Allan Wilmot was born in Jamaica in August 1925. He joined the Royal Navy in 1941 at the age of 16 and continued his service until 1943. He then transferred to the RAF Sea and Rescue Service two years later, where he served until 1947. Wilmot didn’t have a family tradition of military service, though his father his father was one of the first black captains of a merchant ship in Jamaica. Wilmot junior’s reasoning behind joining the war effort was because of patriotism and his thirst for adventure. His duties while in the Royal Navy included sweeping shipping channels for mines and searching for the survivors of torpedoed ships.
When Wilmot joined the RAF rescue service, jobs that he and his unit carried out varied from refuelling, re-loading, as well as rescuing shot down or stranded soldiers at sea. While serving during the war, Wilmott said he got along well with his white colleagues, but less so with the American soldiers who were openly racist. The Americans had segregated black and white troops when they first came to Britain to join the war. Wilmot said this exposed him to American racism and experiences he had only read about before. After the war, he returned home to Jamaica in 1946. But, on his arrival he realised that there was a lack of job opportunities, as the government hadn’t prepared for war veterans to return. Consequently, Wilmot took the opportunity to go back to England at a time when Britain was desperate for help to rebuild the country after the devastation caused by the war.
Once back in England, Wilmot became a member of the soulful Southlanders singing group – the first to achieve widespread success in the UK and the longest-running black chart toppers in the 1950s. Now at the ripe old age of 90, Wilmot has added to his accomplished life by being invited to Buckingham Palace by Prince Charles and meeting the Queen several times.
In 2015, he published his autobiography, Now you know – The memoirs of Allan Charles Wilmot.