William Robinson Clarke

‘Young man in a hurry lied about his age’

1929- 1991

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Jamaican-born Herbert ‘Bert’ Lawrence Zayne was so eager to get into the RAF that he told recruiters that he was aged 18 when, in fact, he had been only 15 and too young to qualify.

He got away with it and soon found himself on his way to England, where he was sent to RAF Hunmanby Moor near Filey in Yorkshire for training. After being posted to the Midlands, he met Doreen Blain at Elmdon Airport, Birmingham, which had been requisitioned for military use. Doreen was with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, the women’s wing of the RAF.

Bert married Doreen at Blackpool Register Office in July 1945, but kept up the pretence about his age by declaring himself 19 when he was in fact only 16, four years younger than his wife.

In late 1946, they moved to Jamaica but Bert and his father, Habeeb Najeeb Zayne, a Lebanese- born tobacco plantation owner, did not get on well. The two argued frequently, to the point where Habeeb offered to pay for the family to return to England on the Empire Windrush.

Born on December 12, 1928, Herbert Lawrence Zayne was brought up by his mother Ida Thomas after she and Habeeb went their separate ways when their son was still young. As a teenager, Bert went to live with his wealthy father in Kingston but was soon racing away to volunteer for the RAF. Doreen was born in Fylde, Lancashire, on September 22, 1924.

As a mixed-race couple, their arrival at Tilbury on June 22, 1948, attracted a lot of attention from the awaiting press. Doreen, now with two small children, David and Vanessa, in tow, told the Daily Mirror that what little work Bert had been able to find in Jamaica was poorly paid and not enough to live on because of the high cost of living. The family had “given up everything to make a new life here [England]”, she added.

Bert had a succession of jobs including working down the mines. In 1966, the marriage failed and he returned to Jamaica. There he married Rita and they emigrated to Canada. Following Rita’s death, he married a French woman named Adeline. His first wife, Doreen, remained single and fostered children, several of whom were African. She died on January 5, 2004, in Bolton, Lancashire.

Bert died suddenly in Canada on July 29, 1999, and was buried in Sarnia, Lambton County, Ontario. His gravestone inscription includes the words, ‘RAF Leading Craftman Service Number 713295.’ It also gives his year of birth as 1925, not the official 1928. He took the secret of his true age to his grave.

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