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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 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

77F01B03-DCF2-44D3-BB6E-43241635A746.jpeg

Who was George Arthur Roberts?

A life well lived

 

News and details of events commemorating the life and work of George Arthur Roberts

More than 193,000 watch Ancestry advert on YouTube 

Only three weeks after it was downloaded to YouTube, more than 193,000 views ( and counting...) of the unique Ancestry ad 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

Covid 19 delays IWM museum opening

Museums are slowly opening after the pandemic and we will update you as soon as we know when the Imperial War Museum's Home Front Galleries, featuring George Arthur Roberts, will open.

Historian Stephen Bourne, whose nomination of George Arthur Roberts for a Blue Plaque back in 2016 sparked a surge of interest in his life, has documented his work for the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in his new book Under Fire, Black Britain in Wartime.

Featuring details of the work of Roberts and other black contributors to the Home Front, it chronicles the efforts of firefighters  through World War II when the voluntary fire service began. Roberts is thought to be the first black man to join the service back in 1938.

* Under Fire: Black Britain in Wartime 1939-1945 is available in all good book shops at £12.99 published by The History Press (ISBN 9780750994354.

STOP PRESS: Imperial War Museum Home Front galleries opening in 2021

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.

London's first anti-racism organisation celebrates 90th anniversary in 2021

In 1931 Jamaican doctor Harold Moody founded the League of Coloured Peoples in London.  It is probably one of London's first anti-racist organisations and its founding chairman was George Arthur Roberts.  Roberts continued to be an executive member of the League for years, recorded annually in the election of members at their annual general meetings. The League's journal, The Keys, founded in 1933, shows that it was a vigorous and outspoken organisation campaigning tirelessly to address the many injustices meted out to Black people in London and internationally in employment, housing, politics and the media.  Its writers were many of the most revered literary and political names of the day including CLR James and George Padmore. Its deputy editor, Una Marson, went on to become the first black woman producer with the BBC. We will be honouring the League of Coloured Peoples throughout Black History Month 2020 and featuring excerpts of The Keys on this website. 

We recently heard that the Home Front galleries at the Imperial War Museum, that will feature George Arthur Roberts will open in 2021. We will keep you posted on this. 

The Royal British Legion recalls the contribution of George Arthur Roberts

Roberts was a founder member of the Royal British Legion back in 1919 when it was still one of three separate organisations looking after the welfare of war veterans.  He joined the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers 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 and he wrote about his work for them in a 1961 edition of the legion magazine when he recalled "The Battle of Westminster Bridge", which we will feature on this website during black History month.  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 and many thanks to them for this tribute. 

Picture: George Roberts mans a poppy appeal stall to raise funds for the British Legion and "be practical for peace". 

 

Get ready for Black History Month 2020

In 2020, with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd, the history of black people in Britain has had a new and more concentrated focus.  In celebration of this, this website will feature more and new details of Roberts's work and his importance to the black British experience in London pre-Windrush. 

We will look at his role fighting in World War I, his founding chairmanship of the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931, his family life, his membership of the Auxiliary Fire Service and other aspects of his life during Black History Month.  Watch this space for more details soon. 

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.