinating life.

Friday, 9th October 2020, 10:36 am
Errol with the Royal Green Jackets

Errol Lewis was the first black person in aylesbury to join the Royal Green Jackets, also known as Ox and Bucks.

Errol Lewis was born in Barbados on the 12th of September 1941, in a village called Gays St Peter's.

He said it was a tranquil upbringing, and a great place to grow up where locals used to play gully cricket in the sunshine, and live a typical island life.

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Errol Lewis

Educated at Bellplain School in St Andrew, his father came over to England in 1956 to work at Nestles in Aylesbury.

There used to be a factory in Aylesbury which made condensed milk, which was popular during the period. The factory was built in 1875.

A year later, Errol's mother Eileen followed where she became a domestic nurse at Stoke Mandeville.

Errol was one of 12 children from Joseph and Eileen. He was the oldest child.

Errol Lewis at home

In 1959, Errol arrived in the UK via ship, via Italy, the very same route his parents had taken.

National Service had ended in 1960, but Errol signed up for the Army because he wanted to serve Great Britain.

From 1 January 1949, healthy males 17 to 21 years old were expected to serve in the armed forces for 18 months, and remain on the reserve list for four years.

Errol said: "I was the first black person to join the Royal Green Jackets as a regular. I was excited at the prospect of serving Britain but uncertain about the future. Britain's army was involved in a few conflicts across the globe and we just didn't know where we'd be sent.

"National service had just come to an end, but I knew it was the job for me."

Errol joined up on 14 November, 1960.

And despite a three month wait while his battalion filled out with enough numbers to be deployed, he would soon enough be on his way to Borneo after a three month training period at Knook Camp in Warminister.

In 1962, northern Borneo consisted of the British protectorate of Brunei and the colonies of Sarawak and North Borneo (later known as Sabah). The rest of the island was made up of the Indonesian provinces of Kalimantan.

Britain hoped to incorporate Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo - all close to independence at that time - into the Federation of Malaysia, along with Singapore and the states of the Malayan Peninsula.

However, President Sukarno of Indonesia was wary of continued British influence in the region. He wanted to extend Indonesian control on the island by adding these territories to the rest of Kalimantan.

The two powers went to War, and Erol would find himself right in the middle of fighting.

He was flown out to Penang, then Thailand, then back to Brunei where British troops clashed with Insonesian forces.

Errol said: "There was fighting and gunfire as soon as we arrived in Brunei.

"It was scary place to be. When we arrived in Brunei there was gunfire, and as we took the road to the jungle the roads were littered with dead bodies. It was a truly awful time but we were there to do a job."

Errol spent his first Christmas abroad out in the Borneo Jungle, but maintained a sense of pride about his identity as one the first Bajan's to fight for Britain as a Royal Green Jacket.

'It filled me with an immense amount of pride" he said.

"Being in the army, you have no choice. When you are told to go, you have to go. We just did what we told.

"I went from relaxing at the weekend in Thailand, testing out radios to the thick of war in Borneo's dense jungles."

He eventually returned to England in 1965 when the Royal Green Jacket's work was done, but not before a short period in Hong Kong where he was shown the amazing sights of the peninsular, including the infamous Susie Wong Bar in Hong Kong.

In 1965 Errol was deployed to Berlin, as the Cold War was beginning to heat up as the city was divided into the American, Russian, French and British Section - divided by the infamous Berlin Wall.

Errol said: "It was an exciting city, with lots going on. Obviously there were flash points at the wall, with people escaping all the time but you did what you had to do to keep safe and happy.

"All things considered, I had a really easy job while I was out there. I was a driving instructor. I had an easy job while the others were all out on exercise.

"We were just trying to keep the peace. At that time if another global conflict was going to happen, it would have started in Berlin.

"I only had 18 months left on my army contract so wanted to keep my head down."

After Berlin Errol came back to Aylesbury, where he worked at Rivets before moving to Hazell, Watson and Viney until it closed down.

Errol married his wife Linda in Aylesbury 1st November 1974 and have been married for 46 years

He has family members well known in the Aylesbury community, including his grandson UK rapper Amari Jamz and daughter, local activist Hannah lewis who lead over a thousand people Aylesbury during the Black Lives Matter March.