Interview with Oluwole Hyde


Interview with Oluwole Hyde


Oluwole Hyde’s father was Adesanya Hyde who served as a navigator with 640 Squadron. He was badly injured but continued to navigate the aeroplane on operation. It was only when they were over the UK that he accepted the morphine for the pain. After the war he returned to Sierra Leone and later became the Ambassador to the US. He spoke little about his experiences of the war to his family.







00:36:52 audio recording


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HH: Okay. This is the 30th of August 2017 and it’s Heather Hughes for the International Bomber Command Centre chatting to Oluwole Hyde at his home in Malvern. Thank you Olu, so much for agreeing to be interviewed this morning for the project.
OH: Thank you for asking me for an interview, Heather. It’s a pleasure.
HH: Olu, what would be lovely would be obviously to talk about your dad but before that to talk a little bit about you and where you were born and brought up.
OH: I was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone and I was brought up in Freetown, Sierra Leone also with a short while in America with my father whilst he worked there. And I did all my education in Sierra Leone and my university education before leaving Sierra Leone to come to Britain and Southern Africa.
HH: What made you want to come to Britain?
OH: I came to Britain to study. To do a second degree which was in agricultural engineering at the University of Cranfield. And once I got here it was very much the consumer wonderland and very beautiful place. But I did leave after my, after my studies. And I left and went to work in Zimbabwe which was newly Independent.
HH: And you were teaching agriculture in Zimbabwe.
OH: I was teaching agriculture in Zimbabwe. Yes. I taught in what was called a [unclear] school which was a school for agriculture with production. And I taught mainly to ex-combatants and children from the refugee camp.
HH: And how long were you doing that for?
OH: I did that for four years and that was very very interesting and very satisfying work.
HH: How different was Southern Africa to the part of the world that you knew better which was Sierra Leone and West Africa?
OH: It was very very different. And I remember flying over. I started to write a letter in my head to my uncle who I used to work with at the Research Station in Rokupr in Sierra Leone. And one thing I noted was that there was so much agriculture. Big pieces of agricultural land that you could see. And you could go in to the supermarkets in Zimbabwe in, in 1980 and ‘81 and you could find almost all the products within the supermarket were made in Zimbabwe. Dairy products. Meat products.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Cakes, et cetera which was so different to Sierra Leone where if you went in to a supermarket almost everything was imported.
HH: Yeah.
OH: The other differences was the language of course was totally different and just the social interaction was also quite different. And I had to learn how to behave in a manner that was suitable to, to the Zimbabwean public.
HH: Of course, both Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe when it was formerly Southern Rhodesia had been part of the British Empire. Did that give any commonality to your experience at all? Apart from, I suppose English would have been one legacy so that you could at least communicate but — yeah.
OH: No, the common, yes, you’re quite right the commonality was in English but I can’t say I can remember much more.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Interesting. Tell me about your family, Olu. A little bit about your parents and siblings and they were Sierra Leonian of course.
OH: They were. Yes. My father, Ade Hyde is, was, what shall I say? He identified with the Kru ethnic group. And my mother was a Fulani. But she grew up in Makeni which is one of the towns in the interior. And he grew up in Freetown within the Creole community. And that’s the capital city of course. Yes. And I think in the days when they did get married it wasn’t so, wasn’t so common for those two ethnic groups.
HH: Did it cause them problems?
OH: It must have caused them some problems but they didn’t tell me much about it. Yes. Probably caused a few raised eyebrows. From the Creole community in particular. But nowadays that’s, that’s not the case anymore.
HH: No. They were just ahead of their time.
OH: They were just ahead of their time. Yes.
HH: Yeah.
OH: So, I’ve got three other siblings. Two sisters and one brother. I’m the third within the family. Family of four.
HH: Okay.
OH: Yeah.
HH: So you, are you the, you the third of four.
OH: I’m the third of four.
HH: Okay.
OH: Yes.
HH: And the others? Your brothers and sisters. Where are they?
OH: They’re all in America at present.
