Emotional Homecoming for Marcus Mitchell


It is just a few days before he departs the island for England and Marcus “Roy” Mitchell is trying to get in as much of the sight and sounds of the island before he leaves.
He arrived in the island on March 10 for a 15-day vacation and has enjoyed the spectacular Rio Grande rafting excursion, toured the Appleton Estate by horse driven buggy, reunited with long lost relatives and friends and attended a number of functions held in his honour.
Fifteen days of experiences to make up for 60 years of being away from his beloved homeland. Fifteen days to gather enough memories to last for a lifetime. It is not enough, but it will have to do.
It was an emotional homecoming for Marcus, who has lived in England for the past six decades. He says that when the Air Jamaica airplane from Manchester, England touched down at the Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St. James on March 10, there were tears in his eyes.
“I cannot find words to express how I felt”, the 78 year-old World War 11 veteran says.
Marcus, a founding member of the Jamaican Society (Leeds) and chairman, Travis Johnson, also a son of Jamaica, were among a 27-member group from the Society who arrived in the island for a 13-day vacation.
Born in Topsham, Manchester on August 4, 1926, Marcus left Jamaica for the UK in November of 1944, as a member of the Royal Air Force (RAF) ground crew in World War 11.
He recalls that he was among 1,700 troopers who set sail from Palisadoes in Kingston, on the HMS Carthage to England. He said the troop was comprised of men from other Caribbean island including Trinidad and Barbados. But, as the ship neared Bermuda, it came under fire from the Germans and the crew had to take refuge in Bermuda for a couple of days.
Marcus remembers that it was actually the ship’s captain, who informed the crew that they were being fired on, “because all I heard was a rumble like thunder in the water and I thought it was submarines.
Because we were inexperienced, we didn’t know what it was until everything was over”, he laughs, adding that no damage was done to the ship and they set sail after a couple of days.
The ship docked in River Clyde in Scotland in November and the men were processed to be sent to different camps across the United Kingdom. “To tell you the truth, when we landed in Scotland, it was like going into an icebox; it was bitter, bitter cold. It was the first time we experience frost, we didn’t know what it was. Everyone was rubbing their hands and rubbing their feet and crying about cold. We got over that once we got to our camps. My first camp was North Weald. The number I was given I still have that number today. I remember my number is 724804”, he tells JIS News.
Continuing, Marcus informs, “I came to the UK the backend of November 1944. I had just left school at the time and there were loads of advertisement going up around the place saying: ‘The Mother Country needs you’. So I decided to join the RAF”.
Once he joined the RAF, he decided to sign up for the transport division and was sent to camp called Netheravon to be trained as a driver. Soon after that he became a driving instructor, teaching other soldiers to drive.
He spent five years in the RAF and after the war, he was one of the first Jamaicans to settle in Leeds and subsequently joined the Leeds Rifles, where he was a member for 14 years.
It was in 1950 that he married Girda, a German nurse and worked in the field of engineering until he became a freelance painter/decorator. The union brought two children, a boy and a girl, who are now 51 and 50 years old respectively.
Marcus notes that due to his busy schedule in the RAF where he was constantly travelling, he lost contact with his family here in Jamaica, and so he was happy to be a part of the Jamaican Society (Leeds), where he met Travis, “who is my father, my brother, my uncle, my everything, and I do not know how to tell him thanks for arranging this visit, so that I can come home and have such a wonderful time”.
Expressing joy to be home, Marcus says, “since I have come here several arrangements have been made and so I was able to meet my brother George, my nephews and nieces, and several other family members. I also met and had a brief talk with the Governor-General, and I have gone to a number of other places, and I am overjoyed”. Giving his view on what Jamaica is like in comparison to how he remembered the country, he says he is pleased to see the level of development. “I experienced the warmth of the people. From the plane touched down, I said, ‘this is home, a beautiful place’.”
Pointing out that the time spent was satisfying, the World War II veteran says, “everywhere I went I found it as gold. The only thing I miss, so far, are the trams and the trains, which are out of existence, but with so much to relate on my return to Leeds, I will have more and more tears coming down my face”.
Travis, who left Jamaica for the UK in 1962 at the age of 18, is involved in improving race relations in Leeds, where he has resided for the past 42 years. He was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1981 and still serves on the bench as a Lay Magistrate. He has been involved in a number of community initiatives such as the Community Action & Support Against Crime (CASAC), of which he is a founding member and chairperson for eight years.
Travis tells JIS News that, “some 27 years ago, six of us got together and discussed the need for setting up an organization, which could help Jamaicans in Leeds to settle much better, face certain issues, and provide certain information that they required”.
He says the Society, which is registered as a charity organization, comprised over 400 members on books, and through active participation and fund raising efforts as well as donations from other groups, they were able to purchase a home, which is aptly known as the ‘Jamaica House’.
The Society in 2000, commissioned Melody Walker, a young Jamaican who had just completed her masters degree at Leeds University, to document the history of Jamaicans in Leeds and the work of the organization. In October of 2003, the book titled ‘A Journey Through our History – The Story of the Jamaican People in Leeds & the Work of the Jamaica Society (Leeds) was officially launched. “I am pleased to say that the book documents not only the history of the Jamaican Society (Leeds), but the history of Jamaicans in that city, and therefore, we went back to 1944, when members of the Jamaican community went to serve in the RAF, and many have lived in Leeds after the war,” Travis informs.
He says, “one such person was Marcus, who had not been back to Jamaica in 60 years, but we realize that there were other Jamaicans who have not returned in over 20 or 30 years, so the Society decided to organize the trip, and we were fortunate to have 27 members of the Society, and friends from Barbados, Trinidad, St. Kitts, and Nigeria, deciding to come”.
Travis points out that in the text, the author skillfully wove together the perspectives and stories of three generations of Jamaicans into a whole, and central to the story is the foundation of the Jamaica Society (Leeds), which has served as a unifying force and has provided Jamaicans with the opportunity to contribute to their community as a collective.
The book, copies of which were presented to several individuals and organisation in Jamaica, highlights the Society’s signature achievement, ‘Jamaica House’, which stands as a monument to the spirit of independence, perseverance and co-operation of the Jamaican community in Leeds. It has become their “little piece of Jamaica on British soil”, he states.
Noting that the visit had been very good, Travis says through the sponsorship of the Victoria Mutual Building Society (VMBS) as well as the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), the group had toured several places and institutions, ” and we are very grateful for what they have done”, adding that “we cannot forget Air Jamaica in the process, as they too have made a contribution toward the journey”.
Travis notes that as the Jamaican Society (Leeds) continues to look for ways to improve the lives of Jamaicans in that city, it will also look at ways in which it can receive dignitaries from Jamaica, working with the High Commissioner in London, and other Jamaican institutions.

JIS Social