Letters to the Editor: Setting the record straight

I am offended and indeed insulted at being totally ignored by whomsoever
was responsible for organising the announcement of the Gwen Bush Memorial
Scholarship Fund ceremony and I am now further offended by the inaccuracies in
the GIS release. I can only say that if this is the standard of GIS accuracy,
written by a group or member of a group that one would expect to be erudite, it
is regrettable and unacceptable.

To report that the scholarship, which has been added to the scholarship
secretariat’s registry, “is named for Cayman’s primary contact for the
Southwell Recruiting Company, which hired seamen for National Bulk Carriers in
the mid 1900s” is inaccurate, to say the least.

Let me try to set the record straight on this matter, once and for all.

On the death of my father, the late Albert C. Panton, I was promptly
appointed by National Bulk Carriers Inc. and affiliated company Universe
Tankships Inc. to represent them in the recruitment, processing and dispatch of
seamen from Grand Cayman. The late Capt. Keith Tibbetts was their appointed
agent in Cayman Brac. Prior to my father’s retirement from government service,
Capt. McPherson Thompson and Mr. Ernest Panton were also involved, in exactly
what capacity I am not quite sure.

On the Monday morning following my father’s passing, I, along with Miss
Gwen, attended the departure of quite a number of seamen who had been processed
to leave on a LACSA flight for assignment in a distant port. Miss Gwen never
missed a single day at work and willingly went, at all hours of the night, to
see her boys safely off. In those days, everyone in Government and otherwise
willingly jumped to facilitate the more-often-than-not urgent processing of the
seamen. This included the issuing of a visa waiver by the Passport Office and
the necessary Police Clearance Certificate (then called a Police Record), the
medical examination (God bless Mrs. Maudie Seymour), the full cooperation of
Mr. Norman Bodden and LACSA and the late Mr. Tommy Adam of BWIA. I also cannot
forget the inimitable Mr. Leighton Christian and others of the wireless cable
office, who saw to it that the ‘calls’ from New York and elsewhere were
promptly delivered. Not to mention also the ‘bush telegraph’ system of the day.
It was all perfected synergism at its best.

I had returned home from England via the Harwich to Hook van Holland
Ferry, then on to Hamburg, Germany, where I joined the SS Sprucewoods of
National Bulk Carriers, as what is called supercargo, for the trip to Norfolk
(Newport News), Virginia. This was a wonderful and enlightening experience for
me as we sailed, in ballast, past the White Cliffs of Dover, into the Atlantic
and the almost inevitable North Atlantic Gale. I was all over the ship, keeping
watch on the bridge including the graveyard shift, and in the engine room
watching the engineers, oilers, firemen and wipers perform. This experience
stood me in good stead later as I had experienced life at sea for even a short
while and could relate to some of the stories I was later told.

I understand that the late Capt. Dell Bodden was responsible for
initially introducing and recommending Cayman Islands seamen to Mr. Daniel K.
Ludvig. Of course our seamen were world renowned from the days of the sailing
ships and turtling and this reputation was further enhanced by the 300 or so
who volunteered to join the TRNVR or Trinidad Naval Volunteer Reserve. It has
been said, and I believe correctly, that this represented the highest per
capita contingent among all Allied Forces in WWII. Undoubtedly their prowess as
Seamen was noticed by Mr. Ludvig and many others at that stage in their
shipping operations shortly after WWII.

Miss Gwen had already been employed by my father and the others and so
was singularly qualified when I came on board. She was a fast and accurate
touch typist, second only to Mrs. Hope Glidden-Borden, of blessed memory. Gwen
quickly became my friend. I loved her like a sister and grieved on her passing.
She was competent and dedicated to the welfare of her boys and deserved being
affectionately called the “Mother of the Seamen”.

I have never sought to obtain any particular recognition, praise or
commendation for the part I played in what has been termed ‘the Southwell
Years’. I have always been content to salute Miss Gwen and sing her praises and
I like to tell the story of the young lady bank teller some years ago who, on
seeing my name on my cheque, said “Oh, you are Mr. Colin Panton, the man who
worked for Miss Gwen!” I smiled and said, “Young lady, you have made my day!” Obviously,
the fathers and grandfathers would mention and tell their children about Miss
Gwen and not me, and I can well understand and accept that.

Maybe it is time to reveal that Gwen was privy to every and all
confidences that were attached to the job we were doing. The statute of
limitations must surely have expired by now on the infamous “Black List” the
existence of which we could not even acknowledge. Another was the occasional
arrival on the Island of what I termed an ‘insurance tourist’ with loud shirt
and shorts, camera and recorder, to snoop on individuals who had brought suit
against the company for one reason or another, usually medically related. I
could tell a few really good jokes about this.

Let me also advise that Pancarib Agencies not only processed and sent
men ‘with Southwell’ but were also agents for Bernuth, Lembcke Inc.
(Philadelphia), Mathiesen Tankers Inc., Imperial Oil (Esso of Canada) and
Papachristidis (Montreal). This presented the opportunity to give ‘another
chance’ to the less serious cases on the blacklist. Many of those went on to
vindicate themselves admirably and excel in their seafaring careers. Would that
the present system could do the same for so many of the young men and women of
today who could be given another chance.

