Jamaican-born WWII Veteran, Cricket Legend, Businessman, and Author Celebrates 100th Birthday

Ralph Alfrado Ottey was born in 1924 in Little London, Westmoreland, Jamaica. He left the island in 1944 and traveled to the United Kingdom after the UK sent out a call to help the nation fight in the Second World War.

Ottey in Jamaica

Ralph Ottey was raised in Jamaica by his grandparents, and he had planned with his family’s approval to become a teacher. At 16 he left school but since he was too young to attend teaching college, he worked for his uncle between 1940 and 1942. He held various jobs before going to a recruitment event for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1943.

Experience of World War II

Ottey enlisted in the military to become a wireless operator and air gunner. He was sent to Virginia in the United States for training and faced racial discrimination and segregation for the first time. After training, he traveled in a convoy from New York to Liverpool and then entered 13 weeks of basic training at Filey, an RAF camp. He was told the service didn’t need wireless operators or air gunners, so he was assigned to be a motor transport driver. He served as chauffeur to the senior armaments officer of the 617 Squadron, which became known as “The Dambusters” because of its work in Operation Chastise against German dams in WWII. He was preparing to ship to Okinawa, but the war ended before he was sent there.

After the war

Ottey received a scholarship to study accounting and bookkeeping with RAF support and upon earning his diploma returned to Jamaica, but nor before meeting his future wife, Mavis Reece in Boston, a market town and inland port in Lincolnshire, England. Ottey went back to England in 1948 and settled in Boston with his wife. He worked at the wholesale grocery firm, G. Beaulah Ltd. In Pump Square and during his time there, he rose through the ranks to retire in 1989 as the general manager of Amalgamated Foods. After retiring, he served as the membership officer of the Boston Chamber of Commerce for 20 years.

Made his mark as a cricketeer

Ralph Ottey also made his mark on Boston as a talented fast bowler in cricket. He was extolled in a 1949 newspaper article, which stated it was past time that readers were made aware of Ottey, “a 25-years-old ex-airman from Jamaica.” The article described how Ottey took eight wickets in 11 runs as a member of the Carlton Cricket Club in a match against the police, noting that in obtaining a hat-trick in his first over, “his analysis was the almost unbelievable one of seven wickets for one run!”

Documents the history and changes of Boston

Ottey is also an accomplished author, writing a series of books that document his life experiences –  “A Jamaican in Lincolnshire: From the Wartime RAF to a Life in Boston” – and the changes occurring in Boston over time. Two books, “Memories of Boston Market Place 1949-2009” and “Memories of Bargate in Boston,” helped to raise funds for community projects, including the preservation of the “Boston Stump,” as the Anglican St Botolph’s Church, has been known since its construction was completed in 1520. At over 266 feet tall, its tower is one of the highest in England and a landmark to area fishermen. Speaking of the project, Ottey said he would do anything he could to ensure “that the Stump goes on forever and ever.”

Birthday celebration

Ottey’s family and friends met at the Boston & County Club to celebrate his 100th birthday. Lesley Morrison, his daughter, described her father as a “unique and outstanding man,” noting that his party displayed “palpable” love from those who knew him. He had a cake inspired by cricket, and although he never attained a century during his career as a cricketeer, his skill meant he was often cited as a top scorer and instrumental in his team’s wins. Ottey received a congratulatory letter from Arsenal FC, which he supports, in which the Gunners manager Mikel Arteta wished him “all the best” on his 100th birthday from everyone at Arsenal.

Photo – Royal Air Force