Sie sind auf Seite 1von 14

Rationale

The topic of US involvement in St. Lucia during World War 2 is an ideal topic for me to
research for my History School Based Assessment (SBA), for the following reasons. Firstly, in
many history text books which deal with US involvement in World War 2, US involvement in St.
Lucia especially in Vieux Fort is a topic where limited information is available. Therefore,
investigating this topic will allow me to gather more information about the impact the
construction of a US base had on Vieux Fort.
Not only will this investigation help to shed light on the development of present day
Vieux Fort, but it will also broaden my knowledge about and help me develop a better
appreciation of my local history.

Introduction

World War 2 (1939-1945) was more devastating than the previous World war. It all began
in the early part of 1939 when German dictator Adolf Hitler had become determined to invade
and occupy Poland. Poland in return had the assistance of Britain and France to help to fight
down the Germans. The two factions formed the Axis powers including Germany, Italy, Hungary
and Bulgaria versus the Allies including the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Belgium
and China.
By 1940 France fell under German control and the United States became concerned about
protecting her Panama Canal, a prized possession. This was especially so as France had colonies
in the Caribbean and it was possible now for the Germans to have access to them. Therefore the
United States Secretary of State, Cordell Hull signed an agreement with Britain for the transfer
of approximant fifty (50) old destroyer navy warships in exchange for the right to build military
bases on seven islands in the Caribbean colonies. These British colonies included Jamaica,
Trinidad, St. Lucia and Antigua amongst others.
St. Lucia, a 238 square mile Caribbean island as seen in Figure 1 below, lies between
Martinique in the north and St Vincent in the south, was the site for the construction of two US
bases; one called Beane Field Air Base in Vieux Fort and the other Reduit Base in Gros Islet.

Figure1. Map showing the location of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean


2

The construction of the Beane Field Air Base which was located in Vieux Fort, (Figure 2
below) the southernmost part of St. Lucia began in early 1941.

Figure 2: Map of St. Lucia depicting Vieux Fort in the south


The Beane Field Air Base in Vieux Fort was established primarily for containing enemy
attacks in Martinique, and for the protection of the prized Panama Canal. This location was ideal
because Vieux Fort was flat and had lots of land available for the construction of the air base.
The presence of this base had implications for the physical environment, social life and the
economy of Vieux Fort at a time when the island of St. Lucia was still feeling the negative
effects of the great depression of the 1930s. It is this base Beane Field Air Base and its impacts
in Vieux Fort, which will be examined in this SBA.

The construction of the Beane Field Air Base had both negative and positive social,
economic and environmental effects on Vieux Fort and its residents. After the agreement between
the United States and Britain was finalized, American surveyors were sent to Vieux Fort to
acquire the ideal locale for the construction of the air base.
Social Effects
Change is inevitable and when it occurs in any society it impacts the livelihood of the
people living there, both positively and negatively. The same can be said for Vieux Fortians at
the time of the construction of the US Air Base as its military presence had its impacts on the
local community.
Vieux Fort, before the influence of the Americans had been a town with very little
infrastructure or development and poor living conditions. In essence, according to Thomas
Brentley, Vieux Fort at the time lacked anyi semblance of modern civilization. In conjunction
with the establishment of base the Americans undertook a number of other major projects
including the construction of a fully furnished, expensive and ultra- modern hospital to the south
east of Augier, now known as St. Judes Highway. Another major project was the construction of
a deep water habour to accommodate large ships which could then bring in machinery and other
building equipment. In addition, infrastructure was put in place to secure water, electricity and
fuel supplies and a sewage system was built. These projects were of benefit to Vieux Fortians
even after the deactivation of the base as it contributed significantly to Vieux Fort becoming a
better developed and self-sufficient town.

