Trinidaddy

In the last post about our family christening gown, I mentioned that my “middle” brother, John Winthrop Williams, was not christened in the gown. John was born 5 October 1941 (two months and two days before Pearl Harbor) at Fort Banks in Winthrop, Massachusetts.[1]

Dad was a Corps of Engineers combat engineer stationed at Trinidad, British West Indies. Mom and David, their firstborn, were living with her parents in Natick, Massachusetts, with plans to join Dad in Trinidad once the baby was born. The family sent a Radiogram “from” our older brother, David, then about 17 months old. The guys in Trinidad made up this sign to announce the news to Dad. It and my brother will be 80 years old this year, both doing well.

Mom’s parents accompanied her and the boys by ship to Trinidad. They sailed on a “Lady Boat,” one of five Royal Mail Ships operated by the Canadian National Steamship Company that made regular trips up and down the Atlantic coast from Halifax to the Caribbean via Bermuda. I cannot right now find the name of “our” boat, except that I know she was not Lady Hawkins, which was sunk by German torpedoes off Cape Hatteras in January 1942. Another sister ship, Lady Drake, was sunk north of Bermuda in May 1942.[2]

They all boarded the ship in Boston on the morning of 7 December 1941…

They all boarded the ship in Boston on the morning of 7 December 1941, although with all of their own stuff to shuffle, they were not fully aware of what was going on in Hawaii until they settled into their cabins. The voyage took them to Bermuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Vincents, Grenada, and Port of Spain at Trinidad. By the time they landed, however, orders had already been sent for all dependents to go home. Mom and Dad and the boys had about a week before they boarded the next northward Lady Boat and went back to Massachusetts. At least Dad had the chance to see and hold his new two-month-old son, and John was baptized, although without the family gown. David was celebrated for enthusiastically shouting his first word, “Bot!” [boat], as they disembarked in Trinidad. They had all been coaching him, without success, throughout the trip.

Dad spent the next three years in the Caribbean as Area Engineer, overseeing construction of airfields in Surinam, Venezuela, British Guiana, and French Guiana that were used to ferry aircraft and personnel across the Atlantic to North Africa, where the Allies were staging for their attack on Nazi Europe. He came back to the States in June 1944. In January 1945 he was Commanding Officer of the 1291st Engineer Combat Battalion when it shipped to Europe, although pretty much as soon as they landed, the battalion was disbanded and the men were reassigned to other units that had been decimated by the fighting during the Battle of the Bulge.[3] Dad became Battalion Commander of the 368th Engineer General Service Regiment. In August 1945 they boarded a ship that was to take them to the Pacific Theater, but when the bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima were dropped and the war ended, their ship simply headed for New York. Dad was among the first soldiers to reach home!

Notes

[1] I should note that we do not have any Winthrop ancestors; my mother just could not come up with anything else for John’s middle name.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Lady_Hawkins.

[3] As Dad was the only Commanding Officer in the short history of the 1291st, he brought the battalion flag home with him; I still have it.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

15 thoughts on “Trinidaddy

  1. What an interesting career your father had!! I love stories of fathers, mostly, in WWII. So interesting to hear of the “Caribbean theater.”

  2. Great WWII story Alicia! It’s remembrances like this that make history so interesting. BTW the radiogram is terrific.

    1. Ann, Thanks. A few years ago I transcribed all of my father’s letters to my Mother from Trinidad — she kept everything, he didn’t keep hers, unfortunately, as I would have dearly loved to have the two-way conversations.

  3. Such a fun tale (and now we know more about why your brother didn’t get to wear the family christening gown). I love how your father’s war work sort of intersected with my grandfather’s. Papi managed Pan Am “air ferries,” which shuttled planes over to Africa and the Middle East. At the beginning of the war (after being evacuated with his family from New Caledonia) he worked out of Florida. During that time he make a trip from Brazil to Africa and the Middle East to check out their operations and report to HQ after some complaints, and towards the end of the war, he worked out of Rio de Janeiro.

    1. Pamela, That is a great story too. I’m glad we can share these stories and very aware of how important it is to put them in writing before they are all gone.

  4. Great story Alicia. It’s family stories like yours that make bare facts history become something alive and meaningful. The radiogram is a treasure.

    1. Oops, didn’t see the first post so thought I had forgotten to hit “post comment” first time around. Sorry for the duplication.

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