Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Last 'lost lad' passes on

Published:Thursday | February 12, 2015 | 12:00 AMRichard Mitchell

Seventy-six years ago, five Jamaica College (JC) students went missing in the forest of the Blue Mountains. The last surviving member, Don Soutar, passed away last month at his home in Florida, United States.

His death completes the story of the lost lads; an event which captured the nation's attention in 1939, their return to civilisation a national celebration.

The boys were Trevor 'Teddy' Hastings, John Ennever, Eric Gray, Douglas Hall and William Donald 'Don' Soutar.

Soutar, born on April 14, 1920 and later became the managing director of Wills Battery Company, died at his home in Florida on January 24, 2015 at the age of 94.

 

The search

 

According to publications from The Gleaner, the events surounding the boys began when the five left JC for an Easter weekend hike on April 5. They planned to hike to Port Antonio via the Blue Mountain Peak.

On April 14, three days after the boys were scheduled to reach Port Antonio, family members journeyed to JC to report their concern to Reginald Murray, headmaster at the time.

On April 16, The Gleaner published the first of many news articles on the boys. The front page read 'Wide jungle search for five lost hikers'.

The search for the boys came at a time in the country's history when mass media and newspapers were synonymous because the country lacked any other methods of mass communication.

"There was no local radio station at that time. And of course, no cellular phones, no walkie-talkies, no CB radios, and no television station," reported Hartley Neita, a contributing journalist at The Gleaner.

Neita went on to pen the novel The Search, which captures the events surrounding the five boys.

After 14 days in the forest, on April 20 the five boys stumbled on a farm and the farm owner alerted the relevant persons. The boys were not missing, only lost.

On April 21, one day after the lads were found, reports from The Gleaner told of scenes of islandwide joy; church bells rang in their honour, and thanksgiving services and other celebrations were held.

After the ordeal, on April 20, 1939, Soutar told The Gleaner: "We are really sorry to have caused so much anxiety to our people and to everyone in the island. It had never been our intention to try anything foolhardy, but once in the jungle, we could not turn back."

More than 200 persons were involved in the search.

 

The other boys

 

John Ennever was the youngest of the five. He was 15 years old during the time of the events and died of typhoid fever in 1946 at the age of 22. His brother, Vincent Harvey Ennever, later became headmaster at JC.

Teddy Hastings was 17 when he and his friends went hiking in the Blue Mountains. He migrated to British Honduras, the country which is now known as Belize.

Eric Gray became an executive of Jamaica Time Square in downtown Kingston, and died on October 10, 1998. He was 17 years old at the time of the hike.

Douglas Hall passed away in November 1999, became a prominent professor of history at the University of the West Indies and authored many books on history. He was 19 when he and his friends took that eventful hike.

In 1939, future prime minister Michael Manley was a student at JC. David Coore, a politician who helped to write Jamaica's Constitution, was also in attendance at the school at that time.

richard.mitchell@gleanerjm.com