Hospitable ladies at the Bermudiana
Committees come and some have the fortitude to go, while others linger on when their avowed purpose has lost its meaning, but the existence of which provides some strange succour to the members of the panels.
One such Bermuda committee that did the right thing, not only at its beginning, but in bringing itself to a close was the “Ladies’ Hospitality Organization”, the “LHO”, a group that created the Naval Recreation Rooms in the Bermudiana Hotel after the start of World War Two in the late summer of 1939.
Even more commendable, as many often neglect their own history, the committee of some of Bermuda’s indomitable women of the day produced the “Secretary’s Final Report” on the LHO’s six years of volunteer work for the men of the lower decks of His Majesty’s Ships and other vessels of war visiting the island.
The Report ends with notes of thanks to the Furness Withy Line and the Bermudiana Hotel Company “for their splendid contribution to a Bermuda war effort in allowing the use of the premises” of the Hotel for the entertainment rooms for naval ratings. The Secretary went on to write: “To all those who, though not mentioned by name here, gave life and substance to one integral part of the forces which combated evil throughout the world and brought this War to a victorious conclusion” and, “Finally to those without whose toil, suffering and deaths no account such as this could ever have had reason to be written at all.”
Of late some photographs have been donated to the National Museum by one John B. Chivers, the son of one of the younger volunteers of the LHO, his mother and lady of Smith’s Parish, Blanche (Dimpy) Ingham, the daughter of Willie and Bessie Ingham of that district and a girl of 19 at the start of the War.
Along with her older sister, later Ruth Redfern, she made sandwiches, checked hats and did other necessary administration matters and then came from behind the counter to dance, where one evening she met her future husband, stationed at Bermuda with the Royal Canadian Navy.
Beach parties were also organised, as well as visits to houses of Bermuda families, for one of the main reasons for establishing the LHO was to give the lower ranks on the ships a bit of a sense of home life and to provide entertainment and interests for those who had little money to sit at the main bars of the Bermudiana or other hotels and clubs.
The idea of a centre for recreation started with a group including Mrs J.R. Bridge, Mrs Alice Britton and Mrs Ruth Fountain and they soon contacted one Mrs Edmund Gibbons, whose husband apparently began the considerable family fortune by buying up for sale large quantities of army boots from the First World War, but a mere 20-odd years previous. Various venues were used in the early months of the War, but on March 31, 1940, the doors were opened at the final home of the LHO in an annex of the Bermudian Hotel.
Other “formidables” joined the group, included Lady Kennedy Purvis, the Admiral’s wife at Bermuda, and other goods and greats, including a Mrs Blee. For a period, Mrs Gibbons served as Chairman, but then like many committees, differences arose and “it was perhaps inevitable that the L.H.O. should go through a period of ‘politics’ and during this experience the Executive Committee took no step without the opinion of someone well versed in the rights and privileges of associations and their committees”.
However, things moved along and names such as Parker, Harnett, Butterfield, Appleby, Gosling, Harvey, Talbot and Christiansen appeared on the rolls and the LHO performed its good works, a number in association with the Sailors’ Home, a long established home from home for mariners alighting on these shores.
Afternoon and evening groups were organised to prepare food for the visitors and a library, canteen and a Sunday Evening Sing Song not exactly the cup of tea you might like, but “how right they were to institute this sort of an evening has been proved by its great success.
All sorts of men like to sing all sorts of songs.” The song books compiled by the ladies including “the large one which Mrs A.B. Smith gave to the LHO were so popular that they are now scattered all over the world!”
Song and dance aside, the Report mentions some of the ships on the Bermuda Station and persons associated with them. On leaving Bermuda, HMS Penzance was on its way home to Britain when it was torpedoed by the German submarine U-37 on August 24,1940.
One of the survivors, Lieutenant John W. Draisey, RNVR, returned to Bermuda as Flag Lieutenant under Admiral Sir Charles Kennedy Purvis. What the Report did not report was that Draisey was picked up by the merchant vessel Blairmore, only to be dumped into the sea again the very same night when the Blairmore itself went to the bottom by another torpedo from Kapitan Victor Oehrn of the U-37!
Another vessel was HMS Evadne, an armed yacht, for that she was as the pre-war pleasure palace of Sir Charles Richard Fairey, MBE, FRAeS, the famous British aircraft designer and founder of the Fairey Aviation Company.
Custom built in 1931 at the Camper & Nicholsons Shipyard (“The history of Camper and Nicholsons is the history of yachting”: John Nicholson), the Evadne was seen in Bermuda waters before the war, and “it is the owner’s hope to have her restored by next year  to her former status of a pleasure yacht and, as Sir Richard Fairey has a house in Bermuda, it is possible we may once again see her familiar outline in these waters”. Obviously well built, as well as custom, now after several name changes, the Marala, ex-Evadne, is yet sailing in her 80th year, looking as splendid as in the days of Sir Richard.
No doubt many in the LHO would have been pleased at the 1948 presentation to Sir Richard of the US Medal of Freedom (with Silver Palm) for his assistance of with the development of American aircraft when he was Director General of the British Air Commission at Washington, DC during the War. The award was made to Sir Richard at Kindley Field, Bermuda, by the then-Commanding Officer, Colonel Thomas D. Ferguson.
Established by President Harry Truman to honour those who assisted the United States during the War, a 1946 recipient of the Medal of Honour was later another Bermuda resident, Sir William Samuel Stephenson, CC, MC, DFC, the great spymaster, as in”A Man called Intrepid”, said to be the model for James Bond character of fiction.
Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-5480.
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