The Gwen Bush Memorial Scholarship Fund

| 21/02/2011

Reference the Government Information Service Press Release published by CNS, I am offended and indeed insulted at being totally ignored by whomsoever was responsible for organizing the announcement of the above ceremony and I am now further offended by the inaccuracies in the release. I can only say that if this is the standard of GIS accuracy, written by a group or member of a group that one would expect to be erudite, it is regrettable and unacceptable.

To report that the scholarship which has been added to the scholarship secretariat’s registry “is named for Cayman’s primary contact for the Southwell Recruiting Company, which hired seamen for National Bulk Carriers in the mid 1900s” is inaccurate, to say the least.

Let me try to set the record straight on this matter, once and for all.

On the death of my father, the late Albert C. Panton, MBE, JP, I was promptly appointed by National Bulk Carriers Inc. and affiliated Company Universe Tankships, Inc. to represent them in the recruitment, processing and dispatch of Seamen from Grand Cayman. The late Capt. Keith Tibbetts was their appointed agent in Cayman Brac. Prior to my father’s retirement from Government Service, Capt. McPherson Thompson and Mr Ernest Panton were also involved, in exactly what capacity I am not quite sure.

On the Monday morning following my father’s passing, I, along with Miss Gwen, attended the departure of quite a number of Seamen who had been processed to leave on a LACSA flight for assignment in a distant Port. Miss Gwen never missed a single day at work and willingly went, at all hours of the night, to see her boys safely off. In those days, everyone in Government and otherwise willingly jumped to facilitate the more often than not urgent processing of the Seamen. This included the issuing of a Visa Waiver by the Passport office and the necessary Police Clearance Certificate (then called a Police Record), the Medical Examination (God bless Mrs Maudie Seymour), the full co-operation of Mr Norman Bodden and LACSA, and the late Mr Tommy Adam of BWIA. I also cannot forget the inimitable Mr Leighton Christian and others of the Wireless cable office, who saw to it that the ‘calls’ from New York and elsewhere were promptly delivered. Not to mention also the ‘bush telegraph’ system of the day. It was all perfected synergism at its best.

I had returned home from England via the Harwich to Hook van Holland Ferry, then on to Hamburg, Germany where I joined the SS Sprucewoods of National Bulk Carriers, as what is called Supercargo, for the trip to Norfolk (Newport News), Virginia. This was a wonderful and enlightening experience for me as we sailed, in ballast, past the White Cliffs of Dover, into the Atlantic and the almost inevitable North Atlantic Gale. I was all over the ship, keeping watch on the Bridge including the ‘graveyard shift’, and in the engine room watching the Engineers, Oilers, Firemen and Wipers perform. This experience stood me in good stead later as I had experienced life at sea for even a short while and could relate to some of the stories I was later told.

I understand that the late Capt. Dell Bodden was responsible for initially introducing and recommending Cayman Islands Seamen to Mr Daniel K. Ludvig. Of course our seamen were world renowned from the days of the sailing ships and turtling and this reputation was further enhanced by the 300 or so who ‘volunteered’ to join the TRNVR or Trinidad Naval Volunteer Reserve. It has been said, and I believe correctly, that this represented the highest per capita contingent among all Allied Forces in WW II. Undoubtedly their prowess as Seamen was noticed by Mr Ludvig and many others at that stage in their shipping operations shortly after WW2.

Miss Gwen Bush had already been employed by my father and the others and so was singularly qualified when I came on board. She was a fast and accurate touch typist, second only to Mrs Hope Glidden-Borden, of blessed memory. Gwen quickly became my friend. I loved her like a sister and grieved on her passing. She was competent and dedicated to the welfare of ‘her boys’ and deserved being affectionately called the “Mother of the Seamen”.

As for me personally, I have never sought to obtain any particular recognition, praise or commendation for the part I played in what has been termed ‘the Southwell Years’. I have always been content to salute Miss Gwen and sing her praises and I like to tell the story of the young lady bank teller some years ago who, on seeing my name on my cheque, said “Oh, you are Mr Colin Panton, the man who worked for Miss Gwen!” I smiled and said, “Young lady, you have made my day!” Obviously, the fathers and grandfathers would mention and tell their children about Miss Gwen and not me, and I can well understand and accept that.

Maybe it is time to reveal that Gwen was privy to every and all confidences that were attached to the job we were doing. The statute of limitations must surely have expired by now on the infamous “Black List” the existence of which we could not even acknowledge. Another was the occasional arrival on the Island of what I termed an ‘insurance tourist’ with loud shirt and shorts, camera and recorder, to snoop on individuals who had brought suit against the Company for one reason or another, usually medically related. I could tell a few really good jokes about this.

