Recollections of WWII
ARTICLE departs from the usual "Pieces of the Past" format in that after
a brief background on effects of World War II in Jamaica, it revolves
around the recollections of two readers who are close friends, Lt. Col.
Hurlstone St. C. Whitehorne and Archdeacon Eric Maxwell. These two Jamaicans,
like many others, wrote in to share their thoughts on the articles in
this series thoughts which I greatly appreciate and enjoy reading.
In their case, both men having served in World War II, encouraged me
to write a piece about Jamaica's involvement in World War II. In their
letters, Col. Whitehorne and Archdeacon Maxwell each included recollections
about their involvement in World War II. Because I felt they were powerful
and poignant, because I value oral history, and because I realized during
my research on World War II in Jamaica that few such stories about actual
World War II Jamaican soldier/officer experiences seem to be recorded,
I decided to make their words the focus of the article. The recollections
that follow paint an uncommon picture of war -- the Caribbean Regiment
left the United States a little too late to be involved in actual fighting
so these memories speak to non-combat experiences whose impact
have nevertheless stayed with these two Jamaicans for over 50 years.
I thank them for taking the time to share their memories with me and
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.
At the time of the war's outbreak in 1939, a young Eric Maxwell was serving as Senior Canon of the Anglican Cathedral in Spanish Town. In 1944, Archbishop William Hardie explained that the newly formed Caribbean Regiment needed a chaplain as they went off to join the war effort, albeit late in the day. Maxwell accepted.
MY EXPERIENCE as Chaplain or 'Padre' lasted from April 1944 to July 1946. When I reported for duty at Briggs Park, I discovered that a friend of mine, Hurlstone Whitehorne, was a Lieutenant in the unit, and today I believe he and I are the only remaining officers of the Regiment living in Jamaica.
My first official duty was to join in a march through Kingston, ending in a short open-air Service of Worship at Up Park Camp. In that sermon, in an attempt to bring unity among men from so many different places, I took as my text St. Paul's words "I am a citizen of no mean city."
On leaving Jamaica in 1944 we headed for America, landing at Newport News, Virginia and moving on to Fort Eustis not far away. We were stationed there for three to four months. As Chaplain I was given a portable organ such as was issued to all U.S. Army Chaplains, and this I found of great use both during and after my tour of duty. We were also issued salt tablets and restricted to minimal exertion during the middle hours of the day in order to cope with the extremely hot temperatures.
eventually left Fort Eustis for North Africa, but when we arrived at
Gibraltar the allied forces stationed there had been shifted to Italy,
so our regiment moved on to Naples where we were not expected by the
British or any other military authority and so there was some concern
as to what to do with us. Fortunately, a camp near the foot of Mt. Vesuvius
had been recently vacated by a British regiment following a mild volcanic
eruption. Apart from the occasional sprinkling of everything, food included,
by the sulphur dust (lava), which we were told was beneficial rather
than harmful to our health, we spent an interesting and even enjoyable
few months in this camp. We visited Naples often and also Pompeii where
we saw archaeological remains, the physical destructiveness of war in
damaged buildings, as well as the emotional and physical toll. In Naples,
there were bread lines that stretched for miles.
After a few months in Naples we were removed north to Riardo. On our way there we saw many white crosses the temporary graves of soldiers who had been killed in the battle. They had been buried where they fell, but the bodies would later be removed to a military cemetery. Soon it was time to leave Riardo and our camp, which was near a delightful stream of soda water, for Egypt where we were, in due course, to be brigaded. In October 1944 our unit was given the duty of guarding a few prisoners-of-war sent to Egypt from Italy at the time. As it turned out this was the only bit of war service the Regiment actually performed as World War II came to an end in June 1945 before the finalization of arrangements to brigade us. We were quartered at Ismalia and later moved to a desert camp at Adabiya where we remained for a considerable period. No doubt it was because we were only one battalion of coloured soldiers though with a British background, our native language being English as contrasted with the African troops around us that the authorities found it difficult to find means for brigading us.
But it was some eight months before transportation was found in January 1946 to take us back to the West Indies. During that time the Regiment kept its spirits up by a shared love of sport, particularly football. There was great rivalry between troops from the different Caribbean colonies and matches were played to large audiences several times a week. As an old footballer, and 'Padre' I played a special role I was the trusted referee, which I greatly enjoyed. I also enjoyed our trips into Cairo, which was not far away. One of my most memorable experiences however, was the chance to visit the site reputed to be the house in which Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus lived when they had to flee Egypt from the wrath of Herod. The most significant of all the opportunities I had during my tour of duty was the chance to visit the Holy Land. British General Montgomery had arranged for all Chaplains to visit the Holy Land at a time convenient to their unit commanders so I found myself in Palestine on two separate occasions. I spent the first trip entirely in Jerusalem and the second in Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Nablus and Gaza. It is a privilege for which I thank God over and over again.