HH: Okay.
OH: And they’re all within the district of Columbia area. They live in, two of them live in Virginia and the third lives in Maryland but really they’re just very, quite close together.
HH: Okay.
OH: And they all tend to work in the district of Columbia. In Washington, DC. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Are any of the others in education or —
OH: No. My elder brother who is now retired was a computer, computer analyst or computer specialist. And my sister was in education at one time. I think she worked for one of the universities. I think it was Georgetown University. But she’s an accountant. And the youngest sister is an agricultural economist. Yeah. And she works for the government. Yeah.
HH: And your parents? Tell me a bit about their lives. I mean what was it like growing up? Because, obviously, you know we’re leading to talking a little bit about what prompted your dad to join up at the beginning of the, of the Second World War. What was, what was home life like when you were little?
OH: When I was little. Home life varied and when I was very little I remember my earliest memories were that my father worked away from home. And he worked in the interior and we lived in the capital city. And, and there were times where his work [pause] and we used to go up to him on holidays and visits.
HH: What did he do? Just tell us what he did.
OH: He was a district, he was a district commissioner and he was actually the first black district commissioner in Sierra Leone. Yeah. And so those, those are my earliest memories. Apparently we actually did live, I did live in the interior with him at one time but I don’t remember that.
HH: Okay.
OH: Yeah. The memories carry on to when he stopped being a district commissioner and started work in the secretariat as they called it. But he was working in the government and he was secretary to the president. And then he lived within, within the city. And I remember that very well because we lived in, in various government houses. And the locations were, were particularly nice.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yes.
HH: Well, that’s what the British left behind.
OH: They did [laughs]
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yes.
HH: Did your dad ever talk, when you were growing up did he ever talk about his war experiences?
OH: He spoke very little about his war experiences to us. I now know that he spoke a lot more about them to a cousin of mine. Tywell. Tywell [unclear] who, who he had quite a good relationship with. And Tywell used to visit him after we left. We left home. And Tywell found this, made this rapport with him. And he used to visit him at home and they used to sit down and talk about lots of different things.
HH: Was your dad retired by then?
OH: He was retired by then. Yes.
HH: And that’s probably part of the reason.
OH: That’s probably part of the reason. And he was, I guess he was lonely and Tywell was a very interesting and lively character. And so he spoke a lot to Tywell about it. So sometimes Tywell would tell me things and I’d think, oh I didn’t know about that at all.
HH: Well, it’s lovely that you’ve got that source. That somebody got the story direct and can pass it on to other members of the family.
OH: Yes. That’s true.
HH: Yes.
OH: Yes. But no, he didn’t talk about the war very much. He didn’t like loud noises. He didn’t like bangers. So when it was Halloween or Christmas and we were out with our fireworks and things like that he, he stayed.
HH: He struggled with that.
OH: He struggled with that. Yeah.
HH: And that’s probably a direct consequence.
OH: Yes. Apparently —
HH: Of his experiences.
OH: Yes. It is. Yes.
HH: So, I mean, how much do you know about, one way or another from, from other family members or direct from your dad about his war experiences?
OH: I know about his, this little, the major part where he was injured. I think he was on a bombing raid over France and, or Germany I’m not sure which one but I think it was France and he was injured by a shell. So, there’s a shell explosion outside the plane but the shrapnel went through the plane, through the fuselage and hit him on the shoulder. And he was, he was badly injured but he was the navigator and he knew that they needed his help to get back. To get back to, to base. So he refused the morphine which was the standard practice. You know. He’d have, because if he was injured like that he’d have the morphine injection. And that would put him to sleep. But he refused that and navigated all the way back.
HH: Extraordinary.
OH: And when they saw the White Cliffs of Dover he said, ‘Okay chaps. I’m sure you know how to get home now from here.’ And then he took the morphine injection. Yeah.
HH: That’s an extraordinary story.
OH: It is. Yes.
HH: His bravery was rewarded, wasn’t it?
OH: It was. Yes. He was. He got the DFC for gallantry. Distinguished Flying Cross.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yeah.
