|Avis Part Seventeen - So That's How Cuba Got Its Name!|
(Illustrated version available from the Ascension Island Heritage Society)
With food a little short in Georgetown, people were on the lookout for alternative ways of obtaining a little extra food. Corbett's favourite task was to accompany Donald Fowler, who made the daily trip to the US Base to collect the waste and unserved food for the pigswill. The dustbins were kept spotlessly clean, and on the trip to the mountain, Corbett would "stay in the back of the lorry with all the good stuff", finding the bin that contained the surplus un-served food off the line! An alternative was to visit the Saints area at the US Base for Euchre tournaments. These were always accompanied by a late supper, including the real luxury of roast chicken.
Others however, adopted subtler, less honest methods. The US supply ships called regularly, and were worked in two shifts, through the night. None of the goods were containerised; most came in small boxes. Seekers of food would therefore wait at night just outside Georgetown where the hill to the Base begins. The lorries would change into low gear at the start of the hill, giving the more agile time to leap on to the lorry, throw of a couple of small boxes, and jump off again. If you were lucky - food, if not - well try again! As with the mountain, toilet facilities in Georgetown were very basic. Indeed it was 1970 before all buildings in Georgetown had flush toilets. The earth closets were emptied each night, with the men starting work after midnight, the bins being emptied at the Sanitation Pier. Early arrivals in Two Boats will remember parties at Georgetown houses with no flush toilets. There is the story of one Two Boats lady visitor who, while using a Georgetown toilet late at night when attending a party, felt a sudden breeze where there shouldn't be one, and heard a cheery voice saying, "Evening Missus!" coming from the toilet!
The Fu Fu men, as the sanitation crew were called, also did other jobs on overtime. There was always overtime available as household servants of baby-sitting, with all hours logged and paid through C&W Company Pay Office. One man, Billy Pie, created history when he managed to log 25 hours of work in a 24-hour period! Some of the children also did odd household chores, and a young Eddie Fowler used to earn pocket money cleaning windows.
The residents of the mountain, the US Base and Georgetown tended by and large to stay in their own communities, except for the weekend when the mountain lads came to town. In Georgetown, the Exiles Club was for the UK staff, and the St Helenian Club provided entertainment for the Saints. Rather unusually, the St Helenian Club did not sell spirits, only beer and soft drinks. Spirits could be bought in the canteen, but only if you were over 21. When staff became 21, their manager would give them a letter to show to the shop manager to confirm that they were allowed to buy bottles of spirits. Mind you, it was strictly limited; only two bottles per month.
The cinema in Georgetown showed films twice a week, and the charge was 6d on the door. Many regular cinemagoers had their own special seats, so for the newcomers it was difficult to work out where you should sit. For a special treat, sometimes you could visit the US Base where two films were shown in a night. Finishing work at 7pm, a quick trip to the Galley allowed you to grab some bread and conger, and then followed a walk to the Airhead where the films were shown. Afterwards it was a steady walk back to Georgetown in the dark, without disturbing anyone.
It didn't do to stay out late at night; "lights out" was at 10.45pm. One of the policemen would walk around the barracks switching out all the lights. If you wanted to keep your job, you didn't switch them back on again!
As on the mountain, water was limited. It was here that your personal issue bucket came into its own! The allowance of two gallons per person per day was measured into the tanks attached to each barrack's bathroom every day. This allowance was both to wash in and for your laundry. Mess members would draw their allowance from the barracks tank. If hot water was required, this was sometimes available near the Galley. The bucket of cold water was tipped into the heater, and an equivalent amount of hot water was withdrawn. If one of the mess members used too much water, then the last man trying to get his allowance would find the tank dry.
An emergency supply was available at each barracks; a second tank containing saltwater! Drinking water was available at five sites in Georgetown. This came from small filter tanks, not cooled, so that during the day anyone wanting a drink was limited to a very warm cup of filtered water. Ice was virtually unknown until the US Base was built.
The main leisure activity was sport. Football and cricket were very common, although the players had to prepare their own pitch - no kind Works Department in those days! Golf was a popular sport amongst the UK staff, with the Georgetown Golf Course reputed to be the most difficult course in the world. Unfortunately only the Exiles Club members could use the course, so St Helenians were not allowed to play the course, except by special invitation. The Saints however did make a small course nearby, and otherwise practised on the beach. When the One Boat course opened in 1969, the Georgetown Course became available for anyone to use.
So that was Georgetown back in the late 50's and early 60's. It was an existence of hard work with food a little scarce, but for all that, many strong friendships were built up amongst the single men. There was a great feeling of comradeship amongst them all, with everyone looking after and supporting each other.
Contracts were for 2 years, and Corbett went home after his first contract with savings of £42! A good leave at home, and he still had some money left when it was time to return. Each person came to Ascension to save up for something. A record player, a radio, even a motorbike (that took Corbett two contracts without leave!) If you didn't like the place or the conditions… well, there were many back on St Helena who would jump at the chance instead. So how did Cuba get its name? Well, the old houses in Cuba housed some of the St Helenian families. Although the single men got on well, the families had a tendency to squabble, it is said. Perhaps one family going to get Wide-awake eggs would gather more than another family, and so the argument would start. One young man at the time of the Cuban Crisis heard that Kennedy and Kruschoff did not see eye to eye, and that they were having a right old argument. It seemed to him that arguments and people not seeing eye to eye was exactly what was happening in that area of Georgetown, and so he nicknamed it Cuba. The name stuck, and Cuba it has been ever since. In fact the man lived there himself as a married man in later years. He left Ascension in 1998 after more than 40 years distinguished service with Cable & Wireless and Ascension Island Services. He first came here in 1957, and his name is Corbett Williams!