July 01, 2012
Roseau, Dominica (TDN) – “….Dominicans summoned their generosity and placed it at the feet of the French war refugees who had been battered by tempestuous swells, and haunted by the silhouettes of French Gendarmes…”
How many people know that Dominica was the main base for those French war refugees who escaped to join General Charles DeGaulle’s forces in the Caribbean during World War II?
Where has it been recorded that Dominicans opened their hearts and homes to rescue their French neighbors after the German defeat of France in 1940? After France’s defeat, Guadeloupe and Martinique languished under a brutal collaborationist regime sympathetic to the Nazis led by Admiral Robert. From inlets in Guadeloupe and Martinique where they were resupplied by the Nazi collaborationist regime, German U-Boats sallied forth to cause havoc up and down the Caribbean, torpedoing allied shipping – even attacking island fishermen.
Dr. Irving Andre’s Sanctuary: How Dominica Saved Guadeloupe and Martinique in World War Two (Pont Casse Press, 2012) reveals all this –hitherto unexamined – history of our island and its French neighbors. The book, a 350 page paperback, is a fast-paced and vivid rendition of that frightful period. Of necessity, and to provide context, the book explores Dominica’s historical relationship to its closest neighbors in a manner no other work has ever attempted.
While the work focuses on Dominica as a place of safety and nourishment to French citizens who resisted the German occupation of their homeland during the war, a detailed examination of the links between the neighboring French islands is also pursued.
We read of the incursion into Dominica by French revolutionaries in 1795, and the escape to freedom on Dominica of those French citizens who still groaned under the oppressive weight of slavery, while Dominicans were already free.
It must be noted here that the emancipation of enslaved Africans in the British West Indies commenced in 1834, while slavery was abolished in the neighboring French territories much later – in 1848.
Andre makes plain how Dominica’s society is partly peopled by French families that remained after France’s colonial occupation of the island was ended by Britain’s ascendancy in 1783; those who fled slavery; those who came after the Mount Pele volcanic eruption of 1902; or those who escaped during World War II – such as Germandois Francois – aka Frenchy - the most popular snow cone vendor in Roseau of the 1960s and 1970s.
Those French roots, as in family names such as Andre, Beaupierre, Bedneau, LeBlanc, Gregoire, Sorhaindo, Hurtault, and Deschamp etc., are still with us. Deceased Prime Minister Pierre Charles and Ambassador Crispin Gregoire’s family roots reside in those who fled the destruction of Mt. Pele in 1902.
Such is the extent of the French connection with Dominica, that Even Prime Minister Skerritt and his Minister of Education Petter St. Jean have – at one time or the other – been French citizens.
Sanctuary is frank in noting that Dominicans, in recent years, have seen a tarnishing of our noble brand as allies in the fight for freedom, where some of our citizens have misbehaved themselves on French territory.
Such misconduct has strained what was once a much closer relationship – something the late Prime Minister Rosie Douglas sought to rekindle before his untimely death. With a Preface by Gabriel J. Christian and a Special Preface by former Mayor of Portsmouth, Adenauer Douglas,Sanctuary reminds us that closer links between our people are only possible where our common heritage is fully known to a greater number on both sides of the divide.
Greater economic and political linkages have been elusive, though the success of musicians such as the late Jeff Joseph and Grammacks give much hope. The book stresses that we must all assume a duty to follow the noble lineage of our ancestors who made common cause in the battle to defeat fascism. It must always be that when we visit our neighbors, we must display that which accords with that tradition of friendship and solidarity exhibited in the past. Communicating such a positive past effort in freedom’s cause may well birth new mutually beneficial relations.
The book is girded by period photographs such as that of French Resistance leader Paul Valentino who rallied his people from his refuge in Dominica. We also get a glimpse of the famous psychiatrist, turned-revolutionary, Frantz Fanon. Fanon, the philosopher king of anti-colonial philosophy, was one who also sought refuge in Dominica during the war. Relatives of those who served in the French Resistance will be glad to read the transcripts of interviews of the French refugees done by Dominica’s police service.
The transcripts are reprinted, verbatim, and give color and authenticity to what is a brilliant piece of historical scholarship.
The song Twije yo, pou toute moune manje by Gordon Henderson’s Exile One in 1970s, spoke to the difficulties faced by Dominicans who slaughtered much of their livestock and frantically reaped their crops to feed the flood of French war refugees in World War Two.
Though the song was a good start, it hadplaced scant historical meat on the bare bones of limited memory we possess – as a nation – of our past.
Prior to Sanctuary, little had been done to explore the war and Dominica’s role in the liberation of Guadeloupe and Martinique. Dominica was the British ruled fortress to which they fled; our island was the safe haven in which they were housed, clothed and otherwise nourished.
May we always remember our eternal linkage with those who gallantly served freedom’s cause and our island’s proud place in that history. Absent that knowledge, we shall continue to muddle along, disrespecting ourselves, and accepting disrespect as our eternal lot.
Let us unceasingly exert the industry necessary to reclaim our heroic heritage. To be a successful nation, knowledge of our past lineage in victories won, or good deeds done, is a must. Dr. Andre’s splendid rescue of our history from the jaws of oblivion owes much to those who shared their knowledge with him; may we commend the fruit of his labours to all. In producing Sanctuary he honors all those who gave much, while making a worthy contribution to the historical record. May others be so encouraged to take up the pen, and foster a literary outpouring so that an entire nation can see a rebirth in renewed purpose.
Sanctuary will be available on-line and at bookstores by July 15, 2012 – the 20th Anniversary of Pont Casse Press.
In 1992, Pont Casse Press broke ground when it launched its first publication f In Search of Eden – Dominica the Travails of a Caribbean Mini State. A scholarly work on the island’s recent history, it was the product of what was then sixteen years of collaboration between Irving W. Andre and Gabriel J. Christian. In 1977, Andre – now a Canadian judge and Christian – now a US based attorney – had worked together to publish Vanguard, a newssheet promoting the island’s move to independence from Britain, as part of the Rosie Douglas’ Popular Independence Committees Roseau branch, Cadre # 1.