After her mother’s death, Sandra Taylor Rouja transcribed many of her mother’s stories of her early years coming of age in Bermuda. At the beginning of the Second World War, Loucil Taylor’s husband, Fred, was posted to St. David’s with the Home Guard so they moved their young family there. Here, edited for clarity, are Loucil’s heartfelt memories of life in old St. David’s.
Fred Taylor in the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps (BVRC) uniform in 1939.
When the Second World War broke out my husband Fred Taylor, who was a member of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corp (BVRC), was immediately stationed on St. David’s as a member of the Home Guard. One day he phoned to say he had found a two-bedroom house for 30 shillings a month and to start packing. Between spells of crying, I packed the furnishings of our three-bedroom home, Rock Garden, on Elliot St. West in Hamilton, and soon after the big army trucks moved everything we owned to Dolly’s Bay House in St. David’s. I had never laid eyes on the house until the day we arrived. When we pulled up to our new home with our little girl Dolores in tow, there it was, a very old Bermuda house that sat on the border of the east and west end of St David’s Island.
When I look back, some of my happiest memories were the years living on St. David’s. From the first day we arrived, people were kind and genuine and everyone looked out for one another. Indeed, on our first afternoon at the house, just before dusk, I heard a knock at the back door and there stood a lady wearing an apron and carrying a kerosine lamp. I invited her in. She said, “Mrs Taylor I hear you’re with child.” “Yes, I’m six months pregnant with my second child,” I replied. She said, “Well, I am Hazel Frith, your closest neighbour and I Iive in the valley with my husband and two sons. If you need anything or any help, please call us.” Holding the kerosene lamp out to me she said, “Here, in case of a hurricane I’ve brought you one of my lamps filled with kerosine oil. Now you feel you have a mother nearby.” She also told me how to take the boat to St. George’s and the dancing school there and Mrs Dempster’s programmes at the theatre in aid of the war effort. As Hazel left, she called back, “And don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything, we have chickens and a vegetable garden.” She supplied us with eggs and vegetables for the whole two years we lived at Dolly’s Bay.
Fred, Loucil, Delores and Sandra lived at Dolly’s Bay House, a two bedroom cottage they rented for 30 shillings per month.
Mr Gilbert Lamb was in the BVRC with my husband and on hearing my baby was born, gave us a nanny goat. His wife showed me how to milk the goat and taught me how to add four parts water to one part goat’s milk for the children to drink. Goat’s milk did not need sterilising and it was like mother’s milk to the children who clearly thrived on the formula. We bred the nanny and she had three kids. Mr Gilbert Lamb slaughtered two kids and we kept one.
The Friths were from the west end and the Lambs from the east end of St. David’s. Dolly’s Bay House sat on the border. Our other neighbours were the Murry Fox family. They lived on the hill on Chapel of Ease Road which led to the wharf where you could catch the ferry, the Daisy, to St. George’s. Mrs Fox made items from palmetto leaves, such as placemats, hats or fans. She also made beads for the ladies from pride of India seeds. The Foxes adopted Minnie Adams. The other Adams children were wards of the Welfare Society, and Mrs Woods (the former Miss Hayward), a widow, took several into her home. I started taking my eldest little girl to the Sunday School at Chapel of Ease where she met many children from St. David’s. Before long, my home was filled with lots of lovely children on Sunday nights and often a parent or two as well. We played games around the old knee-high fireplace in the large kitchen which I had furnished to be part living room. We had boisterous sing-alongs and played nursery rhymes and sang carols at Christmastime at the piano.
The people of St. David’s were gentle folk who spoke humbly and yet had great pride and dignity. They were very kind as well. Not a day went by when a St. David’s Islander didn’t come to my door with gifts from their garden or kitchen. The two elderly spinster Lightbourne sisters would arrive with blooms of their old Bermuda roses, telling me proudly how the rose bushes had been planted by their grandmother. Mr Lightbourne, who had married a very refined, cultured American lady and whose sister lived with them near the wharf in a lovely, wooded estate, would come to the door with his first crop of carnations. And Mr War Baby Fox’s wife brought her little daughter Janet to play with my little girl. (Janet is Mrs Tolaram today.)
Sometimes we walked across the Pitcher family property to the south side to Tommy Fox’s, the uncrowned king of St. David’s. He still had arrowroot growing, and outside lay all the barrels and wire sieves and pans used to dry out the white roots and grate them into a fine powder. The Fox family included Mrs Enid Fox who lived on a small island (no longer there). There was a stretch of water between the main island to the Fox’s island. Wooden planks were laid down over the swampy ground and we had to step very carefully, especially when the tide was up. This little island was given to the family by England for a piece of ambergrease Mr Fox found on his small beach. Tommy Fox gave us a pop bottle with shark oil, which we duly hung outside of the kitchen door and kept an eye on to know when a hurricane was coming. It never failed.
Sandra and older sister Delores atop a horse in St. David’s.
A nice family outing with the children was a trip to Cooper’s Island. At Ruth’s Bay we would just take any rowboat available and row over to the Island and spend the day. When we returned, we pulled the boat up and made sure the two oars were left inside. No one minded us taking their rowboat for an afternoon or the day, such was the harmony with our neighbours. Their generosity fed my soul, and it will never to be forgotten.
Do you know some of the older folks of St. David’s made their own coffins? They had their rightful place standing upright in the parlour. There was even one that I saw under a four-poster bed! Still, they were superstitious people and there were well-worn stories about Dolly’s Bay House being haunted by a jilted bride from a hundred years ago. It was said that is why the house was rented for so little, as most folk were too scared to live there. I was not afraid, and often at night, after the children were asleep, as I sat on the back porch overlooking the lush gardens, with tall cedars covered with blankets of pure white coralita, I felt if there was a ghost of this bride-to-be, she would be a happy ghost as I could not be happier than living in Dolly’s Bay House. Once, I’m sure I saw her face. It was one windy evening and the many branches of vines swayed in the night breeze. Alone with my thoughts and ever so happy in my life on St. David’s, I suddenly saw the image of a young girl’s face. As I watched in amazement her face became clearer and a bridal veil was swaying around her pretty face. She had the look of sadness and gladness. I stopped rocking the chair and stared right at her and felt the most loving warm feelings throughout me. I spoke to myself in the silence, “Oh, she is happy I am living here.”
When the US Base was built in 1942 the Islanders were very upset and came daily to pour out their feelings at my kitchen table. All their land, houses and islands were being taken and although the homes were rustic, with many of us still cooking in our open fireplaces and brick ovens, they were their homes often lived in for generations. The Islanders resented the Americans at first, and although the authorities promised to build them all new houses on the northern side with modern kitchens, they did not want that. Everyone knew food did not taste the same cooked on kerosene or electric stoves.
Bent over teacups in my kitchen, I listened for hours to my friends’ and neighbors’ worries about the US takeover. Eventually the new homes were completed. The US had built in fireplaces for them and modern kitchens and bathrooms and soon the Islanders were raving over their modern and comfortable new homes. Some took in US boarders and saw their first movie on the Army Base. The same elderly ladies, with cheeks aglow, smiling shyly would tell me how nice their male boarder was or how he invited them to the movies. Oh, how they wished they were twenty or more years younger! Those dear ladies shared all their inner feelings with me and I respected that and kept their secrets safely, deep inside. They have all gone to their heaven now, but the memories are alive: a knock on the door, standing there with a lamp, concerned because I was with child. One with red roses, another with carnations, and always gifts from the garden.