National Geographic : 1942 Jun
Americans in the Caribbean BY Luis MARDEN With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author CROSS the eastern end of the Caribbean the Lesser Antilles stretch like the curving face of a dam. The small islands between Puerto Rico and Trinidad were important posts when the British Navy had its West Indies Station on Antigua, roughly midway of the crescent, and now they have new value as outer bases to protect the Panama Canal (map, page 729). Today, high-flying warplanes accomplish in hours what the sailing vessels of Nelson did in days, as American bombers and pursuit craft swing round the islands down to the South American mainland. In September, 1940, the United States traded fifty over-age destroyers to Great Brit ain and acquired rights to lease and build mil itary bases in British possessions in the At lantic and Caribbean. In the fall of 1941 I visited the islands of Bermuda, Antigua, St. Lucia, and Trinidad-new outposts of Amer ica's war machine.* Uniforms Supplant Slacks The transatlantic flying boat that stops at Bermuda carries few honeymooners and vaca tioners now. Passengers are chiefly diplo mats, army and navy officers, bomber ferry pilots, and newspapermen. Hamilton, too, has changed. Reid and Queen Streets still have their queues of parked bicycles, but midafternoon crowds are almost all in uniform. Cameron Highlanders in kilts fraternize with American sailors in summer whites, and British soldiers and marines in shorts crook elbows with American Army men in long khaki trousers. One Scot whom I met had been at Dunkirk. I asked him what he had done there, antici pating a good story. "Mon, I ran like hell!" said Archie. Another large group in wartime Bermuda are the British censors. About a thousand men and women from England live and work in what were formerly the luxury hotels of the water front. They do not like to be pho tographed, and keep to themselves even in their hours of relaxation. Letters in many languages pass through the Imperial Censorship, for this is one of the principal points of examination for Empire mail. Examiners comprehend such widely di vergent tongues as Hungarian and Hindustani. Commandeering of hotels by British and American military and government people has created a housing problem. Particularly is this felt at the site of the United States air and naval bases building at St. George. Here I saw an old Hudson River steamer, the Berkshire, which had been towed to the islands from New York and now served as liv ing quarters for several hundred mule skin ners, steam-shovel operators, and other work ers. The Berkshire used to make overnight runs upriver to Albany from New York and was popular with romantic couples; now it houses 400 men, and no women (page 724). Another touch of Manhattan are police brought to Bermuda by contracting com panies. The authoritative Irish-American bark of these blue-uniformed men adds to the homesickness of New York workmen. Across the harbor from St. George the Castle Harbour Hotel sprawls high on a cliff in rocky isolation. Here, where accommoda tions once were frequently $30 a day, live $33-a-month American soldiers. The big pub lic rooms have ping-pong tables and movie projectors, and military heels click along halls without deep carpets now. Though work on the Bermuda base had been going on for a comparatively short time, already a hard-surfaced runway long enough to serve for the B-19, world's largest bomber, was near completion close to St. George. Even at night big surfacing machines swept up and down the landing strip under the glare of spotlights. Gasoline Comes to Bermuda Although Bermuda has long been known as an autoless Eden, a few motorcars and trucks now are used by American authorities with permission of the Bermuda Government. Before I left the islands, Hamilton merchants had requested permits for motor delivery vans, and the Corporation of Hamilton was consid ering the matter. It may be that the age of gasoline has come at last to Bermuda, despite the head-shaking of older inhabitants. Soldiers and sailors, as well as old-timers, still like to ride in carriages, though, and it is likely that the two-toned gong of victoria and * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "British West Indian Interlude," by Anne Rainey Langley, January, 1941; "Happy Landing in Ber muda," by E. John Long, February, 1939; and "Crossroads of the Caribbean (Trinidad)," by Lau rence Sanford Critchell, September, 1937.