SHORT STORIES: Glimpses of a Childhood in British Guiana in the 1940s – By Geoff Burrowes

 By Geoff Burrowes

I was born in colonial British Guiana (now Guyana)  into a white, middle class, Anglican family in Kitty Village in 1942. I mention white because BG, as British Guiana was called, was a multicultural society and although our family didn’t discuss race it was easy to see that not everybody looked the same as we did!

       Middle class because we never missed a meal and had a maid, a cook and a gardener. Our food was plain but tasty and nourishing: breakfast was normally plantain porridge and cocoa, lunch was generally rice, meat or fish with sides of cassava, fried or green plantain and occasionally, ugh, ochro (slippery, slimy ochro). And we called lunch breakfast or brekfuss. Our maid Nanny Cleo and our cook, Ina Murray were unfailingly kind and along with our parents made sure we behaved properly. My mum and dad made sure that we treated them with respect and listened to them.         

        Anglican because we went to church every Sunday at St Sidwell’s Church on Vlissingen Road and Hadfield Street, Lodge Village. Many of my friends and family were Roman Catholic but it never strained our love for one another.

        I think my dad rented our home from my grandfather, Herbert Alleyne Nathaneal Burrowes, who I regarded as stern and fierce. He wore the mantle of head of our family quite naturally and his sons and daughters accepted his headship as natural. I was blessed as my mother was young and in later years I realized that she was beautiful. However that was not that important to me but what was that she loved to laugh and sing and she told me magical stories, some from her experiences and others from her fertile imagination. Her hugs were warm and loving!

        My mum’s family, the Learmonds and my dad’s the Burrowes were close and it was a joy growing up surrounded by people who loved  us and always had our backs.

        Mum always said that my grandmother, Emily Tyson Burrowes was the sweetest person she had ever met and that she made her feel most welcome in her new family.

        My mum’s family, the Learmonds and my dad’s the Burrowes were close and it was a joy growing up surrounded by people who loved  us and always had our backs.

Our house was at the corner of Brickdam and Brummel Place. I think the name of the cross street may have changed but it was the southern continuation of  Cummings Street, just over the Croal Street trench. The house itself was a two storied wooden house, white with a red roof. The downstairs was entered through the front door which opened into the dining room and the kitchen behind with a Dutch half door with three or four steps down into the yard, between the tall wooden stilts. Two interior stairs climbed up to the second floor, comprising the pantry, the living room and gallery with a passage leading into the bedrooms and bath. The gallery was the room my mum loved and in which she spent a lot of her time. It had windows on three sides and the morning sunshine lit up the whole gallery brightly. The windows also let in the sea breeze, which cooled the whole upstairs. One memory that persists is the roar of the BG Airways Grumman Goose as it took off on the Demerara River for its daily flights into the Interior.

        The floors in the gallery and living room were dark brown polished wood. In the living room were two big sash windows, looking out on Brickdam. The necessary drinks were kept in the pantry at the back of the house as “dropping in” was an important part of social life in BG and it wouldn’t do to be caught short of refreshment when a friend dropped in. When soda and ginger were out I was hurriedly sent to Sonny’s cake shop on South Road to get supplies.

In the living room was the telephone, black bakelite, with a cord attaching the ear piece and mouth piece to the instrument. My aunt Doreen, who lived on Church Street had the only red telephone I was aware of. Also in the living room was a piece of furniture on which my dad’s Philco radio perched. He was very proud of it’s polished wood finish and it was well used. I think there was a radio soap opera called “Aunt Mary’ that my mum listened to in the morning on our radio station,  GBS. In the day there were also kid’s programmes such as Cliff Leeming’s “Ovaltinies”, and Jimmy Olsen, Cub reporter. There were also a number of music programmes. Most were tunes that were popular at the time, I remember Patsy Cline, Conny Francis, Elvis Presley, Pat Boone, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and Buddy Holly. The radio personalities I can remember are Olga Lopes Seale, Rafiq Khan, Claude Vieira, Vivian Lee and Ulric Gouveia.

Dad’s Philco also had short wave and I can recollect hearing the Floyd Patterson heavyweight fights through the static as well as the fabled test cricket draw from Australia with my dad and my uncle Charlie.

One thing that was great about growing up in BG was that I had friends and classmates of every class, colour and creed. In a day when racism is raising its ugly head I can tell you from experience that no race has a monopoly on brains, brawn or ability. People who hold that their race is superior are just plain stupid. Look at the fields of science, medicine, commerce, finance. People of every race excel and are leading in their choice of direction or purpose. WISE UP PEOPLE!!! Look at your brothers and sisters and rejoice in them!

Map-of Central-Georgetown. Guyana. Click to Enlarge.

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  • jaugustinyahoocom  On 02/12/2022 at 9:59 pm

    Geoff Burrowes really revives happy memories of growing up in B.G. Bless him!

  • baileyff  On 02/12/2022 at 10:20 pm

    He has a way of telling a story that I can picture being there with him, in the GT breeze. He brings back vivid memories of those days sadly long gone.

  • detow  On 02/13/2022 at 5:37 pm

    Thanks for post.

  • Frank Ewing-Chow  On 02/18/2022 at 12:50 pm

    “Tell it like it WAS….or Tell it like it IS? “…..I love the memories of how it was in BG…Sure there were some unpleasantness depending on the perspective…but I do prefer those “childhood glimpses in British Guiana”. Thanks Geoff, for your childhood glimpses, I know they are precious. Tell it like it was…..I don’t like what I see….
    Frank Ewing-Chow

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