Let me introduce a little tidbit which could be of interest to some. I
believe it happened on two occasions that we had to process and dispatch a
number of replacement crew members to Cape Town, South Africa. They had to be
sent via London to obtain a special visa from the South African Embassy,
required by ‘coloured’ West Indians, in order to travel on South African
Airline to Cape Town or Johannesburg. How times have changed.

I cannot conclude without mentioning the several sad occasions when we
had to inform a family that their husband, son or other family member had died,
usually accidentally while away at sea. I could not have delivered those
messages alone and although Gwen often knew the individuals more closely than I
did and so had more reason to grieve and mourn than I did, she was always the
emotional brick that I could cling to.

Obviously the seamen/seafarers of that era are fast passing on each
year. The time will come when they have all passed. Should we not be making an
effort to replace them? I am not suggesting necessarily for ocean going jobs
but as a maritime island nation, Founded upon the Seas, the opportunity to
learn the seafaring skills their forefathers learned and knew so well. In my
opinion we should continue to educate and train our young men, and women, in
the disciplines of seamanship and I wonder why our present Cadet Corps, which I
understand is doing a good job in its own way, was not designed originally
towards being a sea related Cadet Corps.

And let me state clearly that in my opinion the Cayman Islands Seafarers
Association hierarchy should not have allowed the award of a scholarship of
this nature and relationship to be ostensibly politicised by involving the
Government or any other allied entity, as it obviously has. I believe that the
Seafarers Association could easily have funded this scholarship on its own,
guaranteeing that the name Gwen Bush would be properly and more effectively
memorialised.

Oh well. It sometimes seems that my name happens to be anathema to some,
and so be it.

RIP Miss Gwen. We all loved you.

I hope that this will prove to enlighten all and sundry of that
wonderful period in our history, through my eyes.

Verification

This is a copy, which I can certify to as being authentic, of the
address made by Rev. George Hicks, minister of the Elmslie Memorial Church,
George Town, on the return of men from Trinidad on 18th August, 1945.

Your Honour, Ladies and Gentlemen:

This is a red letter day for the people of the Cayman Islands: the
home-coming of our fighting-men who have served with the TRNVR during four long
years of fateful conflict. We salute you, men of the Navy, and we rejoice in
your safe return to the old Rock, the land of your birth, the land to which you
have brought renown by reason of your conduct at the place of duty. We are
proud of you and we thank you for the sacrifices you have made in the Fight for
Freedom.

Your Honour, it is a happy coincidence that you who gave your blessing
to the men of the Trinidad contingent when they embarked upon their great
adventure should now be privileged to welcome them home: a band of faithful
warriors who have proved their worth as fighting men and who will prove as
worthy in the field of peacetime endeavour. Your unfailing interest in their
welfare has been well known to me.

His Majesty the King closed his Victory Day message on Wednesday night
with these words: “From the bottom of my heart I thank my people for all that
they have done not only for us but also for all mankind”. That word of Royal
Gratitude includes Cayman whose sons have served in all the services & many
theatres of war. They heard the call and followed the Flag to defend it against
a deadly foe.

The sacrifices you have made will not be forgotten. The hardships you
have endured & perils you have faced entitle you to receive our heartfelt
thanks, and something more tangible than words. You helped to make victory
possible: you share in the glory of the triumph: there is glory enough for all.

We know that your lot was a hard one but the hardships you have endured
have added strength to this fibre of your manhood: your talents have been
developed: your years of active service are not wasted years: the experiences
through which you have passed will be of value to you in years to come. The
exaltation and the agonies of these amazing years will fade away from your
memory but you’ll always look back with pride on the fact that you wore the
King’s uniform when your empires existence was at stake.

And now you have come home: I remember when I was demobilized after
World War I – my one thought was to get back home. Today that is the thought
uppermost in the minds of all servicemen Home and the comforts of home and the
freedom of Home. We want the homes of Cayman to be the happiest of homes in the
whole Empire…we are not expecting great improvements in our islands life in the
near future and we believe that our war veterans will make a valuable
contribution toward the creating of a better Cayman. Let us work together in
spirit of cooperation  and comradeship: Keep up that spirit of unity and
self-sacrifice and give your hearty support to every cause that will benefit
Cayman.

Today we are proud of you and of your record: and we ask you give us the
chance of being just as proud of you tomorrow when you take your places as
citizens of this island and take up again the tasks of daily life. We expect
great things from you and we know that you will play your part worthily & well.

Rev. George Hicks

[Mr. Albert C. Panton, was the gentleman addressed above as “Your
Honour” and who was Acting Commissioner.]

Notice

Below is
the GOVERNMENT NOTICE, published in those days on Notice Boards
throughout the three Islands, this one
announcing the return of sixty two Ratings of the T.R.N.V.R. and the Public
Reception to be held in their honour.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for this informative look at our history. What a walk down memory lane! My father was one of those seafarers. Miss Gwen was indeed a household name and was held in highest esteem by the people of Cayman.

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