'We thought he had died in the war': Funeral for wartime pilot brings long-lost family together

·3 min read

Long-lost relatives of one of the last "pilots of the Caribbean" say they believed he had been dead for the past eight decades.

Flight Sergeant Peter Brown died last December at his home in Maida Vale, west London.

The 96-year-old was one of the last black RAF pilots of World War Two.

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His funeral at the Central Church of the RAF on the Strand in London was attended by hundreds of people after a campaign for a "fitting" send off.

An appeal by Westminster City Council to trace his relatives was picked up by historians, military researchers, genealogists and the media.

Natalie Ramsay, a second cousin of Peter Brown, lives in Middlesex, and said she saw the appeal in a newspaper.

"We thought he died in the war," the 87-year-old told Sky News.

"The family Brown never knew what happened to him, so my grandmother, Sarah Anne, a Brown, mourned him all her life."

She contacted 90-year-old Myrtle Gutzmore, whose husband Isiah is his first cousin, and Myrtle travelled thousands of miles from Jamaica to attend the funeral.

She described him as a "private man".

"…if it hadn't been for (Natalie) seeing it in the paper, then this wouldn't have happened."

The funeral also brought an end to 40 years of searching for relative Rosie Bird, whose father was Peter Brown's first cousin.

She described reading a British newspaper at her home in the Canadian city of Vancouver a few months ago and seeing his name.

"My heart just stopped, and I thought this can't be… but it must be… and it started the ball rolling for me to call England and to say I believe I am his family and that's how we went from there.

"If I had never called England and I had never done anything I wouldn't know that was our Peter Brown.

"But it was just amazing - it was like the search was complete.

"I was just overwhelmed."

Flight Sergeant Peter Brown was born in Jamaica in 1926.

He travelled to Britain and enlisted with the RAF in 1943 at the height of WWII.

He flew Lancaster bombers as a radio operator and gunner.

After the war ended, he worked as an RAF signaller before resuming civilian life.

He is believed to be one of the last, if not the last, "pilots of the Caribbean".

Originally his funeral was to be a low-key small affair in Mortlake, at a venue with a 140-person capacity.

However, after the council was inundated with requests to attend, it was moved to St Clement Danes Church, the Central RAF Church, which seats up to 600.

Don Simon, who served in 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, said he felt compelled to go.

"Mr Brown, he's given, not the ultimate sacrifice, but he's served his country," he said.

"We're here to say: 'you're not alone. You never will be alone'.

"And that's the main reason why we're here today, to really celebrate him, his life and what he's done for our country."

Attending alongside members of the Caribbean community and other military personnel was the head of the RAF, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Wigston.

Also attending were celebrities including actor Colin McFarlane, and Coronation Street's Ed Bailey.