We were naturally disappointed at not having been used but we looked eagerly forward to getting back home as early as possible. On our way home we stopped off in Bermuda and then in Kingston where we said goodbye to our fellow troop members from the Eastern Caribbean and British Honduras (now Belize). Those of us who were not in the regular army before we joined and left for overseas service, were demobbed six months later and I returned to being in charge of a cure.
Col. H. St. C. Whitehorne
Lt. Col. Hurlstone St. C. Whitehorne, today an attorney-at-law practising in Ocho Rios, was a law student at the outbreak of World War II. His father had been in the Jamaica Reserve Regiment (JRR) in World War I (which did not fight overseas) and together father and son joined the JRR when it was reformed in 1939-40. Lt. Col. Whitehorne later became a member of the Jamaica Home Guard (JHG) that took over from the JRR, and was offered a commission as an Officer in the Jamaica Militia Artillery (JMA) later renamed The Royal Artillery (Caribbean Section). He was duly commissioned in the rank of Second Lieutenant with effect on November 24, 1942. Here, in his words, are his recollections:
IN MY view, our officers and soldiers alike joined with the intent and desire to serve as representative of the entire Caribbean Region to make their contributions to the defeat of the Nazis. The Caribbean Regiment left Fort Eustis, Virginia in 1944 en route to North Africa but by then British General Montgomery and his forces had defeated German Field Marshall Rommel and his forces and there was no longer a need for our troops in that arena, so we were diverted to Italy. We landed in Naples and encamped on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius, preparing for combat. However, once again, we were just too late, for by then the war action had moved further north; the Normandy landings had taken place and we were deemed unnecessary in the European Theatre at that stage. Accordingly, we were posted to Egypt, landed at Port Said, and encamped at Fanara on the Bitter Lake, not far from The Suez Canal. While there we did guard some prisoners of war but in short, the Regiment came into existence too late to be used directly in actual combat no matter how well-trained, fit and ready for action we were. The majority of our service was in training, guard duties and general support, relieving the combat troops wherever possible. The morale was high despite the general disappointment at not being thrown into the fray.
Concerning race relations, while I was with the Regiment in America, as far as I know, the general relationship between our personnel and civilians in America was amicable doubtless there was the "colour-bar" in some instances which meant that some of our officers were not welcome in certain clubs and restaurants. However, I will never forget that in Egypt our troop's pay books were endorsed "B.O.R." i.e. "British Other Rank," whereas the African troops were referred to as "A.O.R" i.e. "African Other Rank" so our troops could enter places in Egypt that denied entry to African troops.
After the war ended, June 1945, I was apponted to the Judge Advocate General's Branch, Palestine, stationed in Jerusalem. I served there until posted back to Jamaica in late 1946.
WAR IN JAMAICA
* The Governor also imposed censorship of the press, mail and telegraph and cable messages. In 1940 Great Britain and the United States entered into what was called the "Bases for Destroyers" agreement in which the United States was granted locations for air, military and naval bases in exchange for 50 destroyers. The bases were intended to protect the outer perimeter of the United States. The lease related to Jamaica was slated to last for 99 years but was most likely terminated in the 1960s when the island achieved independence.
* Along with the bases, of course, came the soldiers and an officers' club in Kingston where local Jamaicans often performed for the soldiers.
BASES IN JAMAICA
* Goat Island, in Old Harbour Bay, was a naval base. During World War II numerous submarine manoeuvres were run from there. Residents or Port Morant can recall hearing loud sounds at night and operators of popular nightclubs like downtown Kingston's famous Glass Bucket, were frequently visited by the soldiers. Goat Island was abandoned in 1949. Today if you fly over it you can see remnants of the naval base.
* In 1940 Jamaica also became a haven for close to 2000 civilian evacuees from Gibraltar in the British Mediterranean. Evacuees were also sent to England and Madeira. These evacuees lived out the war at what was then called Gibraltar Camp (on the grounds of the present University of the West Indies). That will make for another article if anyone has information on this and other pieces of our past, please contact me at email@example.com or send them in to the Gleaner offices at 7 North Street.
Sources: Black, C.V. (1983) The History of Jamaica. England: Longman Educational. Personal Communication from Lt. Col. H. St. C. Whitehorne and Archdeacon E. Maxwell, January 2002.
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted April 22, 2003.
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