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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

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Dates for your diary: New and recent events on George Arthur Roberts

Evening with the Hatcham Conservation

Society

Many thanks to all those who attended a successful evening with the Hatcham Society on 30th October 2020 at 7pm.  BBC journalist Emily Finch interviewed Samantha Harding, great granddaughter of George Arthur Roberts, on Roberts's life in South London and his work for the fire service at New Cross Fire Station. 

IWM plans historic Home Front gallery in autumn 2021

The Imperial War Museum will be featuring the life of George Arthur Roberts in its new Home Front galleries now delayed until Autumn 2021 by the covid-19 pandemic. The family are looking forward to this important historic moment when the contribution of black people to the Home Front will be highlighted. 

Camden New Journal creates Black History Month splash 

Successful independent London local newspaper the Camden New Journal and its sister papers The Islington Tribune and the West End Extra featured George Arthur Roberts in its extensive Black History Month supplement. Copies are free and can be obtained from the paper by calling their office on 0207 419 9000.

 
 

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

Blue Plaque Unveiling

September 11 2016

Roberts wins the Southwark News competition for a blue plaque at his Camberwell home. Watch film of the ceremony here: https://youtu.be/VcHlX1Slo64 (with thanks to Wood Green Films) and https://youtu.be/h7TMF68z-tI (with thanks to Kevin Goggin)

Red Plaque unveiling
April 2018

Honouring Roberts's work for the Auxiliary Fire Service, The London Fire Brigade, Fire Brigades Union and London fire chief Dany Cotton unveiled a plaque at New Cross Fire Station, where Roberts won his British Empire Medal for his service. Watch the ceremony here: https://youtu.be/7-y3hSzC6NU (With thanks to Kevin Goggin)

Festival of Remembrance November 2018

Held at the Royal Albert Hall, this commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I honoured veterans including Roberts with their descendants gathered by the BBC and joining cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason in a poignant moment of remembrance. Watch it here:  https://youtu.be/2iUb4l2tFvk

 

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
anti-racism organisation

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

 

Black History Month
2020

George Roberts and the British Legion 1917

At the dawn of the British Legion, George Arthur Roberts was, naturally, a founder member.  Having seen the horrors of the Somme and been injured at Loos, he threw himself into ensuring the welfare of soldiers returning from World War I. When he started to campaign for veterans' affairs the British Legion did not exist, and was one of three organisations concerned with veterans' affairs (see British Legion story in News section). In this searing account of "The Battle of Westminster Bridge", written in 1961 for the Camberwell branch of the legion he founded, Roberts describes how the confrontation on Westminster Bridge was a galvanising moment in unifying the three organisations to form the British Legion as we know it today. He was made a life member of the British Legion in 1962.

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.

Samantha Harding

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)

London, UK

 

©2019 the family of George Arthur Roberts.