Archive for the January 2004 Category


This is the final Bits and Pieces essay in this current series. Originally, it was intended to immortalize a poem quoted on many occasions by Lillie Carr, my mother.

Mrs. Carr was an Irishwoman who wanted desperately to throw off the yoke that England had on Ireland. She never set foot in England or in Ireland, but that did nothing to quell her virulent dislike of anything English. She was 34 years of age in 1916 when the rebellion of the Irish Free Staters led to the Uprising against the English at the General Post Office in Dublin. By that time, she had given birth to four of my brothers and sisters. In the end, she gave birth to eight Carr children. Until she died in 1961, she deplored the execution by English forces of James Connelly who led the Uprising. Wounded, he could no longer stand so His Majesty’s soldiers executed Connelly, by gunfire, as he sat in a chair or lay on the ground.

Of course, Lillie Carr’s grandparents and those of the man she married were chased out of Ireland by the famine which started around 1845. While the Irish starved, food transfers from Ireland to England were largely unaffected. The English saw to that.

The English had a word for the Irish. It was “Vassal.” According to Webster, the word means a boy or servant; a feudal tenant and one in a subservient position. The English borrowed this word which was originally of Celtic origin. So you see, my parents had many reasons to dislike the English which also included the Revolutionary War fought by this country against the august forces of the English King, George III.

The poem my mother often recited did not originate with her. It came from one of her ancestors. The poem reads:

Ireland was Ireland
When England was a pup;
Ireland will still be Ireland
When England’s time is up.

Of course, at the end of World War II, England was in no shape to demand fealty from its colonies and possessions. The Africans threw off the yoke as did the Egyptians and the Indians including what we now call Pakistan. My mother ascribed England’s come down solely to God. She did not chortle or brag. She believed that God would fix things like the English running roughshod over all the people of its colonies. Perhaps she died happily with the thought that she would be united with the Irish Free Staters in Heaven and with James Connelly.

My parents feelings about England were obviously well known to me. But during World War II, it fell to me to fly air support for British ground troops for a protracted period of time. My experience with British troops in North Africa and in Italy led me to conclude that they were brave, courageous people. When an English soldier, or soldiers, were killed, it was quite clear where the phrase, “Keeping a stiff upper lip” came from. British soldiers, underline soldiers, as distinguished from English royalty and England’s upper classes, had my complete admiration. For the royals and the English upper classes, my attitude is very much akin to the thoughts of Lillie Carr.

It has been several years since my mother voiced her doggerel poem about England. After the war, my duties in the Overseas Department of AT&T had me in frequent contact with British telecommunications authorities. Without exception, they treated me well. It has been my pleasure to dine in English homes and on several occasions, men and a few women from our English counterparts dined at this house in New Jersey. My parents were gone by that time, but if they had been alive, it would have been the better part of valor to avoid mentioning the English being fed and entertained by me. So you see, you learn things as you grow older.

Now there is a down side to the people who used to run English possessions overseas. When the Army decided that the beauties of Italy were too much for me, they decreed that 71 combat missions were absolutely no reason to send me home. So, the American Army sent my bedraggled fanny to a large base in what used to be called the Gold Coast. Since March 6, 1957, the country is called Ghana with Kwame Nkrumah becoming its first prime minister after the English were pushed from power.

The base was outside Accra, the capital of the Gold Coast. It was run as a joint British-American operation; but as time went on, the number of Americans far outstripped the British totals. After landing at the Accra air base, if the plane turned left at the end of the runway, you would be in British hands. Turning right, brought the planes to American facilities.

The base was part of the world wide network of the American Air Force which served its Air Transport Command. It was a busy base. In one case, it received and sent many planes each day to Ascension Island, the only stopping point between Brazil and Africa. Ascension is a tiny island in the South Atlantic. Finding it was made more difficult occasionally by German submarines which would surface near Ascension and transmit false signals which could, and did, lead planes to miss Ascension altogether.

