FROM THE CROWS NEST, MARCH 1969
With this number this sheet enters its 40th year of publication and, as in former anniversary issues, we take a look backward at Bermuda 30 years ago.
The January 1939 number recorded that among notable visitors to the Colony was the famed gangbuster, Thomas E. Dewey, later to become Governor of New York State and Rublican candidate for President of the U.S. Bermudians entertaining Mr. and Mrs. Dewey included Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth F. Trimingham and Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose Gosling.
On January 21 of that year, Imperial Airways’ flying-boat Cavalier took off from Port Washington, N.Y. at 11:30am on her 290th flight in the New York to Bermuda service. Among the ten passengers were three Bermudians, Mrs. Edna Watson, Miss. Nellie Smith, and Mrs. George Ingham. At 1:57pm came the first SOS from the Cavalier, and two minutes later the message “All engines failing through ice.” At 2:07pm another radio signal read: “Still up. Have two motors going and trying to get others started.” Then at 2:15pm came the single chilling word “Sinking” and then – silence. For hour after anxious hour relatives and friends huddled over their radio sets, until word came that the three Bermudians were safe. Two passengers and one crew member, Robert Spence, lost their lives. The others were in the water for ten hours, clinging to lifebelts, and were finally picked up by the U.S. tanker Esso Baytown. Later, other survivors described Mrs. Watson, whose imperturbable spirit and shining courage gave strength to others, as “the bravest woman alive.”
Early in April the Governor, Lt. Gen. Sir Reginald Hildyard, resigned because the Colonial Parliament for the second time rejected his request for a motor car. The U.S. press radio mad much of the incident, stressing Bermuda’s determination to preserve the islands as a motorless Eden. Travel agencies actually used press clippings reporting the Governors huffy reaction to sell Bermuda as a venue for a convention of automobile executives.
That spring H.M. Dockyard at Ireland Island presented a bustling scene with five cruisers of the Royal Navy’s 8th Cruiser Squadron and six destroyers here for exercises or refit. The cruisers included HMS Exeter and Ajax which, within a matter of months, would cover themselves with glory in the Battle of the River Plate where, with the cruiser Achilles, they intercepted the Nazi pocket battleship Graf Spee, battering and hounding her into Montevideo. She left that neutral port only to commit self-immolation by scuttling. Commanding the British warships was Commodore H.H. Harwood (later Sir Henry), who was well-known in Bermuda, where the ships were based.
On May 1 everybody in Bermuda, including tourists, were invited by Cable & Wireless Ltd., to send cabled greetings to any point in the British Empire without charge. It was the company’s way of inaugurating a new and cheaper Empire rate.
That year there were about 1,700 horses in the Colony, and more than 16,000 push-bikers (at that time about one bike for every two people in the Colony). An advertisement for the Bermuda Railway read in part: “YOU and your bicycle will be grateful for Bermuda’s jolly little Railway . . . When you want to explore the hidden by-ways, leave the tain with your trusty wheel and pedal away . . . .” Unhappily, this was easier said than done. Whoever designed the rolling stock for the Bermuda Railway ignored, or never knew, that in Bermuda at a time when one’s bike was practically an integral part of one’s self, the railway cars would have to transport the passengers’ bikes. So the machines had to be piled in with the morose engineer in a cramped compartment already cluttered up with machinery. The sorting-out of this pile of wheels at the various stops was a task to try the stoicism of a saint. As often as not, the conductor would have to disinter a bike from the bottom of the heap for some boob who had omitted to tell him where he was getting off. This led to damaged bikes, heated altercations between the suffering conductor and irate bike-owners, and rising blood pressures. And this could happen at any or all of the 44 stops along the 24 miles of track that composed the railway – and that on only a one-way trip. Certainly a bike that travelled often by train could not hope to attain a ripe age, but was ready for the scrapyard. Long before its time. We recall at least two occasions when bikes abandoned the train: one fell out of the engineer’s cab into Warwick Pond, and another got away when the train was crossing a high trestle. In each case the Bermuda Railway paid full compensation to the bike owner.
In that year a girl shopping at Trimingham’s could buy a Linton tweed suit for a mere £9, a Shetland bed jacket with fluffy chiffon lining for £2. 10s, a white Angora evening cape with rhinestone buttons for £2. 10s, and a damask tablecloth for 14s, with matching napkins for 18s a dozen, Gosling Bros. were selling Otard-Dupuy et Cie V.S.O.P. 30-year-old brandy for 18s a bottle; at H. A. & E. Smth’s you could buy a fine non-wilting gabardine dinner jacket for £5; Astwood-Dickinson’s were selling a water-proof Omega watch for £7; you could pick up exquisite china animals by Royal Doulton at A. S. Cooper & Sons for as little as 3s, and Wm. Bluck & Co. were advertising Spode chinaware bearing the famous hunting scenes by John Frederick Herring, Sr., at £2. 10s. for a dozen dinner plates. You could buy an all-cedar boat, undecked for £60, and a cabinet-maker would make you a cedar chest for £10 (cost of wood £3; craftsmanship £7); Otto Wurz was selling Cyma watches, water-and-shock-proof, for £6. 6s, and you could buy an electric stove from the Bermuda Electric Light Co., for £17. 10s. to £25. 10s.