HH: Do you know which squadron he served with, or — because, I mean it’s not, it’s not important now it’s probably something we could look up anyway at some point so I don’t think, I don’t think it’s necessary right now. We can, those are details we can fill in a little bit later on.
OH: Right.
HH: Yes. He was only one. Well, let me put it this way he was one of only six Sierra Leonians who actually participated or who had volunteered for the RAF. Who got to serve in RAF Bomber Command as I understand it.
OH: That’s correct. Yes.
HH: So, he was one of a very tiny, sort of sort of select minority of those who applied, I think and were accepted. Which, which is extraordinary. That there was such a small number.
OH: Yes. He flew in 51 Squadron.
HH: Okay.
OH: Yeah. Before being demobilised.
HH: Thank you for that.
OH: Yes.
HH: That’s quite, they were based quite close to Lincoln.
OH: Yes. I think he was flying Handley Page Lincoln bombers I think. Something like that. Yeah.
HH: So, yeah. You’ll have to take a visit up and we can show you the places where he served.
OH: I see, yes.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yes. Now, sorry your question was it was a small —
HH: No. No. No. It was just, it was just that there was, you know one of the things that fascinates me in this project, I mean it throws up all sorts of fascinating things all the time, is the willingness of of of of black people in various parts of what was then the British Empire to serve in the war effort.
OH: I think there was for willingness but also there was another motive I believe. And the other motive was that from my father’s story to me was that they had finished their, what would be the A levels now but there’s the senior Cambridge exams and they’d done well. And it was the Great Depression around the world. And there wasn’t much work around. Much prospects of work and they saw this advert and I think he said they were sitting together drinking or having coffee and they decided they would, would apply for it.
HH: To volunteer.
OH: Volunteer. Yes. Apply for it. Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
OH: And although it was a voluntary I believe they had to pay them, pay for their fares to get to England, to actually —
HH: I think they probably did.
OH: Yeah. Achieve this volunteer thing. Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
OH: But on the other hand they came across the first employer, probably the first employer, employer in Britain who was equal opportunities to some extent.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yes.
HH: Yeah. I mean I don’t think that the RAF was without racism at the time.
OH: Oh definitely not. Yeah.
HH: But they did, they did have a policy as the war went on, the policy was that there should not be any discrimination with regard to colour in among those that were serving in the different commands of the RAF.
OH: Yes. That’s true. Yes.
HH: Yeah.
OH: And the other, the other aspect was the RAF actually needed — they needed particularly navigators because they were struggling to find navigators within the British population.
HH: Yeah.
OH: And they found out the students from abroad were taught maths in a better — were more proficient at maths. The students from the colonies.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yes. And that was one of the things they were looking for.
HH: Interesting. So I mean a good education was really what stood them in good stead in terms of being accepted.
OH: It was. Yes. It was. Yeah. He tells me stories about being accepted. And when they, when they were was recruited his first posting was at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. And he spoke about how cold it was there.
HH: It must have been a very very memorable aspect of his stay. The weather at that time of year.
OH: The weather. Yes.
HH: Yes. Coming from West Africa.
OH: Yeah.
HH: But he survived.
OH: He survived. Yes. And he enjoyed it. And so most of the stories he tells me that I know of seem to be pleasurable stories. Yeah.
HH: Were they to do, the stories that he told you were they to do mostly with experiences within the RAF or with local people? Meeting British people or —
OH: They were within the RAF and with meeting local British people. And I think there’s a picture I have here of, of him in a home in Bridgnorth playing cards with some boys. And this is a family setting. He’s playing cards —
HH: Great.
OH: With little boys and their mothers or sisters around and he’s in uniform and obviously been welcomed in to the house. And —
HH: Yeah. There is a chance I mean I don’t know about your dad’s case but I spoke to the son of, as far as I can tell the only Nigerian who served in RAF Bomber Command.
OH: Oh really.
