‘A historian extraordinaire’

A tribute to the late Warren Alleyne

Relatives and friends of Warren’s, let me first say what a privilege it has been to be a friend of Warren’s for almost 40 years, and an honour to be asked to give this eulogy.

Warren was born on September 25, 1924, almost 93 years ago. He shares a birthday with my only brother and one of my sisters. But that’s not his only remarkable link with me and my family. He wrote many articles for the Bajan magazine, when my sister was assistant editor back in the 70s. And the weirdest of all coincidences, was that his first historical article was on the notorious gentleman Pirate of Barbados, Stede Bonnett, who was born in 1688 in the house where I live! So we’ve had a shared interest in piracy, and we started writing together 33 years ago!

Warren’s interest in history was first stimulated by his teacher Alleyne Durant, at the Bay Street Boys School. Like most young Bajans of that era, he had to leave school at 14, and he went to work as a teenager at the famous Colonnade Store on Broad Street. He joined the Royal Air Force at 18 during the Second World War and that opened great opportunities. He was trained as a wireless operator and then as a telegraph operator, and he also furthered his education soon after the war, at Gloucester Technical College, taking his O levels, including history.

He served in Britain, Germany, where he got married in 1954, and in Cyprus, for several years until 1966, when he returned home. He served in the RAF for 22 years. He promptly joined the Barbados Legion and worked with British West Indian Airways until 1981 as a telegraphist.

Quite by chance, he read of the Barbadian gentleman pirate Stede Bonnett, which led many years later to his book Caribbean Pirates, published by Macmillan. He told me that one evening he was lying on his bunk reading when another RAF serviceman tossed him a comic book and said: “Hey Warren, here’s a story about a pirate from Barbados”. That triggered something in him, and gave birth to a passion for historical research. When he came home at Independence in 1966, the newly opened Barbados Archives became his “second home” and the Shilstone Library at the Museum his third home.  His first published article was on the subject which so fascinated him … Stede Bonnett, the gentleman pirate, whose gentlemanly ghost haunts my house at night!

And then his writing career took off.  He wrote for the Bajan magazine and for the Nation, and produced a steady stream of historical books, some of his own interest and some commissioned.  His regular articles in the Nation, “It so happened”, gave readers fascinating tidbits of Bajan history from all kinds of not easily accessible sources. And when we recognized our mutual passion for Barbadian history and a mission to popularize it, we worked together for a full year, producing a long Sunday column in the Advocate, Preserving our Heritage – Historic Buildings Reborn. It was a great partnership, with 53 articles on his amazing historical research, my photos and my architectural research, without ever missing a week.

But his tour de force must be Historic Bridgetown, the authoritative book of Bridgetown’s development and history, first published by the Barbados National Trust in 1978 and republished in an expanded Second Edition by the Government Information Service in 2002, to celebrate the 375th anniversary of Bridgetown. Every house should have a copy, and then we would have far more regard for our city, and look after it with love and care.

His other books are: The Story of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in 1985, (and I would urge the Cathedral offices to reprint it – it’s in great demand); , Caribbean Pirates in 1986, The House of the Barbados Assembly in 1989, The Barbados Garrison and its buildings, with Jill Shepherd in 1990, Barbados at War 1939 – 1945 A Historical Account in 1999; and The Barbados Carolina Connection with me, published by Macmillan of Britain … the first edition after  a trip to Charleston in ‘86 and a splendiferous second edition published by Miller Publishing last year. In fact, his publications far exceeds that of some of my academic colleagues.

I can truly say that Warren has been the most meticulous researcher of many colleagues I’ve worked with – he’s had an insatiable curiosity and a tenacity for truth, together with an almost photographic memory for what you or I may consider inconsequential details. This tremendous knowledge was put to great use as a member of the Post Office’s Philatelic Advisory Committee, and when he retired in 2009, he was honoured by the Postal Service, and his portrait was featured on the fifty cents stamp of 2008 celebrating the Concorde Experience and the 90th anniversary of his beloved Royal Air Force. Imagine … a portrait of our stamps, along with kings and queens …

When he retired, he recommended I should take his place, but I’ve often felt a poor replacement! And he’s enjoyed sharing his encyclopaedic knowledge with us lesser mortals, always laced with subtle insights, irony and a dose of occasionally wicked humour. He was a walking raconteur, who given an opportunity for a story could easily launch into a lecture.

But among Warren’s many worthy personal values – his great memory, his humour, his kindness, his modesty, his honesty, sincerity, reliability and work ethic – were his generosity and his loyalty – to Barbados, to the roles he played, to the organizations he served, to his late wife and to his daughter Catherine, a long serving technologist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and who has cared for him so well in the last challenging weeks of his long life.

He was a scholar and a gentleman, much admired by all who knew him, loved by his friends and a great lover of all things Barbadian. I first met him sitting at a desk in the National Trust where he spent several mornings every week as an unpaid volunteer dealing with memberships. It was a most valuable role which has never been replaced – a tragic loss to the National Trust – simply because so few people have Warren’s generosity of spirit to give so much time for a worthy cause. A spirit of giving inspired by his faith and his love for church music.

Remarkably, although he was never a sportsman and his only exercise was walking, and he was diabetic in later years, he lived to a noble 92, almost 93. He just seemed to go on forever, but he is now irreplaceable. My friend Morris Greenidge said “Warren put his tremendous talent to work in deciphering the dim recesses and the broad pathways of Bridgetown, re-igniting a passion of this place that was near to the point of death.”

Dr Karl Watson has said that he was a “a storehouse of knowledge on Barbadian history”. He was made an honorary life member of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society in 2003, and Vice President Professor Emeritus Sir Woodville Marshall said “He was a VITAL source of Barbadian history. His newspaper column It so happened will remain a treasury of little known but important tidbits”.

He was awarded the Barbados Service Star in our National Honours of 1989 but truly he has made an enormous contribution to the historiography of Barbados – to popular understanding of our heritage, to preservation and to many worthy causes. He was a most honourable man and really deserved far greater honours in his life time. He would have given honour and dignity to the title Companion of Honour.

In my mind, and in the minds of many Bajans, he is not only a historian extraordinaire, but has been and will live on in our minds as a companion of honour.

Source: by Sir Henry Fraser

2 Responses to ‘A historian extraordinaire’

  1. Tony Webster September 13, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Thank you, Sir Henry. It shall ever be a conundrum to me, that historians have the the gift of looking backwards, in order to better point the way forward for all of us.

    Reply
  2. William September 13, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    Sounds like he was one of the great men of Barbados.

    Reply

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