In July at the Tennis Stadium a tennis match was played by George Lott, former U.S. Davis Cup star, and James E. Pearman, then commodore of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club , a pretty useful tennis player himself. It sounds like a mis-match, but note the handicap: George gave Jim five games in each set and started each game at love – 30, so that at no time was Lott farther from defeat than three points. The commodore actually won the first point in the match, which made the score 5 – 0 and 40-love in in favour of Pearman in the first set. However, Lott won 7-5, 7-5. Some say that as an added handicap Lott smoked three cigars at the same time throughout the match, but this we have been unable to confirm.
On August 4 the Governor, Lt. Gen. Sir Reginald Hildyard, bade farewell to Bermuda, and performed his last official act during the departure ceremonies at Albuoy’s Point. He presented the Silver Medal of the Royal Humane Society to Mrs Edna Watson in recognition of that lady’s gallant heroism in the Cavalier disaster early that year when she probably saved two lives, including that of the aircraft’s commander.
That month Bermuda got a glimpse into the tragic consequences of the Spanish Civil War when the 2,660-ton French steamer Ipanema called here for fuel on her way to Mexico. On board the ship (which normally carried only 65 passengers) were 1,00 Spanish refugees fleeing the asylum in Latin America. To transport them the ship had been fitted with stalls between decks, similar to those in cattle ships. In these cramped and grimy quarters the refugees, including 300 women, huddled miserably for the two-week passage across the Atlantic.
In September two American girls were hauled into court by the police for appearing in the streets of Hamilton in shorts too short. Since 1935 an edict issued by the then Chief of Police, putting ga ban on the wearing in public places of shorts which ended more than two inches above the knees, had furnished amusing copy for the press and caused embarrassment to offending tourists and the police offiecers who were expected to enforce the edict. However, Magistrate Martin Godet, no prude, dismissed the case on the grounds that he knew of no authority
by which the Chief of Police could regulate the dress of people in the streets.
That month came the outbreak of World War II, and two of the first vessels to be requisitioned for war service by the British Admiralty were the Furness luxury liners, Queen and Monarch of Bermuda. Said The Bermudian of October 1939: “Until the great upheaval in September . . . visitors continued to arrive in record-breaking numbers. The evenings saw the outdoor terraces of the hotels teeming with tourists savouring the tranquility which today seems almost an anachronism in the universal plague of strife and turmoil engulfing the nations.”
With the Furness ships gone to war, Pan American Airways increased flights to Bermuda to take care of the continuing but diminishing stream of tourists, and a Bermuda Government mission, composed of the Hon. Sir Stanley Spurling, the Hon. W.J.H. Trott (now Sir Howard) and the Hon. Kenneth F. Trimingham, flew to the U.S. and was successful in obtaining for the New York to Bermuda service with Nieuw Amsterdam, flagship of the Holland-America Line. A mild reminder that Bermuda was now belligerent was an advertisement in the morning paper that read: “ONE RECRUIT WANTED FOR REGULAR ARMY.” The Bermuda Government following the Mother Country, imposed currency restrictions and set up food control and other wartime boards.
Biggest local news in October was the birth at the Government Aquarium of two Galapagos tortoises, the first of the species ever born in captivity, The tiny toddlers, which weighed less than three ounces each, were the offspring of a 600-lb father and a 200-lb mother.
For many more months the war and its ramifications seemed very far from Bermuda. When Time magazine printed an imaginative piece of blether about Bermuda titled “Paradise at War”, one local organization busied itself with sending out to editors abroad a letter rebutting Time’s report assuring them that Bermuda was still an alluring haven of beauty and tranquility. Somehow, one of these circulars reached an official of the U.S. Birth Control League. Back came his courteous acknowldgement with regret that he could not publish it in the League’s organ since encouraging people to go to these fair islands would hardly advance the cause of the Birth Control League.
Passage of the U.S. Neutrality Act alarmed Bermuda which, in that strangely unreal period of the so-called “phoney” war, still hoped to hang on to some portion of its bread-and-butter industry – the tourist trade. The Act defined a safety zone south of th e30th parallel which would exclude Bermuda. However, the U.S. Senate passed an amendemtn to the Act which expanded the safety zone to include Bermuda, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, inhis proclamation after his signing of the Act, said specifically, “Ships of the United States are not forbidden to ply between American ports and Bermdua”. In December the United States Lines’ ship President Roosevelt entered the New York – Bermuda service.
That month a distinguished visitor to the Colony was the American Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Mr Joseph P. Kennedy, whose second son, 21 years later, would become President of the United States.
The year 1939 ended with the Colony little changed in the essence front the Bermuda of 1929. The really far-reaching mutations would come during the war years and their aftermath and, like most countries, the tiny islands would never be the same again.