In addition, Vieux Fortians gained exposure to a new culture and more advanced society.
New kinds of music, varieties of food and drinks such as beers and more advanced machinery
were introduced to Vieux Fortians.
Despite its contribution, the construction of the US Air Base resulted in some devastating
social effects, one of which is major overcrowding in Vieux Fort. According to Jolien Harmsen,
shortlyii before the war, Vieux Fort had housed no more than 2,000 people at most. By mid1942 this number had dramatically increased to about 8,000 people occupying a total of 296
houses. This meant that an average of 27 persons had to dwell in one house. One can only
imagine the kinds of issues and conflicts that Vieux Fortians had to endure and deal with daily
due to this congestion. With reference to Jolien Harmsen, people iii had to sleep in relays: the
first set from, say, 11 pm until 3 am and then being woken by the next set, which slept from 3am
until 7 am. People slept in boats, in outhouses, kitchens or under balconies. Evidently, sleeping
for Vieux Fortians was something that was left to be desired. In addition to poor sleeping
conditions and patterns, garbage disposal became a menace to the community. In no time Vieux
Fort had turned into a town littered with debris resulting in very unhygienic conditions.
Consequently tuberculosis spread rapidly due to the jam-packed conditions under which persons
lived. Typhoid epidemics escalated because the area where the tanks which stored the towns
chlorinated water, was being used as the towns public bush latrine: an open-pit toilet. In 1942,
43 cases of tuberculosis were found and by 1943 this number had almost tripled. This clearly
shows how rampant tuberculosis had become.
Furthermore, soaring levels of prostitution were documented due to the presence of
military troops and immigrant workers looking to have some fun after long working hours. In a
presentation delivered by Dr. Gregor Williams, a local historian on June 5 2013, he indicated that
5

the women of Vieux Fort had little or no objections in marketing their bodies to the troops and
immigrants as they began wearing all sorts of slacks and revealing articles of clothing.
Certainly ivit is true that there were more bars and nightclubs and, for a while people had more
money to spend than ever before. Vieux Fort was, at the time, the center of life in St.Luica,
wrote Jolien Harmsen. Venereal diseases and STDs such as HIV and Aids upsurged in Vieux
Fort. According to Harmsen, Ellis and Devaux, Venerealv diseases were the rule rather than the
exception among the natives. This continues to show how widespread prostitution was as it
became almost necessary, due to high poverty levels since at the time Vieux Fort did not have the
best economy compared to the north of the island. On 3 April 1943 as shown in Figure 3 below,
out of the 62 women from the village of Beausejour who had been examined, almost 70% tested
positive for syphilis whereas 1 or 2% were infected with chanchroid all of whom were from
Vieux Fort.

Figure 3: Chart Showing Cases of Reported STDs From Women in Vieux Fort
More than 50% of the women had syphilis and this meant that something drastic had to happen
to address the problem. To help curb the spread of venereal diseases, a clinic for prostitutes was
opened and all persons found carrying such diseases were treated immediately. Extensive
education programs started among the troops and overnight passes were issued only to
individuals with good conduct.
6

Finally, criminal activities were on the rise in Vieux Fort, with only eight local policemen to keep
control over an ever-increasing boisterous population. Criminals saw this as an advantage to
create mischief among Vieux Fortians, American troops and immigrants as the cost of living in
Vieux Fort had increased remarkably at the time. An article in the Voice newspaper of July 1943
reported incidences of larceny of tyres and gasoline from the United States bases

and the

disappearance of cigarettes in bulk showed that robbery was on the increase.

Economic Effects
Untilvi the advent of the Americans, the labour market was such that the sugar companies did not
have to worry about finding enough labourers despite paying starvation wages . This quote
further shows how the economy of Vieux Fort had dwindled from the effects of the Great
Depression of the 1930s. Upon construction of the Beane Field Air Base Vieux Fortians
experienced an escalation in their once collapsed economy. The base led to increased
employment among Vieux Fortians both unemployed and those who had worked tirelessly in the
sugar factories. Therefore, earning higher wages led to better standards of living for Vieux
Fortians. Malnutrition and other diet related diseases which previously plagued the community
had become things of the past.
Although the base led to increased employment among Vieux Fortians, this did not last
for very long. As seen in Figure 4 below, from the period 1941 to 1946 (as indicated by the
numbers 1-6 on the chart), the employment rate of Vieux Fortians on the US base fluctuated.

