Guyana childhood reminiscences: Nuts about planes – By Geoff Burrowes

Guyana childhood reminiscences: Nuts about planes

– By Geoff Burrowes

Art Williama – Grumman Goose

This is not in any way a history of flying in BG. It is merely childhood reminiscences cobbled together for your entertainment!

The roar of the twin Pratt and Whitney radial engines, as the Grumman Goose took off, came clearly into our house and I dropped everything and raced up to our second floor gallery. If I was in time, I could see, in the space between the Parsley’s house and the Willems’ home, the seaplane, banking to head south towards the Interior. If I waited the Goose, gaining height, flew into the clear air over over Durban Park and I had had my daily dose of excitement as it disappeared behind the bulk of the Fernandes’ house, across Brickdam.  

British Guiana had a fertile strip of coast-land about 25 miles deep running along the North coast. The majority of the population lived in that fertile strip, growing rice sugar cane and ground provisions or living in the capital city. Georgetown!

However the rest of Guyanese lived in the jungles, mountains and savannahs of the Interior, connected to one another and to facilities of the coast by rivers with dangerous currents and deadly falls and roiling rapids which claimed Guyanese lives each year.

Into this situation stepped an American airman, Art Williams and his right hand man, Harry Wendt, a talented mechanic. They had a Wasp Ireland pusher prop plane and offered to fly people into Kaieteur Falls for a price. In the meantime the Government needed to get a pregnant woman to Georgetown for a hospital delivery, so Art Williams and Harry Wendt managed to shoehorn the seaplane into a nearby pond without incident. To takeoff they tied a lasso to a handy tree, revved up to maximum revs and cut the lasso!   The fact that they returned safely to Georgetown attests to the success of the manoeuvre! Also the Interior was now open in a way it had never been before!

When I was still quite young a flight of dark blue US fighter planes flew over our house. We were convalescing from the measles and forgetting the measles we flew to the window to watch these exotic, snarling birds disappear to the North. Purely depending on memory I think that they must have been either Corsairs or Thunderbolts!

Later, when I was 4 years old, I had the experience of a lifetime. For some reason we spent the night before we left at my Aunt Doreen’s house. There was an air of excitement all evening and when we woke up the following morning before dawn!

We left Georgetown when it was still dark, the street lights still lighting the darkness! We were driving up to Atkinson Field an American air base built by an American military contractor, named Atkinson, to enable planes, built in the US, for use by the Allies in North Africa and used as a staging post by the Allied Ferry Pilots. When the War ended the base was used as a Civil Aviation Airfield.

I can still remember the bright shining Vickers Viking waiting on the tarmac as my dad processed our papers at the BWIA desk.

I recollect also, as we rose off the runway the man driving a jeep who grew smaller as we gained height; the shine off the brown Demerara River and the green of the dense jungle beyond; the line between the brown river water and the sparkling blue ocean!

My mother and father both played hockey (field hockey as we were a civilized nation and ice was reserved for rum and coke or scotch and soda). They had been invited to Barbados to play against one of the Bajan clubs and included me and my sister Mary in the trip.

I am amazed that at 75years old I can remember so clearly the details of that trip: Cherry Tree Hill and the animal Flower Cave. The ruined Anglican church on the point next to the Johnsons’ hotel at the end of the St Lawrence Gap! The little cove below that point and my dad throwing us into the air and catching us again; across from the cove was a swamp where I caught crabs with a Trinidadian boy called Chris Sadler who I met 20 years later in London. We had not told anyone where we were and caught holy hell when we went back to the hotel; the hotel dining room overlooking the sea and Dermott a young man who daily put on goggles and swum out to the reef to explore it.

I liked Barbados then and when I went on a Rugby tour years later found nothing to change my mind!

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  • Ian Wishart  On 06/21/2018 at 6:38 am

    The Wasp Ireland was not a seaplane but a flying boat – its fuselage sat in the water. A seaplanes has large floats and its fuselage is above the water.

    In the early ’50s US Air Force Sabre Jets paid a visit to Guyana (this may be what the author remembers).

  • Geoff Buurrowes  On 06/21/2018 at 1:06 pm

    No Ian I saw radilal engined fighters!

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