Neil Flanigan was born in Jamaica and travelled to England in 1943 to join the Royal Air Force. After seeing an advertisement for more people to join the RAF in the Jamaican Gleaner, Flanigan was persuaded to join the war effort. A few days later, he contacted his mother informing her that he was on a ship to England. At the start of his service in Britain, Flanigan completed eight weeks of training in Cardington, the Bedfordshire home of British airships. There he was taught how to march, fire guns, carry equipment and more. He said that, as a devout Christian, firing guns on Good Friday was a challenge for him during his war service.
Although there were some racial tensions during this period, Flanigan notes that when working collectively, people’s skin colour wasn’t an issue because “if a bomb dropped, it would kill anybody regardless of their ethnicity”. But he also noted that interracial relationships were a taboo and could lead to the black person getting attacked. Flanigan was part of the ground crew at Bomber Command. He specialised in instrument repair, providing service for the squadron that sent men off to the ill-fated Arnhem mission.
During Flanigan’s service, he lived in basic bunkhouses while training to build and maintain the controls of fighter aircraft. Following the war, he got involved in community activities, such as volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau and hislocal hospital. He also became president of the West Indian Association of Service Personnel. In acknowledgement of his achievements, he has received an MBE. When asked about the importance of spreading awareness of Caribbean’s contribution in the war, he responded: “Young people in this country would not have known that so many West Indians and Africans served in the two wars if not for history projects like this Hence we need to keep history going by teaching it more accurately.”