By Marc Wadsworth
A prominent Trinidadian Second World War veteran, who once worked as a guard at a prison where Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess was being held, has died in hospital aged 94 after a short illness.
Clapham resident Alvin Chy-Quene -“Chy”, as he was known, was featured in two films made by Deborah Hobson and Marc Wadsworth, the BBC’s Fighting for King and Empire, Britain’s Caribbean Heroes; and Divided by race, united in war and peace for the-latest.com.
Both looked at the lives of Caribbean servicemen like Mr Chy-Quene and Mr Wadsworth’s late Jamaican father, during and after the Second World War.
They focused on how they handled being in the military and civilian Britain, tackling racism along the way.
They did both with courage, fortitude and good humour. Mr Chy-Quene, star of the launch of the-latest.com’s Livingmemorial.org.uk website at Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives in the UK in 2019, was particularly witty.
Mr Chy-Quene, of Badminton Road, Clapham, was one of the last surviving veterans whose untold stories are showcased on the website.
Not much is known about his early life except that he was born in Port of Spain and had Chinese origin on his father’s side.
He joined the RAF in the spring of 1944 in his homeland as a teenager.
A year before the end of the war, Mr Chy-Quene boarded a troop ship in Port of Spain that took him to Jamaica for three days, where it collected more ”last batch” volunteers bound for Britain.
They sailed in a convoy that included British submarines and destroyers, to break through the blockade of deadly German U-boats that circled the Caribbean.
Trinidad had a hugely strategically important oil refinery that supplied vital fuel for the British war effort, and that is why the Germans were intent on neutralising it.
Mr Chy-Quene and the other Caribbean volunteers eventually disembarked at Greenock, Glasgow. They were transferred to an RAF training camp in Wiltshire, where Mr Qhy-Quene met fellow Trinidadian flight lieutenant Ulric Cross, who went on to be the most decorated Caribbean serviceman of the war. They became close friends.
Mr Chy Quene served all over Britain, doing ground crew jobs like loading munitions on to Spitfire, Hurricane and Halifax aircraft.
When he arrived in Britain, it was the first time he had come across “rough looking” white men with tattoos, as he described them.
It was a bit of a culture shock because previously the only white men he had seen were smart, colonial officials who ran his country.
At the time, British men were not well informed about black people before the Caribbeans joined the war effort.
When he was speaking in a Caribbean dialect among his compatriots, which Englishmen didn’t understand, the Englishmen asked what language they were speaking. Mr Chy-Quene quipped “Algebra”.
When Mr Chy-Quene was serving in the war, he and other Trinidadians sang calypso songs with lyrics against Hitler and demanded the Nazi leader should to leave the British Empire alone.
After the war Mr Chy-Quene was sent to Germany as a military guard at Spandau Prison, where the notorious Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s former deputy, was imprisoned.
When Mr Chy-Quene left the RAF, he stayed in Germany, where he learnt the language, and became part of a team that performed post mortems and trained as pathologists.
He was an active member of the Clapham-based West Indian Ex-Servicemen and Women’s Association, and its successor the West Indian Association of Service Personnel (WASP), as well as the Royal British Legion and RAF Association.
The Rev Marcia DaCosta, ex-chaplain of WASP, who visited Mr Chy-Quene in a care home and then hospital before he died, said: “Chy was a funny and very interesting person to know.
“He loved life and loved to travel and had friends in many parts of the world.”
Pictured top: Alvin Chy-Quene; image the-latest.com
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