Earlier, in one of my essays, Ascension was called one of the four most lonely places in the world. The other candidates are Atar, Mauritania, Tindouf in the western desert of Algeria, and El Fasher and El Genina in the Sudan. In the latest Hammond Ambassador World Atlas, on page 102, Ascension is barely shown and it does not appear on the population distribution chart on page 103. If it relieves the sense of loneliness, the island used to have the name of St. Helena, but that name is now used as a name for an island 500 miles further south.

As long as this Bits and Pieces started off with an epic poem, Ascension Island had a poem also. It went, “If you miss Ascension, your wife will get your pension”. The poem had to do with missing the island as a navigational problem. It had nothing to do with missing the island as a sentimental gesture.

My assignment to Accra was as an aerial engineer. From time to time, the line Captain asked me to be a line chief also. As an aerial engineer, it was my duty to fly all over the African continent, into Yemen and into India which then included what we now know as Pakistan. It was an eye opener for this 22 year and 23 year old soldier.

When the time came to report to Accra, it turned out that my assigned barracks was G17. Barracks of that sort served about 150 enlisted men in each lodging. We slept in rough hewn mahogany beds with heavy ropes serving as a mattress. Mosquito netting was on every bed. Sleeping outside the mosquito netting was a court-martial offense. Nonetheless, in my 14 months there, malaria downed me on two occasions. That is a miserable disease.

At meal times, called mess times in Africa, it was compulsory to take Atabrine to fend off malaria. If soldiers left the barracks during evening hours, leggings had to be worn with a uniform shirt buttoned all the way including the sleeves. There was absolutely no way to miss an Atabrine user as he or she had a bright yellow skin.

The only cure for malaria offered by the U. S. Army in its hospitals was liberal doses of quinine. That drug caused me to become very disoriented. My balance was destroyed. The Army gave its malaria sufferers no choice in using the bathrooms. Getting from the bed to use the bathroom with a high fever and with disorientation being present, was a colossal challenge for everyone taking Quinine.

The barracks were all similar to G17. In the center between the two wings were the sanitary facilities. And there were showers. Hey man, that was luxurious living for me. Of course, there was never any heated water but with Accra being five degrees above the Equator, hot water was not a great problem. It was luxurious living compared to what we endured in North Africa and in Italy. The barracks were built, we were told, by native labor under the supervision of English supervisors. The commodes had no doors at all. That must be an English custom. Perhaps Lady Astor or the Prince of Wales were also door-less on their commodes. But what the Hell. The British also had a big hand in running the PX where, of all things, beer was sold. Beer was rationed, but everyone seemed to have enough. Beer was never high on my list of things to enjoy, so my ration card was given to my bunk mate who formerly worked at the Budweiser plant in St. Louis. On payday when the ration cards were handed out, my popularity knew no bounds.

In any case, when my bunk was located in G17, a native of about 30 years came to me and bowed. His name was Mobo. No last name that any of us could discern. Mobo was our houseboy, also an English custom. He put beds in order and swept the floors and performed other household duties.

After Mobo had bowed to me on perhaps two or three occasions, he always addressed me as, “Master.” For a few minutes there was some trouble picking up Mobo’s speech patterns. Later research said that natives of the Gold Coast spoke in eight different languages. As it turns out, Mobo was a member of the Ga tribe and spoke the Ga language.

It became obvious that Mobo was indeed, addressing me as “Master.” Obviously, there was a gap in our ability to communicate because my knowledge of the Ga language registered at near zero. Mobo had a very limited knowledge of English, so we used that language and hand and body signals to talk to each other. It is to be pointed out that Mobo seemed like a good guy even without formal introductions.

Before my bags were opened, Mobo was asked why he had addressed me as “Master.” He explained in halting English, that the English who ruled the Gold Coast with an iron hand, required that every white man be addressed as “Master.” Mobo was simply doing as he had been told by his English “Masters.” As soon as my brain had absorbed Mobo’s form of address, we had a little conference. When African natives were at work or at play with no white supervision, they often or usually referred to American soldiers as “Joe.” The origin of “Joe” is unknown to me. The native Africans never referred to English soldiers as anything other than “Master.”

