Home Guard Recognised
TThe Cayman Islands Division of the Jamaica Home Guard delivered sterling service during Cayman Islands' World War II involvement. The men provided round-the-clock defence from 1942-45, aimed at protecting vessels from enemy shipping, notably from increasing German U-boat activity in the Caribbean.
Their actions also augmented the efforts of a small US Navy Base on the Cayman Islands, once it was well established in George Town, behind the present Public Library.
As outlined in Founded Upon the Seas, Cayman's history book, there were radio reports nearly every day of merchant vessels being sunk close to the Cayman Islands. What brought it home for Cayman was the torpedo-sinking of the United Fruit Company steamer Camayagua within sight of the Cayman Islands. The Cayman ship Cimboco, headed by Capt. Eugene Thompson, went to the rescue despite the danger, bringing in survivors, some of whom were badly burnt. Sadly, two died in George Town Hospital later.
For the Home Guard, men were recruited from among those living on the Islands who were in "reserved" occupations and those who were considered either too young or too old for active overseas service. Nearly 1,000 Caymanian men or two-thirds of the adult population were already away in active service during the war.
Though officially under the Jamaica Home Guard, the local division was under direct orders of the US Base Commander and locally captained by Mr Joseph Roddy Watler (who was also Chief of Police for 32 years). The men, who were on a monthly salary, wore khaki uniforms and received thorough training for a month, including in hand-to-hand combat and the use of the rifles they each received.
Their task was to maintain coastal lookouts from posts set up at high points around the islands. The most notable was the wood platform 60 feet up, atop a silk cotton tree beside Fort George in George Town. The others included Palmetto Point in Barkers, West Bay; North West Point, West Bay; Pedro Bluff in Savannah, Gorling Bluff in East End, in North Side and on Cayman Brac.
The posts were equipped with bunks, powerful binoculars and a telephone for reporting to the central office in George Town.
The men took their tasks seriously and provided a diligent service to these Islands, reporting anything they saw that seemed suspicious. Sightings included floating mines and abandoned lifeboats.
(For more information, check out the history book, Founded Upon the Seas: A History of the Cayman Islands and Their People.)
For further information contact: Bina Mani