A Charmed Life : Eddie Martin Noble

Eddie Noble

This is the story of one man whose life spanned several decades of change. Eddie describes a physical and emotional journey that takes us from colonial Jamaica to contemporary Britain. But Eddie’s journey also reflects the distance this country has travelled to adapt to its multi-cultural and multi ethic heritage, reflected in London's 2012 Olympics.

 Eddie came to Britain from Jamaica in 1943. He was stationed at a RAF base in East Anglia. Eddie’s book, ‘Jamaican Airman’, is a seminal piece of work that has inspired thousands of people to discover the Caribbean people’s wartime contribution.

Stories from Eddie’s life resound through Andrea Levy’s award-winning ‘Small Island’. Andrea acknowledges Eddie’s importance in her endorsement of this film:-

“I am delighted and heartened to learn of your documentary on Eddie Martin Noble. What a great idea, and it should go without saying that I wish it every possible success. Once again, my very best wishes for the project.” Andrea Levy, author of Small Island.

We filmed Eddie over two years and the documentary is framed around those interviews and events. We see him recounting his life directly to us and talking at a Black History Month event at St Ann’s Primary school in Tottenham and CLR James library in Dalston in Hackney. The film uses a large amount of archive film footage and images of the Caribbean in the 1920s and 1930s, wartime and post-war Britain.

 Eddie’s story is personal but also reflects the Windrush Generation. Eddie was one of 10,000 Caribbean people that served in World War II. Many of the hopes and aspirations of this generation were never fully realised - they were treated as second-class citizens by the education system, employers, landlords and the police. They endured hardship and made sacrifices. They suffered in silence and kept their distress hidden from their families. Violence and hostility lead to race riots, uprisings and the growth of fascism on Britain’s streets where black and other ethnic minority communities lived in a fearful and unstable environment.

These stories are often held within families and known by few. We wanted to capture and locate Eddie’s story, along with those of his peers, as part of the broader narrative of modern Britain. That narrative must also acknowledge how the Windrush Generation has helped white Britain become more open and reflective, to champion social injustice, hard work, tolerance and respect. The long history and campaigns for racial equality and against the colour bar from the 1950s to the 1970s was the British equivalent of the civil rights movement. It set the foundation for human rights and equality legislation on gender, disability, age, religion and belief, and sexual orientation. Our film concludes with a timeline taking us from Eddie’s birth in 1917 to 2007, ninety years of political and social change in Britain and internationally. 

The legacy of Windrush is also about the future. Eddie was passionate about the importance of education and I took some film footage to Southwold Primary School, near to where Eddie used to live, to discuss with the pupils. Is the story of someone born nearly one hundred years before them still relevant today? My plans are for the film to be distributed not only to cinemas but screened at educational, professional, trade union and community networks, to continue the debate through 2009 and beyond. ‘A Charmed Life’ will launch Every Generation Media’s oral history project in 2009. 

Sadly, Eddie died in July 2007, the year before the 60th anniversary of the S.S. Windrush. We filmed a Windrush commemoration church service at the Salvation Army and Eddie’s daughter, Denise Noble and I spoke about Eddie and the legacy of the Windrush Generation. This film is in tribute to Edmund Marin Noble, to his tenacity, his resilience and his good humour.

Eddie's Top Ten Points of Advice to Young People in Britain
  1. Be patient and tolerant to all people regardless of Race, Colour or Religion.
  2. Remember you cannot compel people to like you, but behave in a manner that compel them to respect you.
  3. Be honest and truthful at all times, even if it means admitting to being wrong.
  4. Be proud of your race and colour, but never be arrogant.
  5. Respect your elders.
  6. Give help to the old and disabled whenever possible, if it is needed.
  7. Show respect for your Teachers (Supervisors) and follow their instructions, because they have had the training.
  8. Always remember that experience gained from living life quite often is more valuable than academic success.
  9. Always be thankful for the gifts nature has promised you with.
  10. Finally, remember one is never too old to learn.

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