Lionel Turpin

Stephen Bourne, Black Poppies – Britain’s Black Community and the Great War, The History Press, 2014.
Stephen Bourne, Black Poppies – Britain’s Black Community and the Great War, The History Press, 2014

• Name of Cemetery: Brunswick Street Cemetery
• Place: Leamington Spa
• Country: United Kingdom
• Date of Birth: 1896
• Country of origin: British Guiana
• Last known address: Collingwood, North Shields
• Service: British Expeditionary
• Corps: 2nd Battalion,The King’s Royal Rifle Corps
• Rank: Rifleman
• Known at: 1919

Mentioned in Stephen Bourne’s book, Black Poppies: Britain’s Black Community and the Great War, (2014), Jackie Turpin, talking about his father Lionel Turpin, said:

He felt British. He was descended from slaves taken from West Africa but English was his first language. His schoolbooks were written by British people; he lived under British law; he was brought up to admire British poets and British musicians and British scientists and British politicians and British nobility. His allegiance was to King George V, to his Mother Country and to British people all over the world. When Britain declared war on Germany he felt included.

Lionel Turpin, a Guyanese, found his way to Britain as a merchant seaman. There is no exact date of entry but according to his army service records, Rifleman Turpin A202638 was 19 years old when he enlisted in August 1915. He gave his address as Collingwood, North Shields.

Turpin joined the army at the York Depot of the York and Lancaster Regiment for the duration of the war.

During this time there was discrimination and prejudice towards black men who travelled to the ‘Mother Country’ from the colonies to take part in the fight against the Germans. There were certain rules and regulations within the armed services around the recruitment of black men and whether they could be accepted for officer training. Things were not clear cut regarding these formal rules. Decisions were made on the whim of the recruiting officers. Those in charge at the York Depot were maybe more prepared to turn a blind eye to colour.

Turpin was sent out with the No. 32 British Expeditionary Force to the Western Front in Europe. He was in the battles of the Somme and his army service ended in 1919 with two medals, two gas-burnt lungs and a shell wound in his back.

He married and went on to have five children. But after suffering for ten years due to his war-injuries, Turpin died in 1929. Jackie said:

I think they should put my dad’s name, and millions of others like him, on the Roll of Honour with those as lost their lives on the battlefields. All over the world, people died slow unofficial deaths in peacetime beds but it was that’d killed them.


Source: Stephen Bourne’s Black Poppies – Britain’s Black Community and the Great War, published by The History Press in August 2014.

Lionel Turpin’s service records can be accessed here.