HH: Whose name was Akin Shenbanjo. And his son, Neville has a story which, which we’ve been able to verify in other sources that black, black servicemen were so unusual in Bomber Command that they were often treated as very lucky charms. They were very lucky as mascots.
OH: I see.
HH: And Akin was, he, his crew felt that they’d all survived the war because he was, he was the one who made them lucky.
OH: That’s interesting.
HH: Interesting story. Yeah.
OH: It is. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. And in fact they called it, in that case Akin’s crew named their Lancaster bomber the Black Prince.
OH: I see. That was very good.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yes.
HH: Yeah.
OH: No, he never, he never mentioned that to me.
HH: Yeah.
OH: I know his pilot was, was an Australian and —
HH: So truly international crew.
OH: It was quite an international crew. Yes. Yeah. And his name was Fred Papple and he wrote this. He wrote this book.
HH: Okay. “Seventy Five Percent Luck.”
OH: “Seventy Five Percent Luck.”
HH: So you see they were lucky.
OH: They were lucky. Yes. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. How long after, your dad, your dad what did he do after the war?
OH: After the war he, well after being injured —
HH: Did he go straight back to Sierra Leone?
OH: No he didn’t. He was in hospital here for quite a while. And he said he was very lucky because penicillin had just been discovered. And he believed the Health Services spent a lot of money on him by using penicillin to help heal his wounds. But after that I think he went to active service but the war had pretty much finished by then.
HH: So he stayed on in the RAF for a while did he?
OH: Just, just for a short while.
HH: Okay.
OH: Yes. And then he, he joined the — what’s it called now? The Colonial Administration. And he was sent to Cambridge and he did a course in Cambridge on Colonial Administration. And, and then he went to Sierra Leone. And that’s where he became the first black, what did I call it now? The first black commissioner.
HH: Commissioner.
OH: Yes.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yeah.
HH: Very interesting.
OH: It was. Yeah. So, from then on he was in, he was in the Colonial Administration until there was Independence.
HH: And for Sierra Leone that was which year?
OH: That was —
HH: ’60.
OH: 1960. 1961.
HH: I think it.
OH: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. It was one of the first after Ghana.
OH: Yes. Yes, it was. Yeah. And, yes and it was whilst he was working in a region, in the northern region that he met my mother and they got married. Yeah. And my mother was, went to school and formed a link with some missionaries, an English missionary. And so she did well at school and when she finished, finished her school she became a teacher in the school and she taught the younger, the younger, the younger students. And the missionaries later sent her to Scotland.
HH: Gosh.
OH: Yes. To do, it was to study, basically it was studying home economics. And I can’t remember what the school was called. It’s got a, it’s Glasgow School of Home Economics of some sort but in Glasgow it was referred to as the Dough School. So she has quite interesting stories about arriving at the airport and taking a taxi and giving this long official name for this place and the taxi driver didn’t know what she was talking about until he finally clicked that, ‘Oh, you want to go to the Dough School.’ Yeah.
HH: I see.
OH: But, but she, she seemed to have a good time in Scotland. Varied experiences. But also during some of the holidays, the first few holidays she, she lived in the Hebrides because —
HH: Gosh.
OH: She went to live with other missionaries. And so she lived in the Outer Hebrides.
HH: That’s quite an unusual story.
OH: That’s quite unusual. Yeah.
HH: Wow.
OH: Yeah.
HH: Wow. When would that have been?
OH: Well, she was born in 1930s. So she must have been about the late 40’s early ‘50s. It would be. Yeah.
HH: So gosh it was — yeah.
OH: Yeah. It must have been in her early twenties. Yes. So she was born in 1930 so early ‘50s.
HH: So it would have just been post-war.
OH: Post-war. Yes.
HH: How fascinating. And she returned to Sierra Leone and taught home economics or —
OH: Yes. She returned to Sierra Leone and taught home economics. Yeah. And taught at the school.
HH: With a Scottish accent.
OH: I don’t think so [laughs]
HH: Did she enjoy her time in Scotland?
OH: She did. Yes. She did. Yes.
HH: Wonderful story.
