Following the earlier precedent established by Major Tom Howell in offering his Military Memoirs for publication on this blog site, we are extremely pleased, and greatly impressed by the following efforts of Marshall ‘Nobby’ Clark (Cpl) “E” Company, 1DCLI Belize 1954-1955. The initial draft will be embellished with additional photos, as Nobby unpacks his old kitbag.
NB: Many photos from Nobby now received and will be posted to a separate Picasa Album here for easy viewing purposes. Too many to place within the body text of the Memoir. Watch this space.
Thank you Nobby, a very interesting read.
The Belize Memoirs of Marshall ‘Nobby’ Clark.
RECOLLECTIONS OF AIRPORT CAMP, BRITISH HONDURAS. MARCH 1954 TO FEBRUARY 1955.
When we arrived in Jamaica and still on board ship I was informed, that I was going to Airport Camp, British Honduras. I was given injections for yellow fever and a few other diseases, which I had never heard of. I had seen a newspaper advertisement in the early nineteen fifties “Join the British Army and go to nice exotic places”. One ad showed soldiers shooting alligators in B.H. In my innocence I believed this was going to be an interesting new experience for me. All these travel to exotic places courtesy of the British Government, its illustrious Army and the DCLI.
The changeover of regiments took place out to sea, a lighter came along side and we watched the Welsh coming on board with their brown skinned, colourful wives. There did not seem to be many Welshmen, certainly not a Company. We got onto the lighter with a quantity of ammunition and sinister looking green metal tubes said to contain tear gas. Was this landing going to be like some refined form of D Day? The Empire Clyde sailed away to its next stop, British Guiana, not without a lot of banter about “You’ll be sorry” etc. We chugged off to Belize which eventually appeared over the horizon, a tatty looking place with fading paintwork, timber buildings and it all looking a bit rickety with a rather funny smell. It looked like the opening scene of Porgy and Bess. We found later that the only buildings of any substance were the jail, the police station, the Governor’s residence, the post office and a school.The town became even scruffier on the outskirts with sinister looking vultures sitting on the fences. We drove through a swampy looking area and eventually arrived at Airport Camp, a distance of about eleven miles from the town. The timber huts, called BASHAS by those in the know, also looked pretty scruffy. The Welsh had not wasted any time or effort in making them look good. Being DCLI we soon had a guard mounted and an I.S. picquet in battle order, ready to take on any rioters or infiltrators.
The Guard was dressed in KD with sleeves rolled down, with long KD trousers and short puttees. The IS picquet wore khaki shirt, longs with puttees, steel helmet on the pack. The MMG platoon took over the Vickers, which were in sandbagged positions inside their hut, these were lined up on the airstrip. They might have had mortars too, but this was “S” business. The only incident that first night was when the sentry (a simple fellow from Newlyn) was terrified out of his wits when a dark faced popped around the sentry box, asking “You wanting a taxi and girls for tonight, man”? The first lesson we learnt was every sentence was followed by ‘‘maun”. We soon picked up the local dialect. As “E” Coy was a detachment, we had an HQ platoon, an MT Platoon and a MMG Platoon. The second lesson we learnt was that the insects wanted to eat our blood and pass on diseases into our bodies, which were all nice and fresh from the UK. The locals had developed a certain amount of immunity. We were supplied with Mepecrine daily, or was it Palludrine? This kept malaria at bay. The vicious little sandflies that managed to get through our mosquito nets passed on a disease all of their own called Leishmanaisis causing ulcers on the skin and eventually attacking the liver and spleen. We did not know this at the time! There were scorpions that liked to scamper around on the floor at night, they would crawl into berets or groundsheets that had fallen on the floor. Quite a few people had a surprise when the put their berets on morning. This was inside the huts, outside was a complete new group of creatures waiting for us. We always wore berets, the silliest headgear for a hot climate ever invented. I have seen British troops in Kenya and Malaya in a soft bush hat- like a green fisherman’s hat, we were issued with them towards the end of 1954.
Major Tanner, who was then the Detachment Commander, he rarely left his office apart from fighting ‘Tanners War’ which lasted for four hours and back to camp for tea, would never let us wear the, ‘unsoldierly’ might lead to indiscipline. The civilian was waiting to break out of the uniform at any time and must be kept under control.
