Updated: Feb 17, 2022
Radar Technician, Officer
Some members of the Royal Canadian Air Force faced racism at many turns in the wartime service. Yet they kept their faith and in one case provided exceptional service through to 1963. Samuel Malcolm Estwich was born in Padmore Village, Barbados on 8 October 1915 to George and Josephine Estwick. They emigrated to Canada in 1920, settling in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia where “Sammy” lived with his three sisters. When he went to enlist in 1940 he was rejected because he was Black, the RCAF having a government-authorized policy of barring Asian and Black-Canadians from serving. Writing to his Member of Parliament, Clarence Gillis, Mr. Estwick's case was brought up in Parliament. This met with success.
On 17 December 1941 Mr. Estwick enlisted in Halifax. Because of his excellent mathematical skills he accepted in the new radar mechanic trade. The Royal Air Force (RAF) had asked Canada to provide as over 4,000 as they were desperately needed. Aircraftman Estwick went to Mt Allison University to upgrade his mathematics and physics knowledge. In July 1942 he was sent to No. 31 Radio School to complete his training. Aircraftman Estwick was among the top three students but was not made an officer because he was Black. The rejection might have been caused by sensitivities of the RAF as they still had issues with having Black men as officers.
Aircraftman Estwick proceeded to England in October 1942. He spent a short time at No. 5 Operational Training Unit before boarding the MV Britannic to serve in Southeast Asia. On the trip out, now promoted Corporal Estwick experienced problems in South Africa on two occasions, In each case a white South African soldier took exception to a Black soldier being present in a military facility. In the first instance Corporal Estwick was ready to fight the soldier when a Royal Marine Commando, who had been giving Corporal Estwick fighting lessons, stepped in and scared the offender away. In the second instance, Corporal Estwick did take on his foe and had to be pulled off him by his fellow radar mechanics.
RCAF authorities in England were made aware of these incidents. They decided that it was safest to have Corporal Estwick return to England rather that face the many South Africans working throughout the theatre. Corporal Estwick made it to Bombay (Mumbai), India and was then ordered back to England. However, his trip was halted in Egypt when authorities there learned of his skill. He was then employed in the Middle East theatre at RAF Station Helwan and in November 1943 at 38 Squadron, RAF. As Corporal Estwick had not shown up in England the RCAF authorities tracked him down and ordered him returned to England.
In February 1944 Corporal Estwick was back. He was posted to 415 Squadron (Royal Canadian Air Force). The squadron was hunting at night for the small German R and E boats that menaced British shipping. In July 1944 the squadron became part of Bomber Command. For both types of operations, radar in the aircraft played a key role in finding the target and attacking it. Keeping the radar operational and fine tuning it was a skill. Corporal Estwick has this in abundance.
In June 1945 Corporal Estwick was repatriated to Canada. He applied for continued service in the RCAF and was accepted. This was good for the RCAF as there were not many radar mechanics who stayed in after the war. In April 1946 he was promoted to sergeant. Instructing at No. 1 Radar and Communications School, by April 1955 he was a warrant officer class 1 (today's chief warrant officer).
A big change happened in his personal life in 1949. He married Evelyn B. Williams.They had a son, Brett. Evelyn and Brett died tragically in 1955. Thankfully, Warrant Officer Estwick was to find happiness again. He met Elizabeth Louise Wilson, a RCAF food services officer. They married in 1957 and had a son and a daughter, Eric and Leslie. They followed him as he was posted to isolated locations such as the radar stations at Mont Apica and Lac St. Denis, Quebec where he was in charge of the radar sections. In 1959 he was back at No. 1 Radar and Communications School, in charge of officer training while in 1961 it was the training of telecommunications officers at the Central Officer School. In November 1955, the RCAF recognized that he had more capabilities than his rank would allow. He was commissioned as a flying officer being promoted to flight lieutenant (today's captain) before he retired in January 1963.
After his military service Mr. Estwick worked in the civilian sector, including with Bell Northern Research. He was a Cub Scout leader in the 1960s. He helped found the East Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club, improving its operations and serving as its president for many years. He also brought his leadership skills to the Society for Technical Communications' Ottawa Chapter. In 1982, the East Ottawa Lions Club created the Sam Estwick Memorial Award, presented each year to the outstanding athlete with disabilities.
Samuel Estwick passed away on 13 February 2008 at the Perley-Rideau Veterans' Health Centre in Ottawa.