OH: Yeah.
HH: Gosh.
OH: I think she enjoyed her time in Scotland.
HH: So in, in, in completely, for completely different reasons both of your parents had time in Scotland. Spent time.
OH: Yes.
HH: Time of their lives in Scotland.
OH: In Scotland. Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yeah. I think what’s interesting is the amount of travel there was between Sierra Leone and the colonial power. Because lots of other people travelled for other things like education and training.
HH: We tend to forget that now.
OH: Yes.
HH: We tend to think that these things are so much recent but there was a lot of coming and going wasn’t there.
OH: There was coming and going. There was a lot more going back home because there were jobs and things to do. Places to take and — yeah.
HH: And especially straight after Independence. There would have been a lot of work.
OH: There was. Yes.
HH: Yeah.
OH: There was.
HH: Taking over the Administration.
OH: That’s correct. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Really interesting.
OH: But yes. I don’t know. What else would you like to ask?
HH: Well, would, one of the things that, that I’m interested in talking to the next generation of, of you know sort of, if you like the second generation of those who who, who served in in Bomber Command is what — I mean it was quite, I know your father had a very long and distinguished career and though his participation in Bomber Command was a was a quite short period but it was it must have been very formative for him in terms of the experiences that it represented for him. And by the way it is quite common we’ve discovered that often veterans don’t talk about their experiences until they’re very very elderly.
OH: I see. Yes.
HH: But nevertheless that doesn’t mean that these things weren’t formative for them. They were probably, you know, life changing experiences that they had in that, in that period when they served in RAF Bomber Command and what it means to you now.
OH: What it means to me now. What it meant to me growing up was that my father was well known in, in the, in the city. And quite often people thought, actually told me he was a pilot in the war and, but he wasn’t. He was, he was a navigator and and people would ask me if I wanted to be a pilot. If I was going to follow his, in his footsteps and things like that you know. But yes so, so it was a small community and he was well known and —
HH: He was regarded no doubt as a hero.
OH: Yes. Yes. Yes. He was regarded —
HH: As a war hero.
OH: As a war hero. Definitely. Yes. And someone very brave to do something like that. Yeah. And so were the other, the other five who went with him were regarded in that way.
HH: And you were able to bask in a bit of that glory.
OH: I’m not sure it was basking in glory. It was sometimes slightly embarrassing.
HH: Okay. So you were more embarrassed than proud at time.
OH: Yes.
HH: Yes.
OH: Definitely proud but embarrassed.
HH: At the same time.
OH: That it was brought up and I had to [pause] And the fact was I didn’t know much about it because he didn’t say much about it. So that was, that was difficult and we always thought he never wanted people to know much about it. Yeah. So, yeah. But what it is for me now is that [pause] I don’t know. It’s, it’s just great to be able to I suppose tell my children that this is your dad, this is your grandad and this is what he did. And also possibly to sometimes when I talk to English people and they talk about their father and what he did and they’re quite surprised. They find the whole background and history very interesting and unusual. Yeah. It’s something that they’re not aware of. About black people being in the RAF and being officers, et cetera. Also, growing up I think one of the things he he [pause] that struck him in the RAF was that because he was an officer he came very close to quite cultured middle class, upper class British people who were, who were also officers. And I think he, he, I wouldn’t say I think — I know very clearly. He took very much to their etiquette and was very particular about us being, having the right etiquette. And so our table manners were very important. And the, our table manners and how we sat and ate for for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And having, using the right cutlery, the right glasses, the right dishes. And I think he, I think some of that was learned at home in, when he was a child. Because the, in, in those days the Sierra Leonians or the Creoles lived very much a western style of life and would have sort of copied, you know an aristocratic style of living but I think that was sharpened and honed when he was living with these, with these officers.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: That’s really interesting. I mean, you know because moving in those what were quite elite circles gave him a particular perspective on British life.
OH: Yes. It did. Yes.
HH: Yeah.
