Did you know while the Reduit base was for the specific purpose of containing enemy activity in Martinique, the Vieux Fort air force base was part of a protection for the significantly important Panama Canal?
The military presence in Vieux Fort was much larger and so, too, was its impact on the community. At first, the effect of the base was mostly positive; cars and trucks driven by Americans and some locals passed up and down in steady streams. The base occupied 115 Americans and over 600 West Indian workers, who were paid £2,500 weekly. Between April 1941 and June 1942, the local work force expanded to 4,615 local employees, directed by 600 Americans.
Also in 1942, the American military base began to have a negative impact. Within a year, Vieux Fort’s population increased from 2,000 to 8,000 and in mid 1942, increased to 9,000. The government neglected mounting problems with water supply, garbage disposal, housing and policing. Before long, Vieux Fort became a breeding ground for tuberculosis, venereal diseases and gastro-enteric afflictions.
In 1942, the 296 residential buildings in Vieux Fort served a population of 8,000. People slept in fishing boats, on the pavements, under balconies and trees. A small house cost five dollars a week, housed about 10, 20 or more persons, and at night time they had to squeeze together on the bare floor.
In the smaller houses, sleeping was done in turns, and in the early part of the night, the first set tried to get as much rest as possible. Then later another set would come in and the first batch would go out to accommodate them. Areas under houses, balconies, kitchens and out-houses were used as dormitories.
Another repercussion for the American base was more indirect. The huge demand for local produce resulted in a rapid increase in the stock of pigs and this in turn led to an epidemic of swine fever. Between July and September 1941, 90 per cent of the pigs in St. Lucia were wiped out and it was suggested that the disease originated from the Reduit base.
Source: A History of St. Lucia by Harmsen, Ellis & Devaux – 2012
This feature runs every Tuesday and Thursday. It is written by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]