Let me also advise that Pancarib Agencies not only processed and sent men ‘with Southwell’ but were also agents for Bernuth, Lembcke Inc. (Philadelphia), Mathiesen Tankers Inc., Imperial Oil (Esso of Canada) and Papachristidis (Montreal). This presented the opportunity to give ‘another chance’ to the less serious cases on the blacklist. Many of those went on to vindicate themselves admirably and excel in their seafaring careers. Would that the present system could do the same for so many of the young men and women of today who could be given “another chance”.

Let me introduce a little tidbit which could be of interest to some. I believe it happened on two occasions that we had to process and dispatch a number of replacement crew members to Cape Town, South Africa. They had to be sent via London to obtain a special Visa from the South African Embassy, required by ‘coloured’ West Indians, in order to travel on South African Airline to Cape Town or Johannesburg. How times have changed.

I cannot conclude without mentioning the several sad occasions when we had to inform a family that their husband, son or other family member had died, usually accidentally while away at sea. I could not have delivered those messages alone and although Gwen often knew the individuals more closely than I did and so had more reason to grieve and mourn than I did, she was always the emotional brick that I could cling to.

Obviously the Seamen/Seafarers of that era are fast passing on each year. The time will come when they have all passed. Should we not be making an effort to replace them? I am not suggesting necessarily for ocean going jobs but as a maritime island nation, Founded upon the Seas, the opportunity to learn the seafaring skills their forefathers learned and knew so well. In my opinion we should continue to educate and train our young men, and women, in the disciplines of Seamanship and I wonder why our present Cadet Corps, which I understand is doing a good job in their own way, was not designed originally towards being a sea related Cadet Corps.

And let me state clearly that in my opinion the Cayman Islands Seafarers Association hierarchy should not have allowed the award of a scholarship of this nature and relationship to be ostensibly politicised by involving the Government or any other allied entity, as it obviously has. I believe that the Seafarers Association could easily have funded this Scholarship on its own, guaranteeing that the name Gwen Bush would be properly and more effectively memorialized.

Oh well. It sometimes seems that my name happens to be anathema to some, and so be it.

This is a favourite little poem of mine, author unknown.

They were all well known Seamen
and their ranks are growing thin.
Their service should remind us
We may need their likes again.

If we do not show them honour
While here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give them homage
at the ending of their days.

RIP Miss Gwen. We all loved you.

I hope that this will prove to enlighten all and sundry of that wonderful period in our history, through my eyes.

Note: "The Bashful Billionaire Tanker Builder" about the late Mr. Daniel K. Ludvig is attached below.

GIS release: Maintaining Our Maritime Heritage

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Panton,

    I think it would be of benefit of all Caymanians to read this piece you have written. You paint a picture of of our history that fewer and fewer of our children know. I think that maybe you should write a memoir anout you life in Cayman, which would enable us younger Caymanians to better know our history. All though Founded Upon the Seas in a good resources, it fails to create an understanding as to how the community of the Cayman Islands interacted. I think that a book by you would help us to better envision the Cayman of the yesteryear. Please think about it. For now, I will print your viewpoint and keep it.

    Kind regards,

    • Anonymous says:

      Mr. Panton has been and still is a fountain of knowledge about our maritime heritage and its contribution, economic and otherwise.

      It is indeed a pity that times have not changed the fact that Caymanians are still not prophet’s in their own homeland.

      We rely too much on outsider’s advice and ignore our own, often at our own peril. When will this mentality stop?

      • Anonymous says:
        Only those who have experience in the colonial arena can fully comprehend the social, psychological and political significance, of Caymanian seamen.


  2. Anonymous says:

     @ Mr. longtime paper Caymanian:

    I find it very disrespectful to the memories of the many seaman that gave their lives to keep us free to say that they were drunkards that sent home nothing.

    I know no one that falls in that category.  My father and both uncles supported their father, mother, sister and another brother that was disabled.  Both of my uncles were also POWs.

    My father slept with life jackets on every night not knowing which breath would be the last.  The night sky was lit up by the fires of the the ships that were hit.  My uncle ate rats for food in camp.  These men made sacrifices so that you and I would not be speaking German today.

    My father and my uncles built homes, businesses and bought washing machines, generators and other appliances for their parents.  

    I have no qualm against those brave men receiving pension or any other benefits after all they made the ultimate sacrifice: their lives.  What have you gave us sir?

    • Anonymous says:

      Anon Wed 23:14 I think the poster called Paper Caymanian didnt maybe make it clear enough hewasnt talking about ALL seamen just some if you read his post. He seems quite respectful of Colin Pantons writing about seamen as well. What I would say is every group of people anywhere has some bad apples. That doesnt mean everyone in the group is bad.