During the day we wore bare tops (no concerns about skin cancer in those days). ‘‘Get a good sun tan! Makes good camouflage,’’ said Sgt. Major Fidocq, a tough looking Cornishman who looked as if he had been in a few rough situations. He also showed us some rough bayonet work, which was not in the instruction book. ‘‘Stick it in his bloody throat,” he would roar in a Cornish fisherman’s dialect. He also informed us that we were professional bloody murderers, a concept, which had not occurred to us. Was this a new career we had stumbled upon? I have never mentioned of being a professional murderer for 57 years, not even to my wife and it has required a lot of self control. I have been tempted. It never appeared on my CV. I have never been debriefed. We were given a lecture by the second in Command, Captain Case “ Marrying the local women” and how they would fade away in a cold climate and for us to contemplate the benefits of a celibate life, like monks, free from the fear of social diseases. We took no notice, we decided this was the Army’s way of controlling our lives completely. We just wanted to have fun and screw the local women. I don’t think any of us wanted to marry them except one of corporals who was suffering from a temporary derangement. One of our privates just went down town and got married in a church, came back to camp and did his C.B. and is still married to the girl fifty-six years later. We noted that the Welsh Regiment loaded about thirty of them onto the Empire Clyde. The Welsh seemed much more relaxed about a lot of things. In fact there was a rumour the Welsh had women living in the barrack rooms.
Our Company Commander was Major Fry, M.C. who I found out thirty years later had won his Military Cross in Normandy stalking a Tiger tank armed with a PIAT and eventually blowing it up. Major Fry would punctuate his speeches to us with phrases like, “What is the training cliche, I wonder?” and “ie. that is”, all
very elegant language which tended to confuse a bunch of soldiers who had never really understood what he was talking about. As far as 15 platoon (the platoon I was in) was concerned we went though a series of platoon commanders, Lieut. Tidmarsh, Lieut. St. George Clarke. And Lieut. Balance.
I never kept a diary, but names like Orange Walk, Stann Creek, El Cayo, Punta, Gorda, Corozal, Progresso, Pine Ridge, (where we did live field firing) and Benque Viejo seems to ring a bell. I am sure the platoon commanders must have kept diaries, so where are they now? I can remember carrying a few rounds of
303 ammunition in case of emergencies with animals, snakes etc. I can also remember marching along lonely roads with just a section on its own, where were the others? When we camped at night we have to keep a sharp eye out for giant hairy spiders, ticks, snakes, ants and vampire bats. This was on the job training, by trial and error- we did not know it was possible to get rabies from animals, (bats, dogs etc.) there was no instruction book on the subject. Sometimes we would march all day in the rain, set up camp in some village where the people lived (after a fashion) in the most primitive of conditions. Sometimes we would experience incredible tropical storms and we would shelter under the truck or inside one of the local huts.
INCIDENTS OR PERSONS THAT PERHAPS OTHERS WOULD LIKE TO COMMENT ON OR SUPPLY IMAGES.
1. The night we thought the Guatamalans had arrived.
2. The Galloping Ringworm Epidemic.
3. The Queens Birthday Parade, 1954. The official photographs with C.S.M. Fidocq and Lieut.Rose leading the parade.
4. David Balance’s little problem with the truck on the way to Pine Ridge.1954
5. How I nearly sank the Belize supply ship OXON? In Feb. 1955. (Cpl. Clark).
6. John Tanner’s short war which took place on the site of a Maya Temple, and
possibly invoking a curse being placed to upon us, (there is no known remedy).
7. The eight lonely soldiers and the letters from the eight thousand women.
8. Where are Cpl’s Aggazi, Bill Boyd, Barnhouse, Bill Oates, Bedford, Powell
Thomas,Worley, Fahey, Stan Pickering, and lots of others.
