Caymanians answered call to go to war
May 1941 will be remembered by many Caymanian wives, sisters, grandmothers and mothers who gathered at Elmslie Memorial Church then to bid farewell to loved ones on a rainy day.
Caymanians had heard that World War 11 had started. Proud of their love for the Mother Country and the Queen, many Caymanian men felt it their duty to answer the call to enlist in her Majesty’s regime.
Seniors Alvernia Llewellyn and Ardyth Smith recall that day on the dock. Many wondered if they would see loved ones again as they hugged, kissed, cried and said goodbye to the men boarding the Cimboco ship to take them out the harbour.
“Thank the Lord; my brother was one of those who returned. He went away and fought the war but returned; some were not so lucky,” said Ms Llewellyn.
“I hope I never have to hear about another war in my lifetime. I watched my mother shed tears the day my brother Edison Robinson joined others in the Elmslie church for the farewell service and to hear Commissioner Cardinal bid the men Godspeed and good luck,” she said.
Ms Llewellyn recalls names of families that had lost loved ones, a mother screaming when she got the news the boat her son was on was torpedoed and disheartening news from her brother that a British ship had sunk. “There were several Caymanians killed. I think there were two from Bodden Town,” Ms Llewellyn said.
“I recall the day a British ship was torpedoed off George Town Harbour.
Three men made it off the ship; it was Costello, B’George and Grapes,” she said. “When they came ashore everyone offered their help. I recall one being burnt badly as they were placed in the George Town Town Hall. People were crying and cheering for the men and offering their support at the same time. They weren’t there long before they flew them to Miami; later we heard that one died,” said Ms Llewellyn.
“A lot of men left Cayman to fight in the war, including my father and husband,” Ms Smith said. My father related many of his war time tales and my husband Irvin had quite a lot to say of his adventures joining the navy to fight in the war.
“He told me about the time a submarine came into Trinidad harbour hiding under the bottom of the ship and blew the English ships in the harbour to pieces.
The ships had to pass through a big gate, which was closed after they entered, but somehow the submarine was able to sneak in and sink all the ships right there in the harbour.
According to Ms Smith, her husband and others searched for the submarine but could not find it. It was only sometime later they realised the submarine had escaped under the cover of darkness. During the night the submarine surfaced and rigged lights to resemble a tugboat in the harbour. It was sometime later they found out the tugboat was still in the harbour but by that time it was too late the submarine had already left.
“Boats went out to look for the submarine to retaliate but never did find it,” said Ms Smith.
“Some things during the war did give my husband a laugh. He recalled the time some Caymanians arrived in England,” Ms Smith said. “One fellow asked if he could have a cup of hot cocoa because it was so cold and the person in the restaurant said, ‘Hot cocoa, why, even the bloody Queen can’t get a cup of hot cocoa during these times’.”
Mr. Bodden stayed in England until the war ended and, according to his daughter, it was quite a jubilation. “That night amid all the rubble he could not believe that people could be so happy on Victory Day,” Ms Smith said. “People took to the streets to celebrate, hug, cheer and kiss each other. He said there was a woman out there that had six sons at the beginning of the war and her husband and five of the sons were gone but she was out in the street dancing with the last one because she was so thankful that the war was over.”
Although England was in shambles, her husband said Germany was just as bad. The Germans were disliked and he was sorry for them so he would buy things to take back to the people because they were short on basic food items such as bread and eggs.
Ms Smith was in New York when the war finished after being taken there by her father in 1944. He was heading out to sea with the Merchant Marines.
Before leaving Cayman to join the ship, her father owned and operated a schooner, which he sailed back and forth to Panama City. Unfortunately the schooner sank during a trip to Panama. After that he went to work for the United States army corporation of engineers.
When he returned to Cayman, like most seaman he tried to find work on the islands but things were poor, so he headed back out to sea.