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Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 13 (October 1991)

by E. Dawson Roberts

In January, 1940, the world was at war, the Bahamas was a little known, small colony of Britain living serenely and quietly among the blue and green seas on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. We were snuggling close to the United States of America like the sucker fish, who lives safely beside the great shark, feeding scrumptiously on what falls out of the shark's mouth.

We were British - not Americans - and proud of it. We were 45.000 souls -15% white and 85% black - we were co-existing with an easy ambiance of mutual respect - where respect was merited - and loved on another in more ways than one where love was wanted.

I think morals were of a generally high level and certainly we were a highly religious society especially among Methodists and Baptists and other more fundamental faiths.

The Colony was run by a British appointed Governor with advice from his Executive Council. The Council consisted of the British appointed Attorney-General, Colonial Secretary, Receiver General and Treasurer plus the President of the Legislative Council and several businessmen and professionals from the city of Nassau. One of the latter was the leader for the Government in the House of Assembly.

The Governor and his Council formulated public policy and work programmes for the year and then asked the House of Assembly to agree them and vote the necessary funds to put them into effect. The popularly elected Assembly controlled the purse strings and thus a government of checks and balances ran the colony successfully and always met its budget requirements.

In July, 1940, I was 14 and filled with ideas and goals which came out of my Methodist background both at home and in my church and the church school, Queen's College. I wanted to be a Lawyer or possibly a Minister of Religion.

The Royal Bank of Canada was the only Bank in town. All its tellers and all its senior staff were Canadians. It employed a number of young white girls - mostly from Shirley Heights and what is now Palmdale - almost all of Abaco stock These were eagerly sought jobs because of the possibility of catching a husband and travelling abroad when he was moved to another branch. I noted over the years that most of these wives brought their husbands back to live in Nassau.

Abaco Village residents often held wedding receptions at places like the twin house on Middle or Dowdeswell Street. Of course no liquor was served, they being Methodists. However, the drinking crowd - almost all men - kept a cache several houses away. One night I heard a fat and fortyish matron commenting as several men returned to the reception obviously slightly tipsy. She said "Look at them! they might as well be at the Silver Slippers or Veary Villies". She was referring to the two over the hill night clubs - the Silver Slipper and Weary Willies.

I attended many small birthday parties in Shirley Heights - often called "Death Valley" because of ground fog on damp mornings where we played "honey my dear" and "one hand in the bag one hand in the sack ladies forward gents back" and we always had pound cake. We walked around in a circle in time with a chant We never danced I suppose because Methodists traditionally did not dance.

Sundays were for attending Sunday School and Church. I was not allowed to play games or go seabathing on Sunday. I went to the Savoy or Nassau Theaters on Saturday afternoons - watched Tarzan of the Apes - the serials like Crash Corrigan and the Undersea Kingdom and Zorro. After the movie I went to Black's Candy Kitchen and had a chocolate milk shake or a marshmallow sundae with a marachino cherry on top.

My father was the foreman at Symonette's Shipyards - formerly located on Hog Island - where he worked 8 hours a day - 6 days a week and designed ships at nights at home. Among these were, over the decade, The Anne Bonny, The William Sayle, The Caribbean Queen and The Jenkins Roberts. Each was over 120 feet long.

Symonette's Shipyards was the largest shipyard south of Jacksonville and was never a day during the war without boats on its marine railways.


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