Figure 4 Chart Showing Employment Rate From 1941-1946 on the US Base

A young reporter for The Voice, Clendon Mason, now deceased, witnessed the changes
before his eyes. In a report made he expressed that the town of Vieux Fort had been a town of
lifelessvii sandy streets lined on either side with a parade of closed and battered houses standing at
drooping attentionthe capital of yesterday, the busy town of today and the metropolis of
tomorrow is now seething with activity In Masons view, the town of Vieux Fort, due to the
presence of the US Air Base had been delivered from years of poverty following the great
depression, and rose above the rubble to become a town full of life and excitement, thus building
a better and more fulfilling economy.
In spite of the many economic benefits that the establishment of the Beane Field Air Base
brought to Vieux Fort, Vieux Fortians were subject to a great amount of unrest. In a report from
The Voice newspaper entitled Local Workmen Object to Influx dated 2 May 1941, St.
Luciansviii at a time complained about being deliberately overlooked in securing employment on
the base in favour of immigrants from Barbados and other islands. This was due to the fact that
most Vieux Fortian workmen were not skilled to operate the types of heavy machinery that the

Americans brought in. Accordingly, Vieux Fortians had to be trained for some time on how to
use the equipment.
Also, following end of World War 2 and the deactivation of the Beane Field Air Base in
1949 the economy of Vieux Fort gave way and it ceased to be the centre of attention. With no
sugar industry to rely on to provide employment and no more work on the base, Vieux Fortians
had to rely on former activities such as fishing, other sea- related activities, charcoal making, and
gardening on family lands in order to survive or small shop-keeping. To further explain how bad
the economy had become, thousands of persons left Vieux Fort either to the north of the island or
to another West Indian island in search of a better life. Inevitably, ixthe town slumped back into a
state of desolation noted Harmsen, Ellis and Devaux.

Environmental Effects
The first thing the Americans did was to clear and drain the mangrove swamps at Pointe
Sable and Port de Savannes in order to access sufficient land for the construction of the base.
The clearing of the swamps and uprooting of hundreds of coconut trees not only destroyed the
natural habitat of many wild life and aquatic life but it changed the natural landscape of the
community. For centuries these swamps had been the source of malarial infections. Thus, due to
the drainage of the swamps in April of 1941 a reduction in the incidence of malaria was
immediately noticed.
The Americans also built concrete roads from the town along Anse Sable, and New Dock
Road. These new and improved roads replaced the small dirt pathways that Vieux Fortians were

familiar with. The American presence also made other inroads on the natural landscape of Vieux
Fort.
It is true that the drainage of the mangrove swamps led to a notified decrease in malarial
infections but the drainage of the swamps and the cutting down of the many coconut trees
negatively impacted the natural environment of Vieux Fort. The natural habitat and ecosystems
of mangrove fishes, other marine life and birds were destroyed, therefore killing these animals or
having them to permanently migrate.

Conclusion
The construction of a US air base did in fact have its implications on the physical
environment, social life and the economy of Vieux Fort. Vieux Forts social and local economy
received a boost following its depreciated state in 1941. But shortly afterwards the community
slipped back to its previous state with economic and social upheaval as many Vieux Fortians
encountered a series of problems such as prostitution, spread of venereal diseases and criminal
activities.

10

Appendix

11

Bibliography

Harmsen, J., Ellis, G., Devaux, R. (2012) A History of St.Luica. Lighthouse Road Press
Harmsen, J. (1999) Sugar, Slavery and Settlement. Saint Lucia National Trust
Local Workmen Object to Influx. The Voice Newspaper, 2 May 1941
Map of the Caribbean. Retrieved August 20, 2013 form: http://proudparadise.com/maps.html
Map of St. Lucia. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from:http.:/lonelyplanet.com/maps/caribbean/saintlucia/

12

End notes

13

Quote extracted from text; A History of St. Lucia by Jolien Harmsen, Guy Ellis and Robert Devaux
page 273
ii
Quote extracted from text; Sugar, Slavery and Settlement by Jolien Harmsen page 85
iii
Quote extracted from text; Sugar, Slavery and Settlement by Jolien Harmsen page 85
iv
Quote extracted from text; Sugar, Slavery and Settlement by Jolien Harmsen page 85
v
Quote extracted from text; A History of St. Lucia by Jolien Harmsen, Guy Ellis and Robert Devaux
page 281
vi
Quote extracted from text; Sugar, Slavery and Settlement by Jolien Harmsen page 83 to 84
vii
Quote extracted from text; A History of St. Lucia by Jolien Harmsen, Guy Ellis and Robert Devaux
page 279
viii
Report taken from; The Voice newspaper issued on 2 May 1941
ix
Quote extracted from text; A History of St. Lucia by Jolien Harmsen, Guy Ellis and Robert Devaux
page 285