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Nov 4, 2003

WWII ex-servicemen face bleak Veterans Day

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They gave the best years of their lives–and sometimes life itself–to defeat the Axis powers in World War Two. Today, as Belizean ex-servicemen prepare to observe Veterans Week, I found that neglect is the most common malady of many former soldiers.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

In 1941 and 1942 over a thousand Belizean men and women departed from the shores of British Honduras to Europe to fight for the Allied powers in World War Two.

Bernard Adolphus, President, Belize Ex-Services League

“As a matter of fact there was three groupings that were sent from this country. Those are the munitions workers, that’s the factory workers, the forestry unit, and the military. So three different groups left this country at very young ages when World War Two started and the Crown asked for help from the Caribbean. So that was Belize’s contribution. We believe it could have been more than that, because we are still doing research.”

Some of the men and women who assisted in the war include Philip S. Woods, Buster Anderson, Nurse Daphne Grey-Wilson, Dudley Grey-Wilson, Captain William Schnarr, Sergeant S.E. Dick Mayo, Doctor Bernice Hulse and Nurse Gwendoline Pinney.

Fredrick Alexander Whyte, Veteran, World War Two

“I always remember the cold in Scotland. A month like now is very, very cold, and then when you go to work ice is on the log and you had to take your bar and break it off.”

One of the service men attached to a Forestry Unit was eighty-year-old Fredrick Alexander Whyte. In October of 1942, Whyte, a native of Sittee River Village in the Stann Creek District, was only nineteen years old when he was sent to work at Lake Millan Camp in Scotland. Whyte signed up as a skilled axe man and was given the task of cutting down timber that was used for the coalmines and to make paper. Whyte says he did not mind the experience, but the war not only took him away from his home and family, it also robbed him of his livelihood.

Fredrick Alexander Whyte

“Because before I went abroad, we used to sell banana for our livelihood. But when I came back, all of that…through the war when we couldn’t get out our produce we had to look for other means of living. Either go to the sawmill or be the sailor on a boat from Sittee to Belize, here.”

Most of the surviving World War Two veterans are either ill or disabled. In 1998, Whyte lost his sight after suffering with glaucoma. However, he still does his best to get around on his own. One organisation that has provided some comfort and activity for the veterans is the Belize Ex-Services League.

Bernard Adolphus

“We keep forgetting our history, and if it wasn’t because of the sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice that these people made, perhaps you and I would not have been here speaking in a democratic society as the case may be. And this is the message which I want to send out to all our Belizeans, because most of the young people today don’t care, they don’t know what’s happening, they are not interested because nobody has told them about the past history of our people who are involved in the war.”

Unfortunately, the Belize Ex-Services League has not been getting the financial assistance it needs to help veterans who are sick. Aid from the Canadian Legion provides a small stipend for some members, but others simply have to rely on the care of family and friends to get by.

Fredrick Alexander Whyte

“I can’t depend on my stepson to do everything. He tek cares of me. He sees that my clothes in clean. I have no complaints about that.”

Ismail Shabazz, Researcher, Belize Ex-Services League

“I was very surprised when I asked how much help does the government give and it was officially reported that they only receive sixty dollars a month. And I said, what? I mean I just can’t rationalise with that, how our government only making such a small contribution to such an effort, yet on the eleventh of this month, there’s big ballyhoo about men who served and blah, blah, blah and so on, but we are not doing much to help.”

Bernard Adolphus

“They come to us and we try to assist as best as we can. Some may get money and borrow it from somebody and we try to repay it. We can’t give them back all, but we give them back some. That’s why we put emphasis on the poppy appeal. We generate dances as regular as possible, so we can try help our veterans, the older guys.”

President of the Belize Ex-Services League, Bernard Adolphus, says despite the fact that they were given assurances by the Minister of Health that veterans over seventy years of age will receive treatment at all regional health centres, that has not been the case.

Bernard Adolphus

“This letter was circulated to the northern, the southern, the western health services, but we have problems. Whenever we go there our men have problems. The authorities are not honouring, and this puts a damper into the spirits of some of our men. Because we expect that if the minister authorise and say certain things, then we expect that the administrators of those regional hospitals will look after our people.”

On Sunday November ninth as part of Veterans Week, a Memorial Service will be held for all those persons who lost their lives.

Bernard Adolphus

“I am hoping that the family of those persons who were involved in the war efforts, whether as a military persons, an axe man, a cook, and they have relatives still in Belize, I am hoping that we can have a large turn out. Because we have the cream of our society, we have some members of our society who are in the upper echelon whose grandfather and great grandfather served in World War One and Two. And I am hoping that they can come out so we can have a good Memorial Service.”

In the meantime the general public is invited to support the Poppy appeal and wear the red flower.

The service takes place at Memorial Park in Belize City Sunday morning at eight-thirty.



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