Victor Emmanuel Brown was born in Jamaica and fought with the Merchant Navy during the war. Originally, Britain was reluctant to allow black people to join the war effort because of racial prejudice. But, as time progressed, the military’s discriminatory rules were relaxed and Africans and Caribbeans were recruited to serve Britain against its enemy, Nazi Germany.
Brown became a merchant seaman in 1942, after the UK’s ministry of shipping began employing black people to serve in the war. Like many other Caribbeans, Brown was passionate about helping the Mother Country, as they knew Britain. He saw it as an opportunity to defend the ‘‘King and Empire’’.
In January of 1942, Brown and fellow crew members of the Merchant Navy ship Refast experienced a torpedo exploding into the side of the oil tanker on which they were serving in the freezing North Atlantic Ocean, off Nova Scotia. As the ship sunk, Brown heroically used an axe to cut down a lifeboat and left the vessel along with several of his colleagues. He is recognised for saving several lives that were on board, including Winston Murphy, the only other black man among the 42-strong crew. Victor is now 94 and currently lives in Lancashire. In his own humorous words he is “hoping to live at least to the age of 106 at which age I was hoping to be shot by a jealous husband”.