Diary of Nathan Dennis Samuel: 1950
Darwin Fitzgerald Samuel, my father, was born on 18 September 1922, in Perdmontemps, Grenada; the youngest son of ND Samuel. In November 1941, in the depths of World World II, nineteen-year old Darwin had boarded a troop ship bound for Britain. Impetuous and headstrong just like his father, Darwin had signed up for a wartime scheme whereby young men from the colonies would go and work in the armaments industry in Britain, with a vague promise of a government scholarship after the war was over.
ND wasn’t impressed; 1941 was the lowest point in the war, and it was by no means certain that the British government would be in any position to be handing out anything after it was all over; they might be on the receiving end of orders. Also, in those days the British Army didn’t exactly welcome coloured chaps into their ranks, so to ND’s way of thinking; why should his son go and risk getting bombed in their cities?
But young men are not to be denied; and Darwin sailed off to Liverpool, dodging torpedoes and Atlantic storms along the way. Darwin spent the war in grimy midlands factory towns, manufacturing bombs and Lancaster bombers at the Metrovicks factory in Old Trafford, the target of many a Luftwaffe bombing raid. Darwin won the war and stayed on in England, eventually qualifying as a handicrafts and metalworking teacher. Being one of the immigrant pioneers, Darwin along with other West Indian men in wartime Britain, were subject to considerable racial abuse and ignorance. The only racial problems Darwin experienced were from English men; he didn’t seem to have any problems with English women…
We do not know how they met, but the girl who finally snared Darwin was a young nurse from Glasgow called Helen “Nelleen” Hogan. They met in London while he was at Shoreditch Technical College and she had just finished nursing school. Darwin Samuel and Helen Hogan were married at Marylebone Registry Office on 13 July, 1949. Nelleen and Darwin’s marriage was not welcomed by all concerned, particularly her scandalized family. It could not have been easy; a mixed-race couple in 1949 turned heads and caused tongues to wag. Have you not heard? Young Nell’s marrying a …coloured gentleman!
Nelleen had committed a double dose of unpardonable offences: first by getting pregnant, then marrying a darkie. Living in the Catholic side of Glasgow in 1950, the former was a mortal sin; the latter a capital crime. The only thing she got from her mother was a slap across the face, and the only member of her family to attend the wedding was her brother Steven.
Whether through pressure or previous plans, Darwin and Nelleen decided to leave post-war England and head for the balmier climes of Grenada. With their first son Gerry just a few months old and second son Tom already on the way, it was going back home for him; and going to a strange new world for her. Nelleen had been ostracized by her family, and was only too happy to leave England for a foreign adventure.
Darwin and Nelleen Samuel landed at the new Pearl’s Air Field in Grenada on Sunday 16 July, 1950, via a short stay in Port of Spain where they were interviewed by the Trinidad Guardian newspaper. Our father told us the story of being reunited with his father:
“Hey old man,” says his cheeky son, “I see you got a few more grey hairs since I’ve been away; you okay are you?”
ND didn’t say a word. There was a bunch of green bananas lying on the ground, weighing easily thirty or forty pounds. ND bent down, picked it up with one hand, raised it over his head and placed it gently back down on the ground. He turned to his son.
“Now you do that.”
ND’s description of their reunion was more prosaic:
Sun 16 July, 1950: Darwin and wife and child arrived here today. Darwin kissed me but his wife did not kiss me.
This is not a proud father welcoming his Prodigal Son home after a decade in wartime England, where he had qualified as a teacher. ND’s reserve is palpable. Mind you, for ND it had been a torrid year thus far. It would not get much better.
Darwin, Nelleen and their six month old son Gerry all moved into a room at the old house – the new house was still being built. On Monday, Darwin went along to the Ministry of Education, where he was offered a salary of 720 dollars per year as a handicraft teacher grade one. This was not what Darwin had been led to expect, and he refused the offer. It was a question of currency. The year before, in 1949, the Colonial Office had invented the British West Indian dollar, called locally the “Beewee dollar”, at a fixed exchange rate of 4.80 to the pound sterling; and for several years both currencies were in use simultaneously. But Darwin didn’t want to be paid dollars of any description; he wanted pounds. The issue was eventually resolved and Darwin went to work as a handicrafts teacher at a salary of £27 per month – which equated to roughly twice the salary they had initially offered in dollars.
