Saturday, 11 March 2017

This long time boy

The other night a song came into my mind. Its haunting melody captured the sad longing for times past that I was feeling. Its first lines are "This long time boy I never see you, come let me hold your hand boy, come let me hold your hand."

I remembered hearing the song on the radio as a teenager. I was curious about it. What was a “long time boy?”   At first I didn't cotton on, until the sadness of the melody eventually gave me the clue, that a "long time boy" was a boy, a man, a lover that the singer had not seen for a very long time.

I sought the song out on YouTube and learned that the name of the singer who had recorded it in 1961 was Nadia Cattouse . She had been born in Belize City in 1924 and in 1943 she was one of a group of forestry workers from Belize, then called British Honduras, who, risking a perilous voyage across the Atlantic, had volunteered to support the Empire in its war effort by working for the Forestry Commission at Kinlochewe in Scotland.These workers were treated cruelly by the British government which for a long time denied any responsibility for its heartlessness toward the Belizeans.

Nadia Cattouse

By strange coincidence  -  but perhaps not so strange as I may think -  from 1989 when I first came to live in Totnes in Devon I’d often meet a man over a pint of beer in the Bull Inn. His name was  Amos Ford. Amos had also sailed across to Scotland from Belize in the 1940s to work for the Forestry Commission.  When the war ended, Amos worked for a time at a brewery in Newcastle upon Tyne before moving to London where he became a civil servant at the Ministry for National Insurance until he ultimately settled in Devon.  

Amos was a kind man, a sagacious polymath and an excellent musician.  When I met him first he taught Spanish guitar at Dartington College of Arts and had just published a book, Telling The Truth: The Life And Times Of The British Honduran Forestry Unit In Scotland (1941-44) about the treatment of the Honduran forestry workers during the war. 

Amos Ford, 1916-2015

When the song came to my mind on that recent evening and on discovering that both Nadia and Amos were from Belize and had shared a similar wartime experience I felt sure Nadia and Amos would have known each other. On researching further I was excited to find that Nadia and Amos had been colleagues during their forestry days in Scotland and knew each other. Like Amos, Nadia married and still lives in England but sadly in 2015 Amos died in Devon. This long time boy I never see you. 

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