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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK
People in story: 
Nelle Joan Carrington
Location of story: 
Trinidad, West Indies
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4167731
Contributed on: 
08 June 2005

This was a letter submitted to the People's War site by a volunteer from CSV London on behalf of Nelle Joan Carrington and has been added to the site with her permission. Nelle Joan Carrington understands the site's terms and conditions.

Sunday May 15th 1994

Dear David,

Trinidad, as you know, is the width and the length of the Atlantic Ocean away from Europe. But what we called "the war in Europe" brought enemy activity from all over the world. Trinidad was then a British colony and loyal to the British Crown, so England's war was also our war.

We were not bombed, we were short of some foods but had plenty of others. We had few clothes in the shops. When I went to New York, right after the War in November, I had only a pair of sandals to wear- but I bought shoes in New York!

Great Britain had not made plans for a war, but the Germans had for a long time. They had spies positioned all over the world to keep them well informed from early on. Trinidad, which was always a mixture of all races of people, was full of spies. I knew one or two at our Country Club and around the place, before they were apprehended and removed!

The Germans had filtered submarines throughout the south Atlantic as well as the north. They were our prinicpal anxiety. The Island was full of servicemen. We had a Fleet Air Arm Station (the flying branch of the Navy) teaching young men to be Navigators. You may know that the smaller aircraft were catapulted off the warships. Attatched to this station was a lovely small vessel, H.M.S "Corsair", used at sea as a practice target. I have forgotten the name of the type of aircraft at that station but I could always recognise their particular drone overhead.

Then there was another station, H.M.S "Benbow", for the officers and crews of a large fleet of Motor Torpedo Boats ("M.T.Bs"). I danced with many of those officers! The Americans had a complex building of offices for their administration. They took over patrollong the seas around the island seeking out submarines. They also had small "look-out" stations on the coasts and points of Trinidad. They also had an enormous permanant camp for the aircraft that went on patrol and all sorts of personnel.

At one of our popular bathing bays, a U.S Naval Base was set up which was unseen to us but was very large. After the war they stayed on and used it to launch the early trial of unmanned satellites. We were allowed access to the beach on a separate path (the Americans swam on the other side) and, in return for using our holiday area, they built us a beautiful club house on the hill. We were permitted to use it all throughout the war.

At first I was not married and a friend and I took a Red Cross First Aid Course, then a Nursing Course. We were very keen to get high marks. My first Volunteer job was to visit a huge temporarily arranged ward of English Sailors and cheer them up. Their ship had been sunk off Africa and they had saved one lifeboat full of men whilst the others held on outside or were tied on. They were attacked by dogfish (a kind of shark) and could only splash and kick to protect themselves. They managed to pick up a floating old raft and towed that so everybody alive had a rest of sorts. The sun burned down on them and by the time they ended up in Trinidad they only had a little rain water left. If you look at an Atlas you can see how many, many miles those men travelled and survived. They were amongst hundreds of other such cases.

Wally had his own small office in Port of Spain near the harbour, and Trinidad Leasehold Limited set him up with staff. He was responsible for arranging the collection of shipping that sailed out of Trinidad in convoy to protect eachother. He also controlled the limited fuel oil supplies that had to be rationed out, considering the distance the ship had to travel before its next destination. No sooner had the convoy gone out, without fail one or two vessels were sunk and back came the survivors. Wally saw these men into specially set aside buildings to house them. Some poor men came back three and four times.

My next job was to serve a hot meal to the Maltese crew of the sunk ship. They could not speak English but were so polite and grateful. Then I had a severe bout of malaria and went to bed for weeks!

I saw a ship sink. I was on holiday with friends on the north coast. The house we were in looked across the sea from a cliff. My friend and I went swimming. We were quite alone; long white sands and a clear blue sea. We could look across to the island of Tobago. It looked so near and beautiful. We went back to the house to dress, leaving a lone cargo ship on the horizon, coming between Tobago and us. Sometimes, they did this and joined the convoy at the end of the Channel.

After my shower I went to hang the wet bathing suits in the verandah and the same ship, as I was watching, had its bow thrown up high above the sea and then its stern came up the same way at the opposite end. It had broken in half in the middle. Those in the engine room would have been killed instantly. Later on in the evening, we saw the survivors (they were Greek) waiting in the school room for a bus and the big life boat was tied to the little wooden jetty. Whilst Helen (my friend) and I had been swimming we were sharing the clear blue sea with a German submarine lose by.

In Port of Spain there was also an enormous office block housing the censorship staff who were mostly young women and spoke several languages.

Then we got married and after that Wally did more volunteer work for the Red Cross and the other bodies and worked for wartime charities. Wally was out all day and most nights. There was also a Royal Air Force flying boat station and the Catelinas used to fly in from South America and all over the World.

Being British many of our young men went away and joined up, both white and black. They were so far away and we never saw them for the duration of the war.

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