Darwin had arrived back home at a time of rising political tension; just two weeks after he landed:
Tues 1st Aug: Great demonstration at St. David’s sponsored by Mr. Gairy, it was heavily attended.
At home, there were problems from day one. It was inevitable that there would be a clash of cultures between the Victorian rigidity of ND and the post-war liberalism of his youngest son – and his brash Scottish wife. Knowing my mother as I do, with what I have heard of ND; I can imagine the clash between the two must have been immediate – and explosive! The first skirmish was the battle of the dog-doo:
Thurs 10 Aug: I went home and found dog-mess in two places in the house. I called Neillene and show it to her, she said the dog does not sleep in the house. Perhaps it was in the day the dog did it, I then said I always say I don’t want the dog to sleep inside the house, and that was done.
Of course, it was nothing of the sort; and over the next few days ND records his increasing irritation at the brazen defiance of this slip of a lass; the nerve! The dog war continued to rumble along, until Darwin decided to put his foot in it (not the dog mess, the argument).
Tues 15 Aug: Darwin gave Laurina the same story of his wife about the dog, and again said how his wife was upset; that all this is dam nonsense. He used the word “dam” to Laurina about me, because is not Laurina he dam, it is me. I am waiting for him to dam me when he is speaking to me. It will be our last day.
I find it hard to credit, such immediate and open hostility from ND towards his youngest son and his wife; surely there had to be something more to this, something from the past? When we were children, our father used to regale us with stories from his own childhood, growing up with his brothers Lingham and Byron and their father ND. Never once did I hear my father utter one bad word about his own father; yet clearly, something was not right. Granted ND was still heart sore over the recent death of Lingham, but he seemed to have focused all his anger at his youngest son – and his wife.
This was also a time of political turmoil in Grenada, with the emergence of the trade union movement:
Wed 30 Aug: As the result of a serious strike by one Gairy who is said to be a leader of an organization called “The People’s Party”, the strikers killed S. A. Francis’ cow, took away its two hind legs and left the body on the ground. S. A. Francis is the owner of the cow, he was prevented from taking away the body, his life was also threatened by the rioters who are entering people’s property and take whatever they want. One woman and two men are arrested for cocoanuts they took away without any permission.
Fri 1 Sept: Rain fell almost all night and part of the morning. Mr. Rex Worme called here today, he left his house in fear of the Riot by the strikers. They burned a tractor and a copra house at Woodlands last night (Wednesday).
Whether because of the turmoil in the streets or the turmoil in his father’s house, Darwin realized early on that he had made a mistake in coming home, and set about remedying the situation. On Sunday 27 August 1950, Darwin took a flight to Port-of-Spain to try his luck in Trinidad. You can sense the glee with which his father recorded the results of the trip:
Sat 2 Sept: Darwin came back from Trinidad, he said that he hopefully expects to job by the U.B.O.T. He is likely to get a salary of $700 per month if he gets the work.
Unfortunately, the job at United British Oilfields of Trinidad didn’t pan out, and Darwin was stuck in his glowering father’s house. At this time, the finishing touches on Montrose were just being added; ND was mightily proud of his creation:
Fri 8 Sept: Messrs. R. O. Williams, Jacobs and Gresham came and inspect my house to value it, they all seem to satisfy but have not given me the valuation. Mr. William told me the house would be worth £4,000 if I had painted it and put on the ____, this led me to believe that the valuation is in the vicinity of £3,600. I served them with refreshments.
Sat 9 Sept: Mr. Johnson of Hubbard & Co. came up, he too very much pleased to see the house, he promised to bring his wife to see it when I finish everything. He had a drink of beer with me. Yesterday Otway sent me 2 socks count on a/c.