  3. Long Time Paper Caymanian says:

    Thank you Mr Panton for your clarification about the blacklist. You make comments about that which I think are very sensible and well in line with how I thought you normally write about the seafarer tradition.

    And then you attack me: “I have you pegged as likely from the UK”. A fascinating example of the way Caymanians often default to a prejudice against Limeys, whether they know what they are talking about or not. I am not a Limey. I am a Canadian (maybe the same thing to you Mr Panton in your anti- furrin rant), married to a born Caymanian, who would be the first to tell you that her family was devastated by the drunken irresponsibility of her seaman father. I would give a lot to be present when you tell her and her siblings he was a hero.

    I thought hitherto you were a reasonable person but your silly, petty comments in this post make me realise that, despite my very great respect for what you have written about the seafarers tradition in previous articles you have written ( see my post of Mon 21/2), I was mistaken in thinking you were a Caymanian who rose above the small minded levels of so many limited horizon Caymanians.

    I will not trouble you in the future with my comments, sir.

  4. A. Colin Panton says:

    I must answer two of the commentators so far on my article, namely ? Longtime Paper Caymanian and Anonymous, neither of whom chose to give their names. I guess you are both ‘longtime’ residents who should by now have no need to fear retribution, but who obviously still have not chosen to fully integrate into our Island society.

    Perhaps I over dramatized the term blacklist by referring to it as infamous. The fact is that it was merely confidential written information on those who had been fired for whatever reason and no longer to be employed by said Company. This is common even today by organizations who hire on a transitory basis.

    Assignments were for a minimum period of nine months. Some of the youngsters, seventeen and over were merely giving seafaring a try and soon decided to quit. Fully understandable, however Mr. Ludvig was rightfully not prepared to subsidize anyones short holiday travel experiences. Naturally there were many other incidences, some of a very serious nature. Those will have to remain

    Now Longtime..  by some of your words and terminology I have you pegged as likely being from the UK. You are not worthy of talking about ‘our entitlement culture’ since you have not choose to recognize ‘our’ culture and the fact that Caymanian Seamen, past and present are indeed ‘heroes’.

    You mention "pension/free medical’. Let me inform you that The Cayman Islands Seafarers Association voluntarily contributed over a period of years, between $300,000 and $400,000 to the Health Authority. The truth is indeed simple.

    You have the unmitigated audacity to say that "some of the seamen now  "honoured hardly went to sea and others were drunks who sent almost nothing back here" and "that’s the guilty secret no one likes to talk about now". How totally ludicrous! It sounds as if you probably had many a drink with them, and probably at their expense.

    Let me get to Anonymous. You are probably not capable of understanding what you term a rant. I am a believer in recording historical fact. The way this ‘went down’ could have avoided the publishing inaccuracies that occurred. Incidentally the CISA is not a seamans’ unionas you refer to it.

     I have no intention of getting into a piddling pissing contest with anyone, but I intend answer any and all fallacies, misconceptions and disingenuousness submitted. Unna Bring it on!

  5. Longtime Paper Caymanian says:

    Lose the “d’ in privilege, Chris, but I know you are an accountantand so can be forgiven.

    Your post is interesting and I assume it refers to Ms Gwen and Mr Panton (“they dedicated themselves”). There has grown up unfortunately in our entitlement culture a belief that if you were Caymanian and went to sea, you are now a hero (pension/free medical) and caused the successful financial business we have – forget Bill Walker and Vassell. The truth is not so simple.Some of the seamen now “honoured” hardly went to sea and others were drunks who sent almost nothing back here. That’s the guilty secret no one likes to talk about now.

  6. Anonymous says:

    An interesting recollection, but it’s hard to understand what the rant at the beginning is about. Sounds like the scholarship was named for the right person so what’s the problem with the government paying it rather than the seamans’ union (which probably needs all of its money for helping old seamen.)

    Based on personal knowlege of seaman’s wages at the present time, I don’t think it’s likely that many on Cayman will want to go back to that.

  7. Longtime Paper Caymanian says:

    Mr Panton always writes compellingly about the seafaring tradition in Cayman; no one else matches him. This is a fascinating article and he is, of course, spot on target with his remarks about the politicising of the recent scholarship award. A tawdry affair, even if (as is probable) the recipient is a worthy holder of it.

    I would like to have heard more about the “infamous Black List”, though!

    • Chris Johnson says:

      I had the priviledge and am proud of knowing Miss Gwen through my friendship wirh Mr. Colin many years ago and the many seaman that they both assisted. It is sad that we forget how much they dedicated themselves to the seamanship of these islands long before tourism and the offshore stuff. Oh what happy memories.