“He lived in Birmingham for a short while and later went on to live in Long Eaton, Derbyshire before settling in Nottingham, where he spent the rest of his days… He was also instrumental in advising and often advocating for many Jamaicans on immigration matters.” Panya Banjoko
George and Jill at a musical event at the Commodore, Nottingham 1970s
I first met George in 1963 while we were leafletting on a cold dark evening on opposite sides of Derby Road, Nottingham, for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). We met again here and there, and I remember at one point, having taken on the post of secretary to Nottingham CND, I was chasing him up for his CND subscription . We also had mutual friends, notably Ken Coates, then leader of the Labour Party in Nottingham, and Peter Price, a Labour Councillor.
From 1966 I was living in shared accommodation with Peter and his partner, Maggie Curzon, in Lenton, Nottingham. I became more and more embroiled in left wing politics and, mainly through this, my friendship with George became much closer. When he and his first wife, Barbara, separated by mutual consent in 1970, he moved in with me.
We all moved to another house in St. Anns, Nottingham in 1971. By then I had taken up a new teaching post with more responsibility, in a Special School in Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Peter, Maggie and I were teaching, and George was in his final year of teacher training. Those were heady days, and we were all politically active and it is difficult to imagine now how we fitted all these activities in.
Pricking out side-shoots on tomato
plants in our garden
We made sure there was time for purely social and leisure activity. From 1970 onwards we went abroad on camping holidays. These were most frequently in France, though we did visit Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Portugal too, staying at small municipal campsites, taking all our own equipment. George always took on the role of cook while on holiday. Our last camping holiday, in a favourite small village in the Department of Vienne, central France, was in 2011, when George was 85 and I was 74!
We often hosted meals with his fellow Jamaicans in our house, with a mixed menu of Jamaican and English food. For several years we enjoyed working on an allotment quite close to our house.
Whenever he could, he would visit his friends and family in Jamaica, usually for a couple of months in the spring. I went with him on four occasions.
I visited Jamaica with George in 1981, 1982, 1989, and 2013. We stayed with Bibby and Lenny in Spanish Town. We travelled to many places in the island, including Kingston, Ocho Rios, Dunn’s River Falls, Hectors River, Happy Grove, Golden Grove, Beacon Hill, Hellshire, Old Harbour, Old Harbour Bay, Williamsfield, Mandeville, May Pen, and Port Henderson.
I have abiding memories of meeting two of George’s aunts on my first visit to the island. We went with Bibby and Lenny to Portland to meet Aunt Adassa. Bibby, Lenny and I held back when we approached Adassa’s house, as she did not know we were coming, and we wanted to give her a surprise. George went ahead and found her at the back of her small wooden house. We heard an amazingly loud shriek: “Boysie, is that you, Boysie?” (This was his pet name.) She was delighted to welcome him and us, and would not let go of his hand for quite a long time. She and her husband welcomed me into the house while George talked outside with other relatives. Adassa said, as though I were not there, “What can we give her? We can’t give her chicken foot!” She despatched her husband to get a live chicken, which they killed, and she cooked - expertly. I was surprised to find that her kitchen was in a separate wooden building. She was at pains to tell us that she had arranged for bottles to be half buried all round her house to keep the duppies (ghosts) away. We also met Aunt Gertie. She was a strong-looking woman with massive dreadlocks hidden in an enormous amount of swirling cotton fabric. She insisted that I feel her locks – not something I was used to doing in England! However, I complied, and her hair was so tough and wiry that I had to stop myself from speedily removing my hand. She showed us her family bible, which was a very large and old edition.
These two old ladies, who must have died a good number of years ago, would surely have had many stories to tell. My impression of them was that their way of life would have been similar had they lived a hundred years before I met them. They were living simply and happily with no street lights, no running water, in old wooden houses, and cooking on open fires. I remember that another old lady we visited asked me “How many coconut trees do you have?” and “How do your bananas grow?” She meant in England, or as she said, “forin”. When we were leaving a man came to give us several hands of bananas to take back to England!
During these visits George was acknowledged wherever we went, especially in Spanish Town, where we could barely walk more than a few yards without someone calling out “Massa George! Massa George!” (He hated to be called Massa.) It was clear that he was welcomed in Jamaica so many years after he had originally left, that he was at ease, and felt at home in both Jamaica and England.
George's registration as a British citizen in 1970, was free of charge. He encouraged as many people as he could to take advantage of this. He told them that, as the United Kingdom and Jamaica recognised dual citizenship, they would lose none of their rights as Jamaicans. They could retain their Jamaican citizenship and passports, but would gain extra rights in this country, including the ability to vote in local elections. Registering would also protect their residential status, and ensure that any future immigration legislation could not curtail their rights. Some took citizenship, while others were not interested. Some delayed registering for so long that they found they had to pay for the privilege. Many of those who did not register have recently found that their residency, employment, and benefit status would be undermined by the Windrush scandal.
He had never expressed to me the idea of returning to Jamaica, except for family visits. I can only assume that the extra workload of my new teaching post, together with the increasing demands on him as a maths teacher, as well as his community and political activity, made him contemplate a change of pace and environment. But, if so, he did not act on this.
George and Barbara divorced in 1977. We married on April 3, 1982, and started negotiating to buy our house in February, 1982. Approval for a mortgage was based on our joint income. We didn’t say that George had applied for early retirement from teaching, taking effect after the Easter holiday. His first day of retirement was April 19, and we moved into our large five-bedroomed Victorian house on May 14.
A couple of days before we moved in, George wrote this note explaining that while the name on his birth certificate was 'George Pow', the name he used for official purposes was 'Oswald George Powe'. It is possible that his motivation for making this 1982 declaration was the idea of setting up a small import/export business between the UK and Jamaica. It turned out to be a pipe dream. He did obtain a Jamaican work permit, but never acted upon it.
In 2007 he applied for a digitised copy of his birth certificate, presumably as supportive evidence for a change of name by Deed Poll.
He signed the Deed Poll documentation for this on November 30, and the completed forms were lodged in the Record Office in Jamaica on March 4, 2008. This declaration, regularising his name as Oswald George Powe clarified an eighty-two-year old discrepancy.
In 1990 I took early retirement from teaching and we began to take life a little more easily, involved in similar activities as before, but at a more leisurely pace.
At home in the 1990s
From 2011 George was heavily involved with Nottingham Black Archive (NBA), which is “dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the history of people of African descent, in Nottingham.” To a lesser extent I was also involved, as they asked us both to be on their Council of Elders. This was an interesting time, and we met some very dynamic and purposeful people who were working voluntarily. George was able to donate to them important documentation relating to the early days of black people living and working in and around Nottingham. He was interviewed about his time in the RAF, contributing to an NBA project, No Tears for Me, My Mother, about the experiences of black ex-servicemen and women from World War II. Unfortunately he did not see this project come to fruition, as he died in his sleep on September 9, 2013. Since then I have donated documents and artefacts which are featured in this archive to Nottingham Black Archive.
He was buried in Wilford Hill Cemetery, Nottingham, and the inscription on his headstone keeps alive the memory of the political fire in his belly.
Photo: Becky Matter