British Empire Article

by Winifred F. O'Mahony
Oliver Baldwin
Lord Baldwin
The Labour Government of the United Kingdom under Mr. Clement Attlee later to become Lord Attlee) came into being in 1945. During this ground breaking Labour administration, Lord Baldwin was appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Leeward Islands. The appointment was an unusual one since he was a Labour peer and prominent politician. Heretofore, Governors had always been chosen from men of long service and experience in the Colonial Service. However, Lord Baldwin was the son of a famous father, former Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and as such he was welcomed into the scattered Leeward Islands and took up his residence at Government House, Antigua.

Oliver Baldwin
Government House, Basseterre
At this time my husband and I were resident in nearby St. Kitts, where Dr. O'Mahony was Medical Officer in Administrative charge of the Health Departments of St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla. He was Senior Official Member of the Executive Council under an Administrator appointed by the Colonial Office. The official Residence of the Administrator was the beautiful old Government House just outside the town of Basseterre.

The war was over but frustrations born of the war years were everywhere apparent. Food shortages were gradually improving, but the ever-increasing cost of living was making its impact. War had provided contacts with men of other countries bringing fresh ideas and to some extent introductions to new ways of living. The tradition of stagnation was broken and new democratic forces were gradually emerging. For a time, however, all went well in the Islands and Lord Baldwin rarely left Antigua. Amongst other activities he concerned himself in an endeavour to solve the age-old water shortage in Antigua. The rainfall of the Island was particularly low and from time immemorial there had been a chronic shortage of this most necessary commodity. Ultimately, and in desperation, H.E. brought in a water-diviner, but alas, his peregrinations with a divining-rod only showed water under the floors of Government House. It was with not a little merriment that the Governor told Dr. O'Mahony of this during one of his visits.

Reminiscences of the Leeward Islands
Government House, Antigua
The Federal Chief Medical Officer was stationed in St. John's, Antigua and this necessitated periodic visits being made by Dr. O'Mahony for consultations. Lord Baldwin had soon discovered my husband's great love of classical music and this became the common denominator for the many friendly evenings which they spent together at Government House.

Soon, however, rumours spread around the Islands of the Governor's challenging, and indeed indiscreet, attacks on local Government policies, personnel, etc., culminating in a particularly outspoken speech at the opening of Council. This ceremony is, in effect, equivalent to the Opening of Parliament in England. We nervously awaited repercussions.

Meanwhile in St. Kitts, labour unrest became more evident and wages increases on the sugar-estates were constantly demanded with consequent strikes taking place. These were followed by cane fires, but since the Planters were well insured not much harm was done to the economy of the Island. But fires increased. Mongoose were caught, soaked in petrol, and released in the cane-fields causing immense conflagrations. One particularly bad night Government House was encircled by raging fires, and a fire engine was stationed in the grounds of the nearby General Hospital which was thought to be threatened. It was then that Lord Baldwin recalled the Administrator to Antigua for conference, and Dr. O'Mahony automatically became Acting Administrator. He took the necessary Oaths of Office and we took up residence at Government House. Tempers cooled fairly soon, Dr. O'Mahony was well liked and trusted by the locals; they appreciated his wisdom, caution and kindliness, as well as his wide knowledge of local affairs. Time passed, and another Administrator was appointed by the Colonial Office, but after a short time tempers flared again amongst the locals and the Administrator became their principal target of venom. His car was stoned and held up on various occasions and sometimes we would have to change cars in order to get him safely back to Government House without a 'Police incident'. Government Policy was 'Peace at any cost'. If the unhappy man went abroad on foot there would be small groups of children quickly at his heels chanting their insulting doggerel rhymes. Torchlight processions then came into being, - frightening spectacles, with hundreds of natives carrying primitive lighted torches and silently, by night, they would march on Government House and congregate at the big gates beyond the sentry-box.

Oliver Baldwin
Basseterre, 1940s
It was during this period that a white man, employed by the Public Works Department, was murdered. His slashed body was found beside his car whilst he had been en route to make a routine check on the Reservoirs. Government now found it necessary to take emergency measures. The local Defence Force were called up, and guards were placed at strategic places, such as Government House, Cable & Wireless Station, Reservoirs, etc. Lists of white people and their families who might be subjects of attack were compiled in readiness for evacuation to Government House. A warship lay some miles off-shore and out of sight, whilst Government officials were in constant conference in a frantic effort to calm the mass hatred which was directed against the Government, and now against Europeans in particular.

Again my husband took over the government of the Island, and Lord Baldwin came down and stayed a few days with us. He was completely fearless, and insisted on walking through the streets of Basseterre, which was seething in anger and revolt. His only protection was my husband's police orderly walking 10 paces in the rear. All went well, and he was not molested.

Oliver Baldwin
Lord Baldwin's Grave, Antigua
As a guest, Lord Baldwin was charming and witty, and he appeared to be completely unperturbed by the unhappy state of the Island. I recall his prowess at making dry martinis. Filling the glasses almost to the brim with gin he muttered in my ear, "You know, m'dear, the Noilly Prat merely passes it by!"

Before leaving St. Kitts, Lord Baldwin asked my husband if he would consider abandoning his medical career in favour of Administration. But my husband had little taste for politics (particularly Lord Baldwin's!.) and greater financial reward would not deter him from his determination to take his Public Health degree and so expand his activities in medicine. The following year he obtained a Mastership in Public Health at Harvard University, and on his return to the West Indies was appointed Director of Medical Services in Barbados.

The last we saw of Lord Baldwin was at a Reception at Government House, Barbados. He was then en route for England and retirement. He died in 1958 and had his ashes scattered back on his beloved Antigua.

British Colony Map
1971 Map of Leeward Islands
Colony Profiles
Leeward Islands
Antigua
St Kitts
Montserrat
Administrators of Leeward Islands
1671 - 1970


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