As the years go by, students of history like myself usually end up with many books in our collection. We also end up with lots of publications of various kinds, and pieces of publication which we find ourselves absolutely unable to consign to the garbage heap. This is because such publications and pieces of publications contain information and records we consider precious.
Over the last three weeks or so, I’ve been moving, with assistance, from my old office in a rented building on the eastern side of Partridge Street back inside the Kremandala yard to a new office. I’ve run across material that I thought I had lost, such as the July 5, 2001 pages from The New York Review of Books which revealed previously unknown (at least in Belize) information about Edward Marcus Despard, who was Superintendent of Belize in the late 1780s and early 1790s, a critical period in the history of the Settlement of Belize.
People don’t believe this, but I don’t have the say at this newspaper which I used to have. Let’s just say the decision making today is more business-oriented, which is not necessarily that bad an idea. But the business approach hamstrings the artist in me from time to time, because I would just like to indulge in information and historical orgies for the benefit of some serious, perhaps some senior, readers. I can’t guarantee that young readers will be interested in some material I had saved which contained very fascinating and valuable information about how British Honduras was mobilized by Great Britain’s World War II campaign and about the precise nature of the personnel from Belize who participated in that war effort.
Remember now, I grew up in Belize in the 1950s, so that in reviewing this material, which was a special publication, with the assistance of the Government Printers, of The Clarion, a daily newspaper in British Honduras which had a reputation for being friendly to the colonial administration, I experienced feelings of perhaps a kind of déjà vu where the past, certain names, and certain places were concerned. After all, I was born just two years after World War II ended, and only six years after the publication of this material in September of 1941.
We talk a lot about Monrad Metzgen around Easter time, because he is the British Honduran who probably did more to begin the Holy Saturday Crosscountry Classic tradition in 1928 than anybody else. Very few of you have ever seen his photograph, and in fact Metzgen was erroneously referred to somewhere recently as a “white man,” when he was actually a light-skinned Creole. Mr. Metzgen was also, incidentally, a high ranking official of the Loyal and Patriotic Order of the Baymen (L&POB). Metzgen’s photo appears in the archival material to which I am referring. So does a photo of the iconic Dr. Bernice Hulse, who was leading the fight against the dreaded tuberculosis in those days.
I would say that there are at least four or five pages of this material which I would have wanted to publish along with this column. I think, though, that I will probably end up publishing a couple pages in this midweek edition, and a couple more in the weekend edition, just to ensure that resistance to my initiative does not become draconian.
The pages which hopefully accompany today’s column feature, in the first instance, photographs of British Hondurans who served as “airmen.” I do not see the photo and name of the late Sir Alexander “Sandy” Hunter, former Minister of Government and Speaker of the House, however, but I am sure at least that he served in the Canadian Air Force during the war. (Sir Sandy’s daughter, Lita Araceli, is about to publish an important biography of her father which will set everything straight.) I believe Mr. Lester Young, who probably deserves the most executive and engineering credit for the original Belize Telecommunications Authority (BTA), was also in the Canadian Air Force. Growing up, I remember hearing Cassian Waight’s name often. The most famous British Honduran casualty of the war was Gilbert “Dickie” Fairweather, who was killed over Germany on a bombing raid. There are other people in these pages whose stories have to be of much interest.
The second page provides the names of all the British Hondurans who risked attack by German submarines to ship across the Atlantic and work as “axemen” in the forests of Scotland. You youth will not know it, but the British fighter planes and bombers in World War II were made with a lot of wood, hence the value of Belize’s forestry workers in the war effort.
I don’t know that there’s any particular value to what I am doing here, except that for me, as a senior at age 71, I treasure all the memories inspired by this material. I don’t believe that growing up in the 1950s I would have been considered an enemy of the British and their colonialism here. As I wrote recently, I was a naif. My father, although a quiet supporter of the People’s United Party (PUP), was a senior civil servant, which meant “perks” under the British system, and for sure my mother was a supporter of Philip Goldson’s National Independence Party (NIP). No doubt someone growing up in a hard core PUP family would be less appreciative of the British and pro-British vibes in the material.
For Friday, tangentially, I am also thinking of reproducing an article from a July 1973 issue of TheReporter which featured a Supreme Court case which stuck in my mind from 45 years ago. The young lady in that case, Martha Bowman, died recently after a hard life. She was used back then to lure a salesman from the Ismael Gomez business firm into “the lower reaches of Regent Street West,” where two young men mugged him. I was raised on the corner of the said Regent Street West and West Canal. Check me on Friday, Inshallah.