André Dezonie


William Robinson Clarke

‘He became the first Black commander of an RAF base (Wittering)’

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André Dezonie was born in 1956 in Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire. His elder sister was born in Germany in 1953. The late 1950s and `1960s were spent in Gloucestershire and Singapore. Their father, Vidal, an RAF airman, was deployed on operations in Egypt. A second sister was born in Lincolnshire in 1964. The three widely separated places of birth tell their own stories about the peripatetic life of an RAF airman. Vidal arrived in the UK on Empire Windrush on June 22, 1948, at Tilbury Docks, and had served in the Second World War

Andre’s father was a Black Jamaican and his mother Erica was white and born in Germany. Young André had an early insight into what life in the RAF was like. From an early age, he was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. He always wanted to fly the iconic Harrier jets, very much the pinnacle for any aspiring RAF pilot at the time (the Harrier jets first came into service in the RAF in 1969).

To ensure educational stability for the children, Vidal and Erika bought a house in Lincolnshire and Vidal commuted to his various posting locations, including nine months at RAF Gan in the Indian Ocean. André graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University, Alsager Campus, with a degree in English and Physical Education. He was commissioned into the RAF in 1978 and rose swiftly through the ranks.

In the early 1990s, he volunteered for a stint on the RAF’s presentation team which gave him the opportunity to extol the virtues of a career in the RAF regardless of ethnicity. Audiences were surprised when he told them he was a Harrier pilot. In 1994, André was the Air Commander to General Sir Michael Rose in Sarajevo.

His role was to ensure effective air support for the United Nations Protection Force on the ground, protecting the civilian population caught up in the Bosnian-Serb war. From 1996 to 1998 André commanded the Number 3 (Fighter) Squadron which was deployed on operations around the world, culminating in missions over Iraq from the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious.

In July 1998, André was promoted to Group Captain and awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1999 New Year’s Honours list. He completed a remarkable hat trick of successes when, in January 1999, he became the first Black commander of an RAF base (Wittering, the runway straddles Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire), a job that put him in charge of 2,000 people. Also in 1999, he hosted a visit from Prince Charles (now King Charles III). It was a visit that showed support for the work André and his team had been doing from the base, home to Harrier squadrons then active over Kosovo and Serbia.

On promotion to Air Rank (One-Star General), André was deployed to the Gulf Region as the United Kingdom Air Component Commander of all UK air assets in the Gulf and Afghanistan. Latterly, he served in the Ministry of Defence as Director of one of the largest equipment projects. On retirement from the RAF, André was keen to support his community and accepted a part-time position as an Independent Member of the Lincolnshire Police Authority.

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