By any measure, Montrose House was, and is, a substantial family dwelling; hurricanes Janet and Ivan may have temporarily “raised the roof”, but nothing can dent Montrose’s three-foot thick concrete walls. The valuation of the house, at £3,600, is equivalent to over half a million in current Eastern Caribbean dollars: a substantial house in any currency.
The next big battle was over Lingham’s car. When he died, Lingham owned a motor car, which with the rest of his property was being disposed of by the Administrator of Lingham’s will, one Mr. Green. Darwin wanted to buy the car from Lingham’s Estate. For whatever reason, or probably none, ND was opposed to the idea; and a simmering feud ensued. ND got his nose incredibly out of joint when Darwin accused him of keeping him Darwin in a “fool’s paradise”. If this is a fool’s paradise, then who is he calling a fool?
In the end, Darwin seems to have pulled a fast one, and wrested his deceased brother’s car out of the Administrator’s hands. ND was incensed. Two days later; Darwin crashed the car. The last straw had broken; the very next day ND went to his lawyer’s office:
Mon 25 Sept: I went to St. George’s today and took my Will from Mr. Teka, Clerk at J. B. Renwick. I signed it in the presence of Mr. R. O. Williams and Mr. Protain, who also signed their names as witnesses of my name and signature.
Aha, mystery solved! This seemingly harmless diary entry, coming on the day when ND was furious with his youngest son, goes a long way towards solving a generations-old family mystery: What did Darwin do, to piss off ND so much? ND’s entry implies that he didn’t just sign his will that day – he changed it. In his last will and testament, the final disposition of his assets, ND virtually froze out his youngest son. We his infant sons received more attention in ND’s will than Darwin did; all he got was half the shop. Nathan Dennis Samuel was by all accounts including his own: one hard bastard.
He continued to vent his spleen over Darwin’s willful wife; pregnant with her second child:
She sleeps all day … The bath room is stink with her child’s mess clothes, she will not wash them nor remove them … Neilleen is using a dish in washing sores on her feet, and then it was use in eating … I complained of Neilleen’s ill treating the cushion on the Morris Chair … his wife is inconsiderate and greedy
The family civil war rumbled on; the house neared completion; strikes and civil commotion continued to rock the island; and ND and Laurina’s court case slowly gathered steam. Eventually, ND was acquitted of the charge but his daughter Laurina was found guilty and charged the princely sum of $4.20 in fine and damages. Not that ND’s relief from prosecution softened his mood at home any:
Mon 16 Oct: From Darwin’s insolent talk to me he hold me an enemy. Very cold with me but this A.M. he spoke to me. His wife too is unusually cold with Laurina, yesterday Maury came and put the shower in the bath, Darwin and his wife first bathe in it.
On 11 November, 1950, Eric Gairy’s newly formed Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) led a huge demonstration in St. George’s, attended by an estimated six thousand rowdy supporters.
On 26 November, Darwin’s second son Thomas was born. The event did not warrant mention in ND’s diary. You can feel ND’s joy at the following entry:
Thurs 7th Dec: Darwin finally left my house and took up charge of his at St. Paul’s at a rental of $30 per month with half acre of land attached.And so ended Darwin Samuel’s homecoming year; hardly the Prodigal’s return he would have hoped for, but at least he was now on his own, leader of his own family. In the following year, 1951, Gairy led a general strike for better pay and working conditions. Many buildings in St. George’s were set ablaze and the colonial authorities had to call in military reinforcements to quell the disturbances. This would not be the last time that foreign forces had to “invade” Grenada.
On October 10, 1951, Grenada held its first general election under universal adult suffrage; Gairy’s GULP won six out of the eight seats contested. Eric Matthew Gairy duly became the country’s first elected Chief Minister.
Final entry for 1950:
Route and itinerary:
England thru France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Vatican City, Palestine, Jerusalem, Bethlehem-Judea. Back to England – America, Panama, Barbados – Trinidad – home
The above is the visit I shall make soon
Excerpted from the forthcoming book: “The White Knight Box”
© 2013, S. Brian Samuel
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