So Mobo was told he could call me “Joe”, which he obviously refused to do. Alternatively, Mobo could call me “Sergeant” or “Sergeant Carr” or “Ed.” But Mobo was told that “Master” had to go.

When the rest of the men showed up after 5PM, they were asked about the business of “Master.” Of course, they were all Americans. They laughed because when Mobo met them for the first time, he had addressed them as “Master.” Every man made it clear that Mobo was not ever to call them “Master” again.

Unfortunately, the English had always ridden all over the natives, scolding them and beating them. As far as could be determined, English Colonial Authorities never exchanged any civil dialogue with the natives. The English claimed the natives were lazy and untrustworthy. Praise for native accomplishments never fell from English lips.

American soldiers, particularly those who came from places outside the Old Confederacy, tended to treat the natives as helpful partners. When it came to looking for work on the Accra base, there were plenty of applicants who wanted to work for the Americans. Not so for English forces at Accra.

This system of demanding to be addressed as “Master” was used in every case in which England had a colonial interest. It applied in Nigeria and even India. There must have been few tears when the English were sent home.

There is one other fact about the Gold Coast under English domination. Whatever gold there might have been had long since played out, probably before the 1800’s. The moving force in the Gold Coast, was the export of slaves. All this was done under the direction of the English. When slave ships came to pick up their cargo, they went to the port of Takoradi, which is a short distance from Accra. There they loaded their ships and took off for Confederate America or for Saudi Arabia or for any other place that employed slave labor.

The ships captain best known to the Christian world was John Newton. Newton captained a slave ship with regular visits to pick up slave cargos in the Gold Coast. On one of his voyages, his ship was lost and he accepted Christianity. His hymn, “Amazing Grace” may be one of the most popular hymns in the Christian faith. Newton was a Protestant who accepted Christianity on the Anglican side of things. Nonetheless, “Amazing Grace” is heard in Catholic churches as well as in all Protestant facilities even today.

So the English with their insistence on being called “Master,” were hip deep in selling human beings as slaves. Mobo was one of those men with a strong back who in former times might have been captured by English colonial forces and sold into slavery. When we left Accra, Mobo cried. There were some wet eyes among the American soldiers as well. And why not? We liked Mobo, and it is pretty clear that he liked us.

Well, this old essayist has told you about the poem about when England was a pup. And we told you about what would happen if our planes missed Ascension Island. We told you of English courage and gallantry in battle and we told you a little about the slave trade.

There is no photograph of my friend Mobo so you will just have to nod when you are told he was a good guy. We’ll have to see if the current Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, is a good guy or did he take the English nation to an ill fated war in Iraq simply to impress George Bush. The jury may be out right now, but it won’t be long before they bring in a verdict. Impressing Bush may be fairly easy. A year ago before the war with Iraq started, he warned Saddam Hussein that any attempts by Saddam’s forces to launch a weapon of mass destruction, which did not exist, would be viewed very seriously by the Americans. Bush said, “When Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal”. (underlining added)

That statement came from an alleged graduate of Yale with a Masters degree from Harvard. The New Yorker magazine says, “Bush’s wary relationship to his native tongue has been the stuff of easy comedy…”.

The lesson is crystal clear. Don’t send your kids to an Ivy League college where they teach prosecuted English. And if you ever see my friend Mobo, tell him he will always be welcome at this house in New Jersey.

January 27, 2004
Essay 87
Kevin’s commentary: Pop requested that this piece be published a little bit ahead of time. Though I’m not sure why, here’s my guess — Pop’s day-to-day interactions lately have involved a whole lot of different people from Ghana. When I was there last, I believe I met at least three people from the old Gold Coast. They were all incredibly kind, and helped Pop in a hundred different ways. Perhaps one of them reminds him of Mobo.

That aside, I thought this one was incredibly well-assembled, especially considering that it is nominally a “bits and pieces” essay. Jolly good form, old chap.