In my Aug. 17 commentary “Captain with VI links remembered,” I described how Polish sailor Wladek Wagner’s epic voyage to promote the reborn Poland started in summer 1931 when he recovered a boat from the sand at Gydnia, a new port on the Baltic Coast.
It was built after the obstruction of a shipment of armaments through a free port in a detached part of Germany which was within the Polish customs area. During a war with Russia (1919-1920), Poland tried unsuccessfully to free Ukraine from communist Russia. If Poland had not at least managed to secure its own borders, Mr. Wagner would not have built his boat.
An amusing incident after my own wedding on Tortola led me to discover my Virgin Islands family links with the Wagner family, 30 years later.
After my return to England from working for four years in Malawi, I had regularly mixed socially with Africans and West Indians, but my flight into Beef Island by Air BVI for my wedding marked my first trip to the Caribbean.
While fulfilling the obligatory seven days residence in the territory, I stayed opposite Road Town Methodist Church, in one of Aunt Norma Osborne’s Lagoon Plaza apartments. One day, I walked the main roads around the perimeter of Tortola, stopping to watch flocks of pelicans dive-bombing fish and passing the occasional donkey patiently standing still.
None of my own family was able to come, but they sent presents like the tea set that adorns our sideboard now. My parents-in-law, Carris and Clothilda (“Clo”) Penn, outdid their reputation for hospitality, but his frailness led him to ask Uncle Ivan Penn to adopt the role of father-giver. He came over from Puerto Rico with members of his Hispanic family.
The service at the Methodist Church was celebrated jointly by its minister, the Rev. Joseph Hepburn, and the rector of St. George’s Anglican Church, Father Robert Granfeldt. The circuitous route our hooting cavalcade took via East End to Brandywine Bay Restaurant remains a blur, but nothing could have prepared me for the length of the reception line.
Guests were demonstrating their respect for my father-in-law, who was the government agent for East End, Long Look and Belle Vue for many years, serving as both district officer and tax collector.
Then for 19 years until his retirement in1982, he was the senior customs officer at Beef Island Airport. He frequently chased goats off the airfield before clambering on the roof of the little airport building to wave pilots in.
One amusing incident introduced me to both the importance of gatherings of family and friends and customs shared across the VI. Kim Stanley, the daughter of my sister-in-law Myrtle, had been given leave of absence from her school in St. Croix to be a bridesmaid at our wedding. At the first class after her return, her teacher teased her by asking where her piece of cake was.
Thirty years later, I was enjoying the radio programme dubbed affectionately the “Doug Wheatley Show.” Its host is the son of the late Willard Wheatley, the Virgin Islands’ second chief minister and the father of the present premier, Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.
Doug Wheatley was discussing the Wagner Sailing Rally and invited anyone who knew the Wagners to call in.
My ears pricked up when a caller mentioned that a family member, the late Myrtle Stanley, had been Ms. Wagner’s housekeeper before she got married and moved to St. Croix. That was how I discovered that the bridesmaid’s mother had worked in Trellis Bay and, later, that a whole slew of relatives whom I’d first met at the wedding reception had helped the Wagners pioneering efforts there.
Lest I forget
Mabel Wagner said that she had virtually completed the manuscript of her book Lest I Forget: The Wagner Family, Pioneers of Trellis Bay, Beef Island in 2007, but lacked the funds to publish it. However, in the wake of all those celebrations, she finally decided that the story needed to be told. They had lived there for nine eventful years.
This commentary has been corrected to reflect that Willard Wheatley was the Virgin Islands’ second chief minister.