Guyana: The B.G. Airways Legend: Art Williams – By Dave Martins

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In the time of the latter involvement I lived with the family of my eldest sister, Theresa, married to the Atkinson Field Fire Chief Joe Gonsalves, in their home, which was a few minutes’ walk across from the terminal.       

Atkinson Field Terminal Building in British Guiana (now Guyana) before it burned down in 1959

In the Atkinson Field years, I was part of the airline’s office staff and also flew regularly with the airline on hinterland trips, as flight attendant, catering to passenger needs and also assisting in load calculations for the freight we would pick up at the various Rupununi stops.

On those trips to the interior, I was interacting with some legendary Guyanese figures on the ground as well as with the foreign pilots operating the twin-engine DC-3 aircraft that B.G. Airways owner, Art Williams, a former USAF pilot, was doing the interior flights using the amphibious Grumman for the various creeks and lakes in that region, and also flying the versatile DC-3 to the widely dispersed landing strips around the country.

The trips from Atkinson Field to the interior airstrips were flown by various pilots, including Harry Wendt, an American, L.G. Clayton, an Englishman, as was Peter Wilson. Two other foreign pilots were Vicky Fykes, from Poland and the tall, affable Pieniazek (his first name eludes me), whose English was shaky although his pilot skills were first rate.  Art Williams had built a legendary career as a B.G. bush pilot and was a movie star figure in Guyana, with his American khaki-style uniforms, and formidable personality. Known for his seat-of-the-pants ability as a pilot, and for his wide knowledge of Guyana’s interior, Williams was an imposing presence for a country boy like me, and was the first person I saw using a cigarette holder as he engaged his frequent smokes, both on the ground and in the air.

BG Airways Grumman Goose at Atkinson Field (1955 photo)

Coming to Atkinson to work with the airline, my first encounters included a number of trips to Tumatumari, ferrying the mechanical parts for the dredge being assembled there for gold mining, and I was frequently the cabin attendant on those frequent Savannah flights.  The collection of people assembled in that B. G. Airways operation was something out of a Hollywood film.  Art Williams, not the tallest of men, was a standout among them, partly from his knowledge of the terrain, but also for his intimate knowledge of our interior, and for his trademark “let’s get it done” approach to the diverse problems of a new venture starting from scratch in a new country.

Grumman Goose Amphibian aircraft taxiing towards the Ruimveldt Ramp

The problems were varied and often required improvisation. I recall one instance, very early in my time at the Ruimveldt ramp, when Art Williams flew in to a remote part of the interior, where there were no roads, to bring out a resident who needed urgent medical care.  With no landing strip nearby, and with time of the essence, Williams put the Grumman down in a creek very near to where the injured man was, but the waterway was quite narrow, with tall trees on both sides.  To get up enough speed or takeoff, Art moved the Grumman close to one shore and posted one of the local guys to stand near a tree on the shore, with an axe.  With a rope tied to the tail of the aircraft and tied to the tree, and the injured man on board, he moved the Grumman slowly forward, taking the slack of the rope, and then having pushed the throttle forward, he signaled through the window for the man to shore to cut the rope with the axe. The released Grumman lunged forward in the middle of the creek, barely clearing the nearby trees and heading off to Georgetown with its rescue project.

BG Airways – later Guyana Airways Douglas DC 3 – Rupununi Savannah flights and larger interior airstrips

Some folks in life come along and stand out from their personality, from their special attribute for some function: musician, doctor; actor; etc.  Art Williams was one of them.  A singular individual and innovator.  Gruff, at times, yes, but always producing or improvising to get the job done.  I remember getting him irritated over some office lapse on my part, and three hours later, with the bus to Georgetown having mechanical problems on the East Bank Road, I was standing by the roadside hoping to cadge a ride from passing vehicles.  Several had passed us by, full, when Williams drove up in his customary Jeep, and me remembering I had upset him. He took one look at me, snorted as he was wont to do, and tersely said, “Get in.”  No query, no speech, just “get in.”  One hour later, I was sitting on the ferryboat to West Dem still feeling relieved.

of the spill-offs for me in those long gone B.G. Airways days was the number of impressive people I got to know in that hinterland world, each of them forming an education for me that serves me to this day. In that era, I remember the Melville family in Lethem, and Mr. Phillips the Timehri airport boss, and the Rupununi Vaqueros, and Leslie Christiani, the airline’s Atkinson chief, and the head of our loading crew, Galton, but most of all I remember Art Williams, not a tall man by any means, but impressing you with his calm under pressure and his forbearance surpassing his gruffness. One of a kind, standing there in his khaki pants, cigarette holder in hand, puffing away.  Just looking at you, no words, but connecting; a singular breed.

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ALSO READ – Guyana Then and Now Blog article on:

BG Airways

British Guiana Airways Limited, just the early years.

British Guiana Airways was established as a private company in 19381
and proved to be a viable commercial operation until 1955 when it was sold to the colonial government of the time. The origins of the airline in the jungles of Guiana were of course much more than colorful than the “Letters of Incorporation” might imply.

In August of 1934 the Montreal Gazette reported that an Art Wiliams planned to start an Air Service in British Guiana.2 The next year, 1935, Art placed an advertisement in that same paper accompanying an extensive article on British Guiana (Might be interesting to read, from Nov 6, 1935).

READ MORE: https://guyanathenandnow.wordpress.com/british-guiana-airways-limited/

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Comments

  • Clyde Duncan  On 03/15/2021 at 1:27 am

    I spent quite a few of my formative years – from 1955 onwards – going to the base when we had to get a pass to enter the gate at Atkinson Field before driving up to the airport building – before it burnt down – and then later to the USAF terminal – the one most of us are aware of today.

    In the 1960s, I was a little older and would ride my bicycle, along with some other friends from Alberttown to the Ruimveldt Ramp to watch the Grumman land and take-off on Saturdays and Sundays and sometimes during the week when school was closed for the holidays.

    Some of my relatives flew B.G. Airways to Trinidad to catch the ship to the UK.

    Most were boarding Pan Am to Piarco International to board TCA – Trans Canada Airlines [Air Canada] to Canada.

    Thanks for the memories, David!!

  • Clyde Duncan  On 03/15/2021 at 1:46 am

    Oh, I just recalled: I did see a few relatives and friends of the family off to the USA with Pan Am for Idlewild Airport via Puerto Rico International Airport.

  • William King  On 03/15/2021 at 9:53 am

    Dave, I used to watch the Grumman at the Rowing Club all the time as a small boy and knew i wanted to be a pilot when i grew up. My wish came true with a Commercial Licence for Fixed Wing and Rotary.

  • Francis Quamina Farrier  On 03/15/2021 at 1:16 pm

    My very first flight in an airplane was in a Grumman Goose from the Ruimveldt Ramp to McKenzie. As youngsters, a group of us boys used to go to the Ruimveldt Ramp every Sunday afternoon to observe the activities. Saw both Capt. Art Williams and Capt. Harry Wendt.

  • wally n  On 03/15/2021 at 4:55 pm

    Where was his home after he retired? I remember as a youth somewhere in the “bush” we came to a house, and someone claimed that it belonged to Art Williams, meant nothing to me…at the time.

  • Helena DaSilva Martin  On 03/16/2021 at 8:09 am

    The Grumman Goose & Captain Art Williams left a nostalgic imprint in my early childhood. Panic & sheer terror gripped me everytime I had to board the Grumman Goose but Mr Williams kind reassuring words always made me feel a bit calmer, he was a gem.

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