By Bumpy Walker
Many stories in Ireland begin with the line, “There was this fella,” and they usually involve drinking in the pub.
So here goes: There was this fella in Dublin called Liam, Liam Sutcliffe. One evening in March 1966 after closing time at the pub, he took his son and a bag of gelignite and blew up the local Nelsons statue.
There had been previous attempts in the past to do in this symbol of British domination of Ireland. The government hemmed and hawed after independence about its destruction; because of the dependency of their economy on the UK they did not. So Mr Sutcliffe, a former member of the British Military and then an active member of an IRA splintered group, did the job, though he didn’t destroy the column. The Irish army had to finish the job.
This destructive act was naturally condemned by the Irish Government. There was a tale that the New York born former anti-colonial guerrilla leader, ex Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and the then President, the lyrically named Eamon De Valera, made the comment "British Admiral Leaves Dublin by Air".
I actually was told first this story in a Dublin pub in a haze of Guinness, tobacco and hashish fumes shouting the chorus of some traditional songs celebrating life. I had asked who this Liam they were toasting was. And the pub went silent as they regaled me, and it ended in a roar of laughter. The son being present was added for dramatic effect. He was there on an earlier attempt that failed. But that was how it was told to me! I was also told that they suspected it was actually done by an Irish army explosive expert, because of the lack of collateral damage. This is one of those national folk myths that are whispered and not recorded!
Back in 2018 there was an attempt by activists to remove another Nelson statute and column from Trafalgar Square London, the reason being his support for the slave trade. There is something unusual about the Nelson column that is rarely discussed. At the bottom of the column on each face of the base is a brass relief. Unusually one shows members of the crew, not just officers but working class men standing over Nelson as he lay mortally wounded. Among the crew is an armed African, George Ryan.
I was told of this image by my father, and while I didn’t believe him, my first week end in London I went to investigate. I then discovered that the embassy of the apartheid South African regime, which was less than a stone’s throw away, had the image of an African pointing a rifle in its general direction! I confess I was excited by this image, but when I told other in the diaspora they were less than interested. How things have evolved.
Do you remember the Days of Slavery?
As a follow up to the demonstrations in response to the death of Mr Floyd in the United States, there has been an attempt to remove offensive Civil War statues, rename streets and places named after Confederate defenders of slavery. The winds of change have blown eastward. This sentiment has infected Europe. No one can complain that statues of Leopold II should be removed in Belgium. I would suggest that as a substitute they could put up statues of ED Morel, a journalist who ramrodded the campaign to end the atrocities in Leopold’s private fiefdom, the Congo Free State. But then investigation would throw up the interesting ideas he had on race and the inhumanity of the subsequent Belgium colonial policies, which was the solution.
In Bristol, the statue of a former slave trader, Edward Colston, was removed by people power action. To this I have no objections; an investor in human trafficking deserves the poetic destruction of his bronze image by disposal into the sea. That’s a fitting symbolic end given the number of victims who were unceremoniously dumped there from his ships. However, if one searches deeper, both Bob Marley and Burning Spear performed at Colston Hall in Bristol. It must be ironic that, at the place Spear musically questioned: “Do you remember the days of slavery?” Bristol replied in 2020 with a resounding “Yes!”
This brings us neatly to the defacing of Winston “Winnie” Churchill’s statute and the calls to remove it from Parliament Square. I find Churchill’s beliefs on empire, race; his complicity in the deliberate policies that led to starvation of up to five million Bengalis in 1943 evil. But pause. Churchill’s finest hour and why his statute is deservedly located facing Parliament is the fact that he led the British Empire during its confrontation with the German fascist empire. He portrayed a sense of righteousness that inspired the British Empire with the moral zeal to resist. And British troops did help re-establish the God-King Haile Selassie’s empire in Ethiopia. Note, at the first opportunity, the British electorate voted him out of office, demonstrating their sentiment.
It should also be remembered that in in 1940 there was significant popular clamour for Britain to make peace with the Nazi empire. Churchill stood defiant. One prominent person advocating such a compromise was the former Prime Minister Lloyd George. He too has a statue in Parliament Square. Lloyd George was an admirer of Hitler and was willing to negotiate for peace. A condition of peace would undoubtedly have been the Germans regaining their colonies, which Lloyd George had been partially responsible for taking from them at the end of World War I.
Choosing Evil by Scale
Colonialism is evil. In this case evil is quantifiable. In the 1940s one empire let three million Bengalis starve; the other empire killed 20 million with deliberate industrial precision. I have no doubt the same systematic genocide used in Europe would have been applied in Africa if the German Empire had overcome the British Empire in 1940. You would be speaking of death camps in Kamarun, Togo, Tanganyika, Namibia, Burundi, Rwanda as well as in Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia. (I would not exist!)
In Parliament Square there are two statues that need further comment; those of Mandela and Jan Smuts. I am always stupefied by this irony. Jan Smuts was a Prime Minister of South Africa who gave an intellectual underpinning to Apartheid as well as run a regime that was akin to that of the Confederate States of America on speed. Yet it is Churchill’s statue that gets all the spontaneous “decoration”, while those of Smuts and Lloyd George are ignored.
I cannot wait till the Irish in Britain notice that there is a statute of Oliver Cromwell in front of Westminster’s then demands its destruction! Interestingly, in 1997 when Bertie Ahern, was Taoiseach of Ireland, while in the UK he went on a courtesy call to see Robin Cook, the UK Foreign Secretary, at his office. Bert saw a portrait of Cromwell and walked out.
Or when the Danish residents of the UK call for the demolition of the statutes of Nelson! Nelson did burn the Danish fleet in Copenhagen, in 1801 without provocation! Old pirate indeed!
History matters. Colston, Lee, and Leopold II should be seen to us the scatterings of Africa, in the same manner Hitler, Eichmann and Mengele are to any self-respecting Jewish person. And it mattered to the British, during the visit of former Prime Minister David Cameron to Jamaica; his aides made sure he did not do an interview in front of Marcus Garvey statute in Heroes Park!
Where I get unpopular
I believe each place name, each statute, must be judged and disposed of as per the will of the locals Regarding the statute of Nelson in Dublin I agree with De Valeras comment, “British Admiral leaves Dublin by air”. I have no hesitancy in supporting the tossing of Colston into the drink. Nelson’s Column in London gives me pause, despite his piratical action in Copenhagen. It is located in his home country where he is considered a hero and shows Africans in the English historical narrative as agents of change, not mere victims.
As much dislike as I have of Churchill’s racism, imperialism and conservatism, I would leave his statue alone because of his resistance to fascism in the 1930s. However, after removing the Smuts and Lloyd George statues, replace them with those of Stalin (a mass murderer) and Roosevelt (imprisoned Japanese American without trial). For, as it is said, the Nazis were defeated because the Soviets died, the Yanks paid and Churchill gave the speeches.
As to the Nelson statute in Trafalgar Square Barbados, I suggest Mia Motley find Mr Sutcliffe or his son to do what they did to Nelson in Dublin. I would further suggest that they move the Bussa statute to that space. (I love the Bussa statute; it makes me feel proud, makes me want to be Bajan) and commission one for his Co Leader Nanny Greg. (Use the “Jamaican” Rhianna as the model for Nanny Greg. She too was a multi ethnic like the singer!) Our heroes reunited!
I have no hesitancy to change the name of the Musgrave Medal. This to me is a no brainer and an obvious non-controversial solution. The Robert Nesta Marley Medal would honour Bob and make the artistic excellence for which so many Jamaicans are blessed seem more relevant, more personal. It would add value by making them more internationally recognisable, strengthening our economic sinew by practical artistic recognition. Who outside Jamaica and Antigua ever heard of Musgrave?
I have alluded to the fact that I like, Morris Cargill, Donald Sangster and Chris Stokes attended Munro College. They obviously were better educated. As a new boy I stood on the stone commemorating Robert Hugh Munro the man who established the trust to build a school for poor boys. I recoiled in horror when I looked at the dates of his life, knowing they coincided with the high point of murder. I spat on it and was caught in the act and punished with a detention!
I would suggest that that the name Munro be replaced. In the unlikely event that this is done Sangster College or its original name Potsdam School would be the most likely name. I would personally prefer Chinua Achebe College to honour the world’s greatest author. To poke the devil in the eye, alternatively, the Joseph Knight College, an almost forgotten Jamaican whose court case eliminated slavery from Scotland, the home country of Robert Hugh Munro.
PS: I recently heard one of Jamaica’s political leaders say “the insemination of Criminal activities…” on Radio Jamaica’s That’s a Rap,