The deliverance of Raymond’s pride
Raymond DeShields never visits St George’s without taking a swing around Ordnance Island.
He likes to check on the Deliverance replica; his baby.
Fifty years ago, he helped to build it for the Bermuda Junior Service League, and still remembers every nail, bolt and board that went into it.
Ironically, when dock master Ralph McCallan first asked for his help with the project in 1968, Mr DeShields had never even heard of the Deliverance — one of the ships Sea Venture passengers built to escape Bermuda.
“I was asked because as an apprentice shipwright, I trained on the HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s 18th-century flagship in Portsmouth, England,” the 85-year-old said. “It was permanently in dry dock and always needing repairs.”
He loved working on the old ship, and even brought a little of its wood home when he graduated from the apprenticeship programme in 1955. “I’ve misplaced it since then,” he said.
Mr DeShields readily said yes to the Deliverance project.
It seemed more interesting than the construction work he was doing at Sea Land Construction, and Mr McCallan offered him the same salary, $147.84 per week.
“That was a good sum in those days,” he said. “I quit my job at the construction company.”
The boat was designed by Cyril Smith. When Mr DeShields started working, there were six pages of drawings, but very few instructions on how he was going to reconstruct a 17th-century boat. He wasn’t bothered by that in the least. “I knew what I was doing,” he said.
He worked on his own for the first six months, then Gary Paynter came on board.
“He’d been working in a shipyard,” Mr DeShields said. “I was 36 and he was 25. I said: ‘Gary, listen, I am needing to build a boat here. I would like you to help. If you listen to what I have to say we can get it done’.
“And he did. He was a great help. He and I did all of the woodwork.”
He remembered that all the lumber they used came rough from Canada, and had to be planed down by hand.
To save time, Mr DeShields carried most of his supplies around in the back of his car.
He put in drawers in the back. Sometimes the vehicle was so packed with ladders, nails and ropes, he could barely see out of the back window.
Today, he still has many of the tools he carried around back then, packed away in a back room of his house.
Mr DeShields put his heart and soul into the project, working seven days, from 7am to 5pm.
At the end of the day, he’d often be so tired he had to pull over along the route home to catch a quick nap.
It took Mr DeShields and several others, two years and nine months to complete the Deliverance.
“I had no idea it would become such a landmark when I started the project,” he said.
“All I was thinking was that I had to build a ship.”
When it was done he felt excited and proud.
Afterward, he loved sitting near by and watching schoolchildren and visitors experiencing the Deliverance.
“Many times I would get some food and sit down there next to the Deliverance,” he said. “I knew the people running it, but they would never say this was the man who built it.”
He remembers one day showing a group of visitors all around the ship, telling them its secrets.
Years later, the Deliverance fell into disrepair and had to be refurbished. “It doesn’t look like it did when it was finished in 1971,” he said. “The plans were lost. The people who worked on it did the best that they could.”
After the Deliverance, Mr DeShields went on to have other woodworking adventures, and was particularly sought after to work on boats.
“I worked on them here and sometimes was called overseas to work on them,” he said. “I worked on Bermuda fitted dinghies and did some work for the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.”
He also did work for the Kindley Air Force base in St David’s, on occasion.
“One day, I was there repairing one of their bulletproof sentry boxes,” he said. “The boxes were made of metal, but were surrounded by wood to make them look nicer. There was a group of sentries there who knew me, and they saw me come in to work.”
When the sentries went off duty, they forgot to tell the next shift that he was there.
“Suddenly, I heard over a speaker: ‘You out there, step down and come towards me!’,” he said. “I said: ‘I’ve only got ...’.”
The response: “I’ve got three men lying on the ground with rifles, ready to shoot you.”
Mr DeShields looked around and sure enough, that was true.
“I walked over with my hands up,” he said. “When I got halfway he said, ‘all right stop! OK you can go back’.
“When I was backing towards them, someone from the other shift must have called to tell him I was there.”
None the worse for wear, Mr DeShields went back to work on the sentry box. He felt it was a close call, though.
“At one time, they shot a guy in the bottom for doing something,” he said. “They would shoot.”
Mr DeShields fell in love with carpentry, growing up on the North Shore in Pembroke.
At that time, he and his four sisters had many chores to do, and one of his was to collect sawdust from a nearby carpentry shop.
“We used it in our outdoor toilet,” he said. “When I was there, I’d hold the wood as it went through the machines.”
At 16, he signed a five-year contract with the Dockyard Apprenticeship Scheme in Bermuda.
He wanted to go into carpentry but they didn’t have any room in that programme, so he became a shipwright apprentice instead, and was able to learn woodworking and metalwork.
After nine months, the scheme ended and Mr DeShields was one of 49 Bermudian apprentices sent to England to complete their training.
While in England, in his spare time he and several other apprentices formed a singing group called The Bermuda Quartet.
“We sang mostly songs from the Ink Spots,” he said. “We’d sing during intermissions in dance halls.”
He had learnt to sing as a child. His parents, John and Edna DeShields were in the Salvation Army and everyone in the family had to learn to sing or play an instrument.
“In England, the Bermuda Quartet even went on the BBC and made recordings twice,” he said.
Mr DeShields never had any children but was close to his many nieces and nephews.
“He would do anything for anyone one of us,” his niece Beverley Howell said.
He has also been a passionate Progressive Labour Party supporter, sometimes canvassing for them over the years.
In February, he won the PLP Founders Day Drum Major Award.
Looking back on his life, he said: “Over the years, I’ve worked on boats all over Bermuda and even overseas, but I think the thing I’m most proud of in my life is the work I did on the Deliverance replica.”
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or email@example.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them
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