Under an English Heaven

When in the spring of 1967 the tiny Caribbean island of Anguilla rebelled against independence and in favor of colonialism, the action was so misunderstood by the islander's ex-mother country, Great Britain, that two years later the English invaded the peace with 315 paratroopers in a witless attempt to put the rebellion down. Since British rule was exactly what the Anguillans had been asking for, this was a military expedition doomed by its presumptions to plunge into defeat, humiliated rather than slaughtered, but resoundly trounced for all that.

This triumph was the third in Anguilla's unbroken string of victories over foreign assailants. The first military invasion of the island took place in 1745, when a force of six or seven hundred French soldiers landed at Crocus Bay, determined to wrest the place from the fifteen hundred mostly-English settlers. The settlers, already thinking of themselves as Anguillans, had no army as such, then or now; but some of them did have guns and none of them particularly liked being invaded.

The invaders had been spotted before they reached shore. A small posse of Anguillans dug itself in at strategic spots on the ridge overlooking the beach and in fifteen minutes of sharpshooting killed thirty-two Frenchmen and wounded twenty-five more, including the French commander, named De la Touche. There were no casualties among the defenders. The French decided that 7-to-1 odds were insufficient and tried to leave, but in the confusion of departure the Anguillans came down onto the beach and capture fifty invaders. Thus ended the first invasion.

The second military invasion of Anguilla took place in 1796, when two French warships landed three hundred troups at Rendezvous Bay, on the western end of the island, with orders to kill every man and woman and child on the island and destroy all buildings and crops. There ensued one of the oddest one-day battles of military history.

Once again the Anguillans had seen the enemy coming ashore. This time they'd sent a fast cutter off to the nearest English settlement at St. Kitts, seventy miles to the south, to ask for help, while in the meantime they made some effort to organize their defenses. They were given ample opportunity to