Print

The Greatest Generation

Written by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail on 14 February 2011.

 By Mathias Joost

The men and women who served during the Second World War have been referred to as the greatest generation for what they achieved after the war. This moniker is no less applicable to the many Blacks who served in the RCAF during the war. They went on to distinguish themselves in many areas of society, even reaching heights such as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and Prime Minister of Jamaica.  While it is not possible to list the accomplishments of all the Blacks who served in the RCAF, five selected at random illustrate what these gentlemen accomplished.

The Honourable Lincoln Alexander is perhaps the best known of all the Blacks who served in the RCAF during the war. He enlisted in October 1942 and upon being discharged used his veteran’s benefit to attend McMaster University after which Osgoode Law School in Toronto called.  While practicing law he won a seat in the 1968 federal election for the Progressive Conservative party, winning four more elections and serving as Minister of Labour in the Clark Government in 1979. After four years as Chairman of the Ontario Workers' Compensation Board he was appointed Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor in 1985.  In his career, Lincoln was the first Black Canadian to be elected as a Member of Parliament, appointed a Cabinet Minister and appointed as Lieutenant Governor. He was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1992.

Born in Trinidad, Henry Langdon came to Canada at a young age. He was able to enlist in the RCAF in November 1939 despite the colour barrier.  After being discharged in September 1945, Henry joined Trans-Canada Airlines and was selected as the recording secretary of the International Association of Machinists Local 1751 in Montreal that same year. He was re-elected to that position every year thereafter until his retirement in 1971, and represented the local at many labour conventions over the years.  Henry maintained his connection with the RCAF, becoming a member of 3001 Technical Training Unit of the Auxiliary in 1955, and later with 438 and 401 Squadrons before retiring in 1967.

Ken Rock was a high school track and field star at Patterson Collegiate in Windsor, ON. In January 1943, he joined the RCAF as a pilot but by the time he graduated there was no chance to participate in the war overseas and he thus served at No. 3 Wireless School and No. 18 Elementary Flying Training School, being commissioned along the way.  After the war he used his veteran's funds to pay for his education, becoming a doctor and opening his own clinic in 1952.  He was also involved in community programs, such as the Windsor Media Council and St. Leonard’s House.  His skills were recognized such that by 1976 he was the Coroner for Windsor and presided over many inquests for the six years he served in that position.

Michael Manley enlisted in the RCAF in October 1943, while he was studying at McGill University. As with many volunteers, especially air crew, who entered service later in the war, he did not have the opportunity to serve overseas, instead becoming a trainer in the BCATP. After the war he enrolled at the London School of Economics and returned to Jamaica, working as an editor and columnist for the newspaper Public Opinion.  He became involved in the trade union movement in the same period and after entering politics in 1962, was elected Jamaica’s prime minister in 1972.

Frederick Douglas Hodges was descended from loyalists who settled in the Saint John, NB area.  He enlisted in May 1943 as a radio and telephone operator.  Post-war, he held many important positions in labour and in his community, including: being the first Black person to be elected to public office in Saint John as a City Councillor in 1974; being appointed Director of the John Howard Society for 10 years; and being appointed a commissioner on the newly-founded Human Rights Commission.  For his community work he was invested into the Order of Canada in 1981 and in 1984 received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of New Brunswick.