OH: That was, that was, and so I have to my children’s sort of [laughs] I don’t know they’re quite happy I did that now but whilst we were doing it I also passed on this sort of etiquette and good manners. No elbows on top of the table and things like that. And I’ve actually calmed down now.
HH: You’re more relaxed about whether they have their elbows on the table.
OH: And they’re actually picking me up on it [laughs] on the various things, ‘You taught us that.’
HH: These things, you know at one time were just so important because they were a mark of your status.
OH: Yes. They were. Yes. That’s true. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. That’s a lovely story about table manners.
OH: Table manners. Yes.
HH: A wonderful story.
OH: It’s not only table manners. How you brush your teeth.
HH: Just the way in which you conduct yourself.
OH: Conduct yourself. Yes.
HH: And probably the way you dressed.
OH: Yes.
HH: Everything.
OH: Yes.
HH: And spoke.
OH: And spoke. He became very, he was a very loyal colonial and he would always stand when the national anthem was played which for us, us children you know, would say, ‘Come on, papa. Why are you doing that?’ You know. ‘That’s a, that’s an imperial colonial power, you know. I’m not standing up for that.’ But he would stand.
HH: Probably because of those experiences that he’d had.
OH: Yes.
HH: During the war.
OH: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Fighting for the empire.
OH: Fighting for the empire. Yes. Yeah.
HH: Interesting. I mean, I have spoken to one family member of a Caribbean veteran whose perspective on why they did it and why they wanted to assist Britain in the war was the fear that if Hitler won what would happen to black people then? So, I mean, I think that could also possibly have been a motive. That even though this wasn’t, you know even though they had maybe slightly mixed feelings about the empire there was something far worse that might happen depending on the outcome of the war.
OH: Yes. That’s true. Yeah.
HH: Yeah, interesting. It’s so complex though.
OH: It is complex. Yeah. And I think to some extent they were, they were very much colonised and they believed in the empire.
HH: Yes.
OH: Yes.
HH: I think that you’re right. I mean you find that in, in the work that I’ve been doing for example on early nationalism, African nationalism in Southern Africa. People who were, who had issues with the way in which British colonialism functioned nevertheless felt that there was a lot about the sort of British way of life in terms of fairness, fair play, the rule of law, which was to be admired. So you get that kind of quite complex mix of rejecting part of it but really accepting and completely internalising a lot of it as well.
OH: Yes. That’s true.
HH: Yeah.
OH: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Thank you so much for that interview, Olu.
OH: Oh, thank you.
HH: It’s been wonderful to hear those stories. And I do hope that you do come and see the Centre when it opens next year.
OH: Yeah. I must say that there are lots of other things about him that I didn’t say. And what one, another very important part of his life was that he was an ambassador for Sierra Leone.
HH: Very important.
OH: Yes. To the United States of America. And that was a very formative part of my life too although only there for about two years.
HH: Is that when you went with him?
OH: That’s when I went with him. Yes.
HH: So you were based in New York.
OH: No. We were based in Washington, DC.
HH: Oh, Washington, DC.
OH: Yes. To some extent that’s why, that’s a draw to my other siblings back to Washington, DC.
HH: That was a world they knew.
OH: That’s a world they knew. Yes. When Sierra Leone became not very comfortable to live in. Yes.
HH: Yeah. Yeah. That was I mean he he he had a very distinguished career.
OH: He did. He did have a very — he was awarded the CBE and the DFC also and lots of other little medals he’s got. I’ve got here. War medals.
HH: Yeah. We’ll have a look at those in a moment. Yeah.
OH: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. I suppose it’s, it’s an imponderable question as to how his career really was shaped by his war experiences. But there must have been some connection in terms of, in terms of creating a network of contacts. In terms of those experiences of camaraderie and discipline and all the things that would have happened during the war really.
OH: Yes.
HH: In terms of what he subsequently made of his life which was a lot.
OH: Yes. Yes. Indeed. He did. Okay. Well, thank you very much.
HH: Well, thank you.
OH: Yes.



Heather Hughes, “Interview with Oluwole Hyde,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 2, 2024,

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