Who was George Arthur Roberts?
A life well lived
This website was set up by the family of George Arthur Roberts to celebrate his life and legacy. Born in 1891 he came to the UK around 1914, fought in World War I and was a founder member of the British Legion in 1919 and the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931. He was the first black man to join the Auxiliary Fire Service in 1938 and received the British Empire Medal for his work setting up discussion groups within the fire service in 1944. As interest in his life has grown, his family continue to honour his memory and disseminate his work as widely as possible.
Norman Hepple's portrait of George Arthur Roberts
dated July 1941.
Welcome to the Life and Legacy of George Arthur Roberts
A website created by his family
to commemorate his life and work
Dates for your diary: New and recent events on George Arthur Roberts
News and information commemorating the life and work of George Arthur Roberts
More than 460,000 watch Ancestry advert on YouTube
Only eight weeks after it was downloaded to YouTube, more than 460,000 views (and counting...) of the unique Ancestry advert featuring George Arthur Roberts have been watched.
With the voice of his great granddaughter, the advert is the first time Ancestry have used a real person and their related descendant in their advertising. Another first for George Arthur Roberts!
The advert will be live for the next year. Watch it here: https://youtu.be/Vt0-bkSC5MM
More than 184,000 watch the Ancestry ad on YouTube
Previous events commemorating George Arthur Roberts and his life 2016-2018
New book examines the fire service years
Historian Stephen Bourne (pictured) whose nomination of George Arthur Roberts for a Blue Plaque back in 2016 sparked a surge of interest in his life, has documented Roberts's work for the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in his new book Under Fire, Black Britain in Wartime 1939-1945.
Featuring details of the work of Roberts and other black contributors to the Home Front, it chronicles the efforts of firefighters before and during World War II when the voluntary fire service began. Roberts is thought to be the first black man to have joined the service back in 1938.
Under Fire: Black Britain in Wartime 1939-1945 is available in all good bookshops at £12.99 published by The History Press (ISBN 9780750994354).
Author Stephen Bourne and (left) the cover of his new book Under Fire.
Honouring The Keys - the journal of London's first
In 1931 Jamaican doctor Harold Moody founded the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP) in London. It is probably one of London's first anti-racist organisations and its founding chairman was George Arthur Roberts. The Keys, the journal of the LCP, was first published in 1933 and in 1934 deputy editor Una Marson produced this hard-hitting poem based on her personal experiences of being racially abused in the street. It uses the language she was faced with and demonstrates the emotional impact of being called such words - a powerful statement of her experiences on the streets of London. For a time Marson edited The Keys and she was to become probably the first black woman producer at the BBC. In tribute to her work a blue plaque was erected in her memory at Brunswick Square in Camberwell where she lived for a while.
You can watch examples of the some of the programmes she created on YouTube.
The Royal British Legion recalls the contribution of George Arthur Roberts
Roberts was a founder member of the Royal British Legion in 1917 when it was still one of three separate organisations looking after the welfare of war veterans. He was a member of the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors and in 1921 it merged with the Comrades of the Great War and the National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers to form the British Legion. He wrote about his work for them in a 1961 edition of the legion magazine when he recalled "The Battle of Westminster Bridge" (see our Black History Month section below). He was made a life member of the Camberwell branch he founded in 1962. So it is fitting that the legion made brief mention of Roberts in its September 2020 issue comemorating VJ day.
Picture: George Roberts mans a poppy stall with mayor and mayoress of Southwark Arthur and Bess Chambers in 1966. (Thanks to Margaret Fairman and Don Chambers for this information)
STOP PRESS: Prime Minister
Boris Johnson pays tribute to George Arthur Roberts in BHM address
In a surprise for the family of George Arthur Roberts, Prime MInister Boris Johnson took the opportunity of Black History Month to pay tribute to Roberts in an address specially recorded and broadcast on YouTube on October 1st.
In the unprecedented speech he described Roberts's bravery in picking up bombs and hurling them back over enemy lines in World War I. He then mentioned his service in World War II as a fireman during the blitz.
He also talked of the difficulties Roberts must have faced on his arrival in the UK being shunned and barred from work and leisure for his race. Since the recording was placed on You Tube over six thousand people have watched it.
On behalf of the family of George Arthur Roberts, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for this touching tribute which our entire family worldwide listened to and felt great pride at. Let us hope this is followed by action to address the many injustices still faced by the black community in Britain including Windrush. Watch the full speech here: https://youtu.be/0AX6nTVNUUI
Welcome to our website
Thank you for visiting our website. My name is Samantha Harding and I am the great granddaughter of George Arthur Roberts.
I am hoping that this website will become a point at which we in the family can share all we know about George Arthur Roberts and receive information from anyone who remembers him and wants to contribute memories, writings, impressions or historical records that could help us all find out more about him and his life.
We also hope that if there are any events, talks or other landmarks we can publicise these events here.
As this website developes, we will be looking to add more content by Roberts himself as well as by and about other family members.
We hope you enjoy this website.
Do you have any memories of George Arthur Roberts? Are you holding a special event around his life? Do you need a family member to attend your event? Please contact us and we can try to assist you and feature your news on this website (Please use the contact form below)