ATTITUDES OF THE LOCAL PEOPLE
One group who were possibly descended from the original pirates, timber cutters or land owners were very pro British. Another group were very anti British and usually followers of George Price and the Peoples United Party. I was sitting in a carrier at an intersection when two African Belizeans yelled “Russia, China get you, maun’’. The local newspaper was also very anti British claiming the warlike activities of the DCLI was alarming the local people.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BELIZE
English (and Scots) began using the Bay of Honduras as a base for raids on Spanish commerce. They became known as the Baymen. 1638 has become the official founding day. A Scottish Captain, Peter Wallace organised the building of a port town. It was difficult for the Creoles to pronounce Wallace, when they said it sounded like Belice. The Baymen found another way of annoying the King of Spain by stealing his mahogany. The Spanish attacked the settlement a few times, eventually burning it down, the conflict reached a conclusion with the Battle of St. George’s Caye (now a National Holiday): a victory for the home team. The Spanish gave up and eventually Belize became part of the British Empire, a Crown Colony with a Governor. Belize society is made up of mixes of the original British pirates, Africans, some free and some slaves, Maya Indians, Spanish, Asian Indians, Chinese, Garifuna (mix of shipwrecked African slaves, Carib and Arawak Indians), Mestizo (mixed Spanish and Amerindian descent or Creole (descendants of English loggers and slaves. Mennonites (an Anabaptist group, similar to the Amish) have moved into B.H. in 1958. They now produce most of the countries dairy products. At one time there were ex-Confederate soldiers running sugar and cotton plantations trying to recreate the “old South” further down south. The Americans were allowed special privileges and this did not go down well with local white landowners, also the local blacks refused to return to a form of slavery, which had been abolished in the British Empire in 1838. Eventually most of the Confederates returned home. During the 1930’s an anti- colonial movement staged rallies in Battlefield Park, discontents developed between impoverished blacks and the white merchants. This developed into boycotts and strikes, this ended with the leaders being thrown into jail. In the 1950’s the Peoples United Party became active, anti British demonstrations were held and eventually became more violent. Britain finally introduced universal suffrage and limited home rule within the colony.
Spain had never renounced its territorial claim to Belize, which was later appropriated by Mexico and Guatemala. In 1945 Guatamala included Belize as part of its territory. Britain stationed troops in the colony, mainly around the airport as this was the only way an attack could come from as the road from
Guatamala to British Honduras was just a pot holed track. In the time that the DCLI were at Airport Camp there was a British Honduras Home Guard unit armed with a 17 Pdr. Anti tank gun at El Cayo in the west and close to the track. By 1964 the border threat had been stabilised and the demand for independence was renewed. In 1964 the colony became fully self-governing and independent with a (Westminster style) parliamentary system. Guatemala recognised Belize as a sovereign nation in 1991 but still maintains its territorial claim. Belizean politics was long dominated by the founder of the P.U.P, George Price. His party
won nearly every election, consolidating political independence movement and promoting a new middle class. He finally stepped down in 1996 aged 75. Even with all these changes there was still a lot of unemployment, one third of the population lives now lives abroad. There are Belizean communities in New York and London thanks to the high standard of the Belize education system. There was a movement of refugees from Guatemala and Honduras into Belize due to the civil wars and the general poverty, which was affecting Guatemala and Honduras (which we then called Spanish Honduras). The Belize population doubled in size. In twenty years from 150,000 to 321,000 in 2008. Tourism and ecotourism became a viable source of revenue in the 1980’s. Tourism is Belize’s fastest growing economic sector, outdoing agriculture. Viewing Maya architecture, culture and the wild life of the region has become a major tourist attraction. American cruise – ships now disgorge their passengers at the city’s new Tourism Village at Haulover Creek, Belize City.
Guatemala1954, the democratically elected Guatemalan government of Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was toppled by U.S. – backed forces lead by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas who invaded from Honduras. Assigned by the Eisenhower administration, this military opposition was armed, trained and organised by the U.S. Central Intelligence. The directors of United Fruit Company had lobbied to convince the Truman and Eisenhower administrations that Colonel Arbenz intended to align Guatemala with the Soviet Bloc. Besides the disputed issue of Arbenz’s allegiance to Communism, the Arbenz government’s agrarian reform legislation and new Labor Code were threatening UFCO. United Fruit Company UFCO was the largest Guatemalan landowner and employer, and the Arbenz government’s land reform included the expropriation of 40% of UFCO land. U.S. officials had little proof to back their claims of a growing communist threat in Guatemala, however the relationship between the Eisenhower administration and UFCO demonstrated the influence of corporate interest on U.S. foreign policy. The overthrow of Arbenz, however, failed to benefit the Company. Its stock market value declined along with its profit margin. The Eisenhower administration proceeded with antitrust action against the company, which forced it to divest in 1958. In 1972, the company sold off the last of their Guatemalan holdings after over a decade of decline.
Marshall Clark, Cpl.