London’s famous Blue Plaques, erected on homes and buildings across the capital, seek to link the people of the past with the buildings of the present. The scheme was started in 1866 by the internationally renowned English Heritage Board to promote and protect a special part of history that could easily be forgotten.
The plaques can be found on buildings both humble and grand and are intended to honour and remember the men and women who have served with distinction and have lived or worked in them.
In this month which is dedicated to Black History, it is therefore fitting that a black Barbadian, Dr George Busby, was honoured in this manner at a ceremony in Erskine Road, Walthamstow, East London on March 9 where he lived and practiced from 1926 to 1929.
Dr Busby was born in Barbados in 1899. Some years later he emigrated to Trinidad and attended the prestigious Queen’s Royal College. A contemporary and great friend of the literary giant of the Caribbean CRL James, Dr Busby excelled at college, particularly in Mathematics. This excellence enabled him to be awarded an island scholarship, and he subsequently moved to Edinburgh University in Scotland to study Medicine. However, due to the economic constraints of that period, he moved to Ireland after two years and completed his studies at Dublin University. He qualified as a Physician and Surgeon in 1925.
Dr Busby practiced his profession in the urban dwellings of Walthamstow, an area not then known as the bedrock of prosperity. Those were the days prior to the establishment of the free National Health Service, and many who visited his surgery could not afford the monetary fee. Legend has it that the good doctor used the barter method for payment for his services and in true Bajan guise received pork chops in lieu of cash.
A sense for serving the community with a desire to help those less fortunate was always uppermost in Dr Busby’s vision, and inevitably he moved to Ghana where his services and skills were in urgent need. His work in Ghana took him far away from the relative comforts of East London to the many and dense rural areas where there were no facilities for running water and electricity. The doctor was undaunted by what he saw as minor inconveniences, and he worked tirelessly in these areas until his death in 1980.
His daughter, Dr Margaret Busby, came to London to unveil the plaque. She said she was immensely proud of her father and the contribution he gave to health care, particularly in Ghana. She said: “He thought of himself as a Bajan to his bones and kept a Barbados passport until his death.”
Barbados High Commissioner to the UK His Excellency Milton Inniss attended the ceremony and was accompanied by his Deputy Rev Charles Morris.
In his address to the guests, the High Commissioner spoke of the great achievements and contributions made by Dr Busby. The High Commissioner said Dr Busby touched the lives of many people in the UK and Africa through his generosity and professional expertise, and he further noted that these qualities are easily overlooked in this modern world. He added that he hoped the achievements of other Barbadians and Caribbean people would be similarly recognized and honoured for the legacies that have been left behind.
In a most pertinent appraisal of the current social position in the UK the High Commissioner said: “I cannot emphasize enough that it is essential the history of any country should include legacies of those who helped to build it.”
Deputy High Commissioner for Ghana to the UK Madam Rita Tani Iddi was also present. She said her country was proud and appreciative of the work of Dr Busby and noted his life’s dedication to work in the rural areas of the country did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
The Ceremony was sponsored by Nubian Jak in conjunction with English Heritage. Nubian Jak is a Community Trust with offices in London. It undertakes, among many other ethnically based projects, to unearth the cases and causes of the many black people who have contributed largely to the development of Britain both as a country and as a society.
Dr Jak Beula, President and CEO of Nubian Jak in an overview of the ceremony said: “It is an honour to memorialize the pre Windrush pioneers who did so much to assist the people of Walthamstow and wider England.”
Vincent ‘Boo’ Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired Land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and the diaspora.