Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 8th 2018 Contents SUNDAY 8 APRIL, 2018 -- UWI TODAY 19
In reading this text, I sought to isolate themes which run through
the volume and chose two sound-bites which encapsulate the
substance of the work. One was Debbie Mc Collin's description of
the period as the "inevitable paradox of war" and the other was my
own view that this was a classic case of the subalterns writing back.
With regard to the paradox of war, essay a er essay focus
on the many bene ts of the war and these are followed by the
su ering and deprivation which occurred simultaneously. Another
constantly repeated theme was the exposure of the deep racial
divisions which the war brings to the fore. Caribbean colonial
society had been carefully graded on the basis of race, which
determined one's class position in the pyramid of plantation
society. By the mid-20th century these divisions had become so
institutionalized that even the life or death threat posed by the
Axis powers could not break down the ethnic barriers among
And when the USA entered the war a er the December 1941
attack on Pearl Harbour, the USA joined the war bringing its own
brand of racist practice coming out of their slave experience. e
picture on the cover of the book shows a column of black soldiers
led, of course, by a white o cer.
Karen Eccles tells us that lighter-skinned West Indian women
were sent for training to Washington whilst black women were
despatched to London. Trinidad's governor was concerned that
the local Red Cross was "undesirably mixed" and it was le to
black women like Audrey Je ers to organize the Coterie of Social
Workers to cater to black soldiers.
At US bases in St. Lucia, Antigua, Jamaica and Trinidad, white
troops were housed and fed separately from black soldiers and no
black policeman could arrest a drunken white sailor. e colonial
powers were so distrustful of their loyal, doting Caribbean subjects
that they created brigades of local whites to stem any black uprising,
giving these brigades euphemistic names like Home Guards and
Light Infantry Volunteers.
Whilst West Indian men were dying to serve in the war the
colonial governments were arresting [Tubal] Butler in Trinidad and
Richard Hart and his associates in Jamaica, although these leaders
were empire loyalists seeking no more than the widening of the
franchise and improving the lot of Caribbean labour.
Ronald Williams, in a well-researched essay describes the
displacement of West Indians from the North West peninsula and
Carlsen Field and the still-festering sores of that era.
e essays of Geo Burrows and Eric Jennings give ample
testimony to the brave black West Indians who volunteered to
work on the convoys escorting merchant ships under constant
attack from German U-boats.
is book is a welcome addition to West Indian historiography
because it makes a deliberate, refreshing e ort to incorporate
the total Pan-Caribbean region into one corpus, documenting
the common experiences among British, French, Spanish and
American colonies. So we learn about Europe's dependence on
the Caribbean for vital supplies of oil and asphalt from Trinidad,
bauxite from Jamaica and Guyana, timber from the South
American colonies and of course sugar from the traditional sugar
Lovell Francis provides new information on the calamity
caused by the ight from the plantations to the American bases
and the united e orts of the plantocracy-dominated governments
to urge the Americans to keep wages low so as to stem the exodus
of sugar workers.
In a turnaround of Caribbean historiography, Esther
Captain and Guno Jones tell of the signi cant ways in which the
Dutch Antilles and Suriname contributed to the welfare of the
Netherlands. ey sent boxes of blankets, clothing, shoes, knitted
vests and woollen underwear, oil and Caribbean soldiers to ght
the Japanese in the Far East. In that period of real crisis, the Dutch
queen promised greater autonomy to her Caribbean subjects. is
resulted in internal self-government for the Dutch Antilles in 1954
whilst Suriname moved onwards to independence in 1975.
One of the major problems of Caribbean historiography has
been the linguistic barriers which have divided us for centuries.
is volume overcomes that problem by the inclusion of bi-lingual
authors who are able to use non-English sources. e essay on the
Dutch Caribbean, just cited is one example. So is Danelle Gutara's
piece on Puerto Rico in which she tells us that Puerto Ricans had to
prove their American-ness by joining the US army and to present
their bodies for experimentation in chemical warfare.
Christian Cwik and Verena Muth delve into the German
sources to tell of the sad and triumphant stories of European
refugees to this region.
It is heartening to see in a number of essays the use of the
pioneering work of our departed colleagues, Fitz Baptiste who
carefully documented the warships for bases agreements, and
Gaylord Kelshall, who was a participant in the war. Otherwise
those valuable inputs would have remained on the bookshelves.
What is equally admirable is the wide range of sources used
to complement our dependence on British sources. ese essayists
delve into American military archives in Alabama and Puerto Rico,
German accounts, archives in France and the French Antilles and
then contemporary newspapers, oral sources and calypsoes. is
extensive sourcing of information, properly cited, gives authenticity
to the work and li s our gaze beyond island histories and onto the
wider Caribbean panorama.
is is what Eric Williams sought to do in Columbus to
Castro (1970). Now his intellectual descendants are taking us one
step closer. e editors took great care in allowing the authors
to read each other's texts before nalization so there is constant
cross-referencing among the essays. is is a di cult but useful
device which prevents repetition and allows more space for original
analysis. ere are sub-headings in each chapter which makes the
reading easier although the foot-noting numbers in the text are too
small for the ordinary eye; one can easily miss them.
e role of Caribbean women in the war has been generally
hidden from our history. If a woman did well she could be
patronizingly called one of the boys. In this collection that is not
the case. Debbie Mc Collin, Karen Eccles and Suzanne Francis-
Brown speak of Caribbean women. However, Delea Brown's essay
on bodies in con ict, which focuses on sexual liaisons in Jamaica,
marries feminist theory to the experience in the bed. In a section
called colonization and sexploitation she delves into the white
man's exoticisation of black and brown women from the time of
slavery. is Euro-American fascination was stimulated during the
con ict by the "aphrodisiac of war" in which the military man was
expected to be sexually rewarded for his bravery on the battle eld.
If there is any blame to be laid, then such opprobrium has to be
placed on the woman who is the culprit. She is the daughter of
Eve whose seduction of Adam has given us the word "evil". In that
narrative the men did not spread VD but rather it was, in the words
of the Director of Medical Services, "the domestic servants, half-
starved dressmakers and under-paid clerks". Delea's description
of the degradation of the Caribbean women is paralleled by the
other essays which speak to the position of women in this region.
Finally, we should look at the continuing legacies of the
issues raised in this volume. Puerto Rico continues to function as
an American colony, kept in a state of dependency by the US. In
the a ermath of the recent ood and hurricane for example that
colony's low rating in the US table of assistance shows that little
has changed since the war. In Trinbago the preference for imported
food as described by Rita Pemberton has not changed because
of colonial habit and by the control of that trade, now, as in the
war, by a small cartel. And Tobago struggles on, being regarded
as more of a hindrance than an asset by successive governments.
Cuba, whose assistance and sacri ces were most welcome during
the War, has now been re-embargoed by trumped-up charges. e
more things change the more they remain the same.
e one essay which the volume lacks is one that could
have dealt with the socio-cultural e ects of the war as seen in
the outpouring of West Indian writing which dealt with that
experience. Also the manner in which the entertainment sector
was changed by American radio stations on the bases and the
proliferation of bars and cinemas fuelled by the Yankee dollar.
ere was also the enrichment of West Indian entrepreneurs from
post-war loot le by the Americans. But these are small omissions
which hardly detract from the wealth of information and fresh
analysis. World War II and the Caribbean is a most useful story
of ourselves written by ourselves.
Historian Professor Brinsley Samaroo delivered this review at the
launch of World War II and the Caribbean at the Alma Jordan
Library, UWI St. Augustine, on February 27, 2018.
Finally, Our War Stories
BY BRINSLEY SAMAROO
Editors Karen Eccles (foreground) and Debbie Mc Collin shared the podium at the launch of the collection at the Alma Jordan Library.
World War II and the Caribbean has been selected as a nalist for the 2017 Foreword Indies Book of the Year Awards. PHOTO: ATIBA CUDJOE
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