By Gabriel J. Christian, Esq.
Major Twistleton St. Rose Bertrand – Former Commandant, Dominica Defence Force; Captain, Canadian Army, an Aide de Camp to Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor
On Sunday, December 8, 2019 Major Twistleton St. Rose Bertrand, born at Portsmouth on September 24, 1924, slipped into history. He died in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada surrounded by his family and his beloved wife of sixty-six years Yolanda Bertrand (nee McIntyre). He leaves to mourn his sons, Trevor, Terry and Garvin and his daughter Kathy Andre. Kathy is the wife of the distinguished Canadian jurist and author Irving W. Andre whose roots also reside in Portsmouth. He was also the oldest brother of my friend from childhood, the distinguished D.C. area surveyor, Fitzroy “Poy” Bertrand.
The former commandant of the Dominica Defence Force, Bertrand migrated to Canada in 1976 where he rose to the rank of Captain in the Canadian Army. As a member of the Dominica Grammar School Cadet Corp in the 1970s, I had the honor of being on National Day parades in the pre-independence era under the command of Major Bertrand, then Commandant of the Dominica Defence Force. He cut a fine figure in his tunic, his sword glinting from the rays of the ricocheting sun, as he smartly executed the march past before the saluting dais occupied by Governor Sir Louis Cools-Lartigue and a nearby Premier Edward Oliver LeBlanc.
A jovial, kind and gracious, man Major Bertrand, or Uncle Twist (to us the young ones) often regaled us with stories of the war years and of his time in service. Bertrand served alongside our father Wendell McKenzie Christian in “C” Company, Windward Islands Battalion, British Army, South Caribbean Forces. Other notable Dominicans who served included Dominica Grammar School old boys such as Royal Air Force members Osmund St. Clair Alleyne, Lacombe Alphonsus McCoy and Harold Cherberd Bryant, DFC (all of whom perished in air combat over Europe), former Judge Glenworth Emmanuel (Royal Navy), and British Army soldiers Stafford “Star” Lestrade, D.K. Burton, Fred James and George Chambers.
Twist had signed up to defend his country. The youth of his generation had followed the boxing match, via radio, which pitted the legendary African American boxer Joe Louis, (the “Brown Bomber”) against the German Max Schmeling. Schmeling was often trumpeted as an exemplar of the Adolph Hitler’s Nazi super-race. According to Twist, “We jumped for joy when Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling at that famous boxing match at Madison Square Garden. We knew that Hitler preached race hatred and wanted to conquer the world. We wanted none of that.” During the early part of World War II, marauding German U-Boats were torpedoing ships up and down the Caribbean and our people suffered from the resultant shortages of food and other necessities. In an interview I did with him in 2011, Bertrand recalled.
“Early in World War II, we would listen to the war bulletins from the BBC at the business establishment of Robert Douglas; alongside us was Wendell Christian, Clifford Severin who later joined the Royal Air Force and Glen Emmanuel who later joined the Royal Navy. We saw our allied American subs around Portsmouth searching for Nazi U-Boats off our coast which were sinking allied ships. We saw the US Army Air Corp Bolo Bombers dive over Douglas Bay looking for German U-Boats. We saw one boat ablaze, with wounded sailors and soldiers, limp into Portsmouth after being attacked by German U-Boats. The Free French forces and French refugees thronged Portsmouth at that time, after the defeat of France in 1940. The French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique – to the north and south of our island – had fallen to the Vichy collaborationist regime of Marshall Petain and Dominica and the whole Caribbean was threatened by the German onslaught. That is why the British Army recruited us to save the region from fascism and ensure that supplies such as oil could reach the allies. Your Dad and I, among others, were concerned by these events and that is what inspired us to join the battle for freedom. The USS Partridge came to Portsmouth frequently, as it was engaged in chasing U-Boats and clearing our area of German mines. We once took a little boat to go alongside USS Partridge and another US submarine which almost got torpedoed by US Army Air Corps planes from Antigua and St. Lucia.”
The British West Indians who served were dedicated to the expansion of democracy and rule of law. In Bertrand’s youth, the ordinary British West Indian lacked the vote and chafed under the strictures of Crown Colony rule. Added to that, the harsh economic conditions following the 1929 Wall Street Crash had led to labour rebellions across the region. By 1944 the rise of West Indian nationalism, of which servicemen were in the vanguard, led to the granting of universal adult suffrage in Jamaica; citizens of Trinidad & Tobago gained voting right 1945 and Dominicans gained that right to vote in 1951. World War I servicemen such as Jamaica’s Chief Minister Norman Washington Manley (Royal Artillery) and Oilfield Workers Trade Union leader Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler (British West Indian Regiment) were leaders in the fight for self-determination between the two world wars. After World War II, the heroism of the West Indians who served opened wide freedom’s gate. Among the notable servicemen of honor and integrity, were Pilot Officer Errol Barrow (Royal Air Force) who became the first Prime Minister of Barbados, Dudley Thompson (Royal Air Force) who became minister of Foreign Affairs of Jamaica and Squadron Leader Phillip Louis Ulric Cross (Royal Air Force) of Trinidad & Tobago, who became a Judge of the Court of Appeals of his country and served as a senior jurist in Ghana, Cameron and Tanzania.
Those who served from our region were all volunteers. They knew that their service and sacrifice would buttress the freedom and dignity of our people. Today that self-determination and democracy whose bounds they sought to expand, are under threat as never before. The high ideals of integrity and honorable selfless duty they rendered are being assailed by those who lack any intrinsic sense of duty to country, over self. The history of that great generation of West Indians was captured in the work For King & Country, the Service and Sacrifice of the British West Indian Military (Irving W. Andre, Gabriel J. Christian, Pont Casse Press, 2009). See https://shelfwise.directfrompublisher.com/catalog/book/king-country.
Twist Bertrand had a keen sense of humor and a good singing voice. In his last years he would often call me and detail elements of Dominican life that are long gone. On one such call, he spoke of the song that he and comrades sang during the war:
We will never let the old flag fall
For we love it the best of all.
We don’t want to fight to show our might
But when we fight, we fight for right
In peace or war, you will hear them sing
God save the flag, God save the King
And at the ending of the war, our flag will fly
Because we will never let the old flag fall
As we render a warm salute to Twistleton Bertrand, a soldier, nation-builder, civic leader, and friend, may we be so inspired by his lifetime of meritorious service. May we be worthy soldiers in the cause of liberty and good governance as he was. In his grace, self-confidence, dignity and bravery, Bertrand made a monumental contribution to the Dominican nation and democratic governance in our region. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning time, we shall remember the likes of him and be steadfast in our sense of duty to the best ideals!