By Arlene Munro
December 31, 2000
DURING the Second World War, British Guiana, like other West Indian colonies made a contribution to the war effort. It is common knowledge that her men formed part of the South Caribbean forces. In addition, Guianese volunteered to serve overseas with the British Navy, Royal Air Force, and the Women's Corps. British Guiana also made a financial contribution to the war effort which is commendable when the economic plight of her people is taken into consideration. Moreover, she agreed to shelter some Jewish refugees within her borders. This is a preliminary investigation of British Guiana's financial contribution to the Second World War.
On September 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. The following day the Colonial Secretary of British Guiana, Mr. G.D. Owen, moved a motion of loyalty to the British monarchy in the Legislative Council. The motion stated:
That the Legislative Council of British Guiana on behalf of the inhabitants of the colony beg leave to lay before Your Majesty on the outbreak of the war with Germany an expression of our humble duty to your Majesty and our unfailing loyalty to the throne.
The motion was seconded by Mr. E.G. Woolford and was to be transmitted to the Secretary of the Colonies. Following this declaration, other pledges of loyalty were made by the British Guiana Sick nurses and Dispensers' Association. A resolution to this effect was passed at a meeting of the Association held on 31 May, 1940. Other resolutions of loyalty were passed by the employers and employees of the Town Hall and the British Guiana Teachers' Association.
British Guiana's financial contribution to the war effort started not long after the war commenced. Her contribution is remarkable when the economic conditions are taken into consideration. During the early years of the Second World War, there were certain hardships in the British Caribbean such as food shortages, increased cost of living and black-marketing. The factors responsible for these conditions were the disruption of shipping due to the Second World War, the adoption of the Imperial war policy that imports be reduced, and the Caribbean's long dependence on food imports which retarded local food production.
British Guiana experienced steep rises in the cost of living which caused severe hardship. Between 1938 and 1944, the cost of food rose by 54 per cent in Georgetown, and 68 per cent on the sugar estates in the rural areas. Moreover, the cost of living index had moved from 100 in 1938 to 161 in 1945 in the city, while in the rural areas, it rose from 100 in 1938 to 190 in 1945. Imported goods and food were scarce, rationed and expensive due to hoarding practices of shopkeepers. Despite these conditions, Guianese made a valiant attempt to contribute to the war effort.
Mr. Reginald G. Humphrey, merchant and proprietor of Humphrey Jewellery and Hairdressing establishment, was the first to donate his collection of rare gold coins and a gold snuffbox to the British Red Cross Mansion House Fund. He requested that the 55 coins and snuffbox be valued at Christies in London and sold for the benefit of the Fund. The collection included coins of South American Republics, French, Spanish and American coins and British coins, including a Medallion which was struck to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
In 1939, Mr. Boodhoo, rice farmer of Windsor Forest, donated 9,000 lbs of rice to the United Kingdom. The rich was sent to H.M. Forces overseas and to destitute persons in London, the Army, the Red Cross and Moorfield Hospital, London between 1939 and 1941.
The Leprosy hospital remitted $187 to the Mobile Canteen Fund in 1940. In 1941, the Public Servants also contributed $2,070 for a canteen, but this was later used to "furnish huts on anti-aircraft sites at Pembroke dock and Swansea." The Young Men's Christian Association also sent five mobile canteens to the United Kingdom through a Canteen Fund organised by Mrs. W.S. Jones. These canteens were worth $8,468.06.
During 1942, the Guianese people continued to support the war effort by donating generously to various funds:
British Red Cross œ7,453
Bomber Fund œ2,500
W.I.C. War Services Fund œ 100
St. George's Sailor's Fund œ 263
Y.M.C.A. Mobile Canteen Fund œ1,097
St. Dunstan's for the Blind œ1,546
R.G. Humphrey also donated œ250 for the purchase of a mobile canteen while children from the elementary schools offered œ59 to the Overseas Tobacco Fund.
Other funds to which Guianese contributed were the Bomber Fund, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, the Czechoslovak Red Cross Fund, the British Guiana Servicemen's Leave Fund, the Chinese Red Cross Fund, the Help the Children Fund, the King George's Fund for Sailors, and the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund.
The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund received $12,893 from British Guiana. The Czechoslovak Red Cross Fund which was started by Prokop and Krajca of the Bata Shoe Company received $1,680. The British Guiana Servicemen's Leave Fund was sponsored by A.C. Dowd, Managing Director of William Fogarty Ltd., and was used to support Guianese servicemen on leave.
The Help the Children Fund was started in 1941 by the Director of Education who encouraged children to send used postage stamps to the Fund. These stamps were forwarded to Britain where they were resold and the proceeds were used to provide for children in the United Kingdom who were orphaned during the war. From 1941 to 1943 72,000 stamps were send to Blackpool.
The Overseas League Tobacco Fund realised $1,165 between 1942 and 1945. The British Guiana Teachers' Association and the Education Department both collected money for this fund.
The King George's Fund for Sailors was started in 1940 to provide for the war needs of seamen of the Royal and Merchant navies and fishing fleets. By 1944, $6,385.02 had been raised. In 1945, an additional $2,179 was collected. The Secretary of this fund was Mrs. J. Ogilvie.
In October 1944, the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund was started and this received a total of $932 by July 1945. This fund was sponsored by Mrs. Churchill. The Bomber Fund collected $347,483 from June 1940 to November 1943. This money was used to purchase bomber and fighter aircraft.
The British Guiana Red Cross and War Services Appeal Committee was appointed in September 1939 by Sir John Waddington and realised the sum of $224,913 by 1945.
British Guiana also gave financial assistance to the war effort in other ways. The Secretary of State sent a circular letter to the colonies advising that greater investment in the Post office Savings Bank be practiced. The limit of $1,000 was to be abolished.
Another form of financial assistance that was considered in 1941 was the issue of Savings Certificates in accordance with a scheme proposed by the Secretary of State. The monies accruing from this venture would be invested in the war effort. This recommendation was made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. However, after consulting the Colonial Treasurer, the Executive Council made a decision, not to take any action to implement the scheme at this time.19
Financial donations to the war effort formed just a small proportion of British Guiana's general contribution. These donations were significant because they were raised at a time when Guianese were experiencing hardship due to black-marketing, food shortage and an increased cost of living.
The Guianese people rose to the challenge of assisting the Allied Forces, the British Red Cross Fund, and several other needy institutions during the war years. Their remittances were indicative of their interest in the welfare of the other members of the British Empire and in the triumph of the Allied Forces over Hitler's armies.