Anguillan historian tells ‘Lulu’ author of the force of paratroopers’ invasion

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February 7, 2016 by dontbringlulubook



Front cover of Arial May 69WP_20160207_14_40_07_ProHistorian Colville Petty has told ‘Lulu’ co-author he’d never seen such force as that shown by the British Parachute Regiment in March 1969.

Mr Petty who now runs the museum on the Caribbean island remembers manning the beaches as a young man.

He witnessed the landing by the ‘Red Devils’ on Anguilla – now a British overseas territory.

The turmoil on the island was covered by ‘Lulu’ co-author Ron Onions when he was based in New York as the first BBC news organiser in the city.

Ron and his wife Doris joined Washington correspondent Charles Wheeler and a camera crew including sound recordist Bill Norman, cameraman Pete Matthews and freelance camera man Eric Durschmeid.  Durschmeid shuttled between Anguilla and nearby St.Kitts to film TV news footage.


The British prime minister at the time Harold Wilson leant support to the view that Anguilla had been invaded by American gangsters and guns were stored on the island.
The research at the Heritage museum in Anguilla would suggest a more complex story but, in any case, Wilson sanctioned the deployment of officers from the Metropolitan Police in London as well as the soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment known as the Red Devils.

Journalists from the U.S.and Britain covered the story including David Dimbleby who was making a programme for Panorama on the BBC. Other reporters were Margaret Hyman from U.P.I. and the Sun newspaper (pre-Murdoch) which ran a rear shot of two paratroopers strolling along a white sandy beach without any clothes.

The BBC news journalists stayed at Lloyds guesthouse because experienced Washington correspondent Charles Wheeler decided it would be more at the heart of the story rather than in the island’s only hotel. It was the right decision and news conferences were held under the Mahogany Tree at a nearby crossroads in the Valley.
Co-author Doris Onions (seen on the right with husband Ron)had travelled down from New York with her husband and she co-ordinated activities while the newsmen tried to make sense of an unusual story, ‘Britain invades a tiny Caribbean island whose people love the Queen’.

Doris remembered the charismatic Vida who ran the bed and breakfast with her husband David. One night Mrs Lloyd poked her head under the mosquito net round Doris’ bed and asked her ‘No man in your bed tonight, Mrs Onions?’
Her man was somewhere in the Caribbean trying to get news film to Miami and then to New York to be sent on the satellite to London.

Doris who died in 2004 remembered Vida’s children Christine and David and recalled Christine playing with a white American doll who’s hair was plaited in the island style.
Now Christine runs Lloyds and da Vida’s restaurant and accommodation at nearby Crocus Bay on the north-eastern side of the island (one of the landing sites where the paras disembarked at dawn on the 19th of March, 1969). She is pictured flanked by ‘Lulu’ co-author Sarah Onions (right) and American resident in Anguilla Rita Dispensa.

From 1980, Anguilla was acknowledged as a separate British dependency, more hotels were built and governors were appointed, with Christine Scott as the first woman by David Cameron.
Next year will mark 50 years since the chain of events were sparked on February the 4th in 1967 during the organisation of a Statehood Queen Show to mark Anguilla seceding to St Kitts. Most islanders were resistant to Kittitians’ notion of statehood.

Co-author Ron Onions’ role in the events was just one part of the complex picture.

Ron’s eldest daughter Sarah, also a journalist visited the island’s Heritage museum to meet Colville Petty,O.B.E.

Sarah gave the museum a copy of the BBC house magazine ‘Ariel’ from May 1969. She also donated a copy of the Caradon Declaration which had already been reproduced in Colville Petty’s book ‘Anguilla’s Battle for Freedom’published in 2010 and,flimsy copies of Lord Caradon’s statement to the islanders in what was described by some as a ‘revolution’. Caradon, British ambassador to the UN, addressed the islanders in diplomatic language, noting their patriotic devotion.But in what the diplomat described as a personal word on a second page,he added,’I think we trust each other’ and repeated his promise to return to help.

As island taxi driver Mac said to Ron and Doris Onions quoting from ‘Don’t Bring Lulu;Her Family’s Tale of Trial and Triumph’ – ‘things go good now’.
Another of the young men to be seen on the frost cover of Ariel is Walter Fleming( who is sitting down).
Walter now runs the Anguillan Great House and Coconuts Beach Bar on the south side of the island near to Blowing Point from where the ferries sail to nearby St Marten (half French, half Dutch).When violence broke out in Anguilla he was sent a message by an aeroplane (there were no phones on the island at this stage) to return to his home. These days he runs his business carefully,with a loyal clientele middle-aged Americans who make the journey south for a holiday from winter.

But, prompted by memories from a trusted guest Patti Healey (niece of U.S. Congressman John J.Rooney) he agreed to be interviewed by Lulu co-author Sarah Onions.Walter shows a wry view of Harold Wilson ‘s policy towards an isolated isle in the shape of an eel (hence the name Anguilla).He recalled that a reconnaissance aircraft flew overhead during those events.Mr Fleming echoed the feeling of anger about ‘statehood’ with St. Kitts.

Ron Onions didn’t return to Anguilla. Later that year he covered the moonshot for the BBC and then flew to Japan with reporter Martin Bell to cover the launch of a satellite over the Indian Ocean for use by the BBC and the Japanese broadcaster NHK.
His future back in Britain lay in the development of commercial radio news and he was Editorial Director of LBC Radio and Independent Radio News(IRN) for more than 10 years.He also had the life-time duty of visiting and caring for his younger daughter Lulu with his wife Doris. But his eldest daughter Sarah made the decision to return to Anguilla ahead of the 50 year marker of the turmoil of the British invasion. It was a heady week for Ron’s daughter re-tracing his steps and that of her mother Doris and, the discovery of an English heaven, many miles from Mother England but with no desire to relinquish the monarch’s apron strings.



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