Willis & Eileen Johnson
PIONEERS & CHAMPIONS
Couple’s return to Jamaica proved false dawn
1920 - 1989 (WIllis)
19xx - 2015 (Eileen)
Willis and Eileen Johnson boarded the Empire Windrush at Kingston, Jamaica, with their two small children in two, Terence and Maureen. Twenty-eight-year old Willis had served in the RAF during the Second World War ‘and had returned to Jamaica with his young family after being demobbed’ with ‘and had returned to Jamaica after being demobbed, his wife and children followed him a few months later.
But things did not turn out as they expected and now they were on their way back to England.
Jamaican-born Willis had volunteered to fight for King and Country in 1944. After basic training in Kingston, he left on the SS Cuba for New York later that year and waited for a ship to take him and other volunteers to Britain. It was in early November 1944 that he arrived at Greenock on the Clyde and from there travelled by train to RAF Hunmanby Moor in Filey, Yorkshire, for further training.
While in Britain, Willis met Eileen Derry, who was born in Caerphilly, Wales, in 1924. They married in Weston Super Mare, Somerset, in 1946, near to where Eileen lived. When the war ended she and her two children set sail for Jamaica from Southampton on the SS Almanzora to join Willis in Jamaica who had gone on ahead. Their new home was 79 North St, Kingston.
But life proved difficult for the young couple. On arrival at Tilbury Docks, Eileen was interviewed by the Daily Mirror and spoke about their disillusionment with Jamaica.
Willis had found it hard to get work and when she had arrived in Jamaica he was unemployed. Their savings had almost disappeared. He eventually got a job as a plumber but the wages were poor. “For seven months we scraped and struggled. We decided to save up every farthing, sacrificing as much as we could to get to England,” she said.
Her mother had gone to Tilbury to meet the family. Recalling Willis’ reception in her Somerset village, she told the Mirror, “Some of the villagers turned their heads when they met him in the street. I hope they will be nice to him now. He was always the perfect gentleman.”
Willis and Eileen tried to begin life afresh in Somerset but in the end they went their separate ways. Willis was living in Sheffield when he died from a heart attack on May 9, 1989, aged 69, after suffering from chronic heart disease and diabetes. Eileen died in Bristol in 2015.