MORE than 50 years after coming to the UK from Anguilla and living through some of most profound changes in its history, John Brooks has one thing to say of his adopted home: “Britain is a wonderful country.”
The 77-year-old, who is to publish his life story, arrived in the UK from the Caribbean island with just a small scrap of paper vouching for his skills as a carpenter and builder.
After a 26-year career in the British Army, more than two decades running a care home and a stint as a magistrate and as mayor of Banbury, he is full of praise for the opportunities the UK has offered.
Mr Brooks said: “Take it from me, as a stranger here for 55 years, Britain is a wonderful country.
“My father told me when I left Anguilla ‘go to England and do whatever they do’ and that is what I did.
He arrived in Slough in 1955 from the British overseas territory and was called up for National Service three years later, spending more than two decades in The Royal Army Ordnance Corps.
He said: “People tell me there must have been racism in the Army but let me tell you, the answer is no.”
He recalls “comical” scenes of passengers refusing to sit next to him on the bus in the 1950s and 1960s.
But the father-of-three and grandfather-of-two said: “By the 1970s the whole thing had changed, people started getting accustomed to us. They realised we weren’t cannibals and they could live with us.”
In the 1970s Mr Brooks began endurance walking, beginning with a 75-mile trek over 18 hours for the NSPCC in 1974 and going on to raise more than £40,000 for good causes like Save the Children.
In 1976 he was awarded the British Empire Medal, months after leaving the service in 1984, moved to Banbury and bought Brooklands Nursing Home, which he ran until 2005.
Around this time he also joined Banbury Town Council as a Conservative councillor, a role that took him to Mayoral heights in 2005.
From 1986 to 2005 he also served on the bench at the town’s Magistrates’ Court, a role that brought home Britain’s drugs menace.
He said: “It all boils down to money. How can we educate these people? We have to start when they are young. We have to hammer home from when they are young: ‘drugs are no good’.”
Looking back on his life and having relinquished his public posts, Mr Brooks reflects: “It is all about being part of society.”
Finding My Way In A Strange Land is published this month and is available on www.amazon.co.uk or from 01295 253825