Delisser Bernard


William Robinson Clarke

‘Royal portrait to honour Windrush trailblazer’

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Jamaican-born Delisser ‘Dennis’ Bernard is one of a select group of people who were chosen to have their portrait painted to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of passengers on the Empire Windrush at Tilbury.

The portraits were commissioned as part of a series of events being hosted by King Charles III to honour what he said was the Windrush Generation’s ‘immeasurable contribution’ to British society.

Born on September 13, 1928, in Lucea, Hanover, Dennis was among the hundreds of West Indians on board the ship seeking a better life. He had already spent time in the UK, having joined the RAF in late 1944 as part of Britain’s final push in the Second World War. He was only 16 and had to fib about his age in order to enlist.

He was following in the footsteps of his father, Herbert, who had joined the First World War as one of 1,140 members of the Third Jamaica Contingent sent to Europe on the SS Verdala in 1916. The ship was caught in a blizzard and the West Indian troops were hopelessly ill-equipped in terms of warm clothing. Several died and hundreds got frostbite that required amputation of the limbs.

The ship was diverted to Bermuda so the men could be treated before being transported back to Jamaica. Herbert was able to resume the journey and would survive the conflict to return home and wed Dennis’ mother, Maudlin ‘Maude’ Lyseight.

Dennis’ war service was not so perilous but nevertheless momentous. When he returned to Jamaica at the end of the war, the prospects did not look promising. When he heard that the Windrush would be picking up passengers in Kingston in May 1948, he jumped at the chance to return to England.

Although he described himself as a carpenter on the ship’s passenger list, he had no qualifications in the trade to speak of, and was willing to try his hand at any job opportunity that came his way. His immediate destination was the National Service Hostel in West Bromwich, in the Midlands.

Dennis settled in the area, living in Telford and then Wolverhampton, where he still lives. He worked in local factories and then for Vauxhall manufacturing cars. He has four children, Verona, Tyron, Sonia, and Delisser ‘Roy’ junior. During the 1970s, Verona under her married name of Elder, represented Great Britain in top-flight athletics, including the Olympics. A 400 metre specialist, she won two gold and two silver medals at the Commonwealth Games of 1974 and 1978.

Dennis’ portrait has become part of the Royal Collection. Announcing the commission of the paintings in 2022, King Charles III said: “I wanted to pay my own heartfelt tribute to the role they [the Windrush Generation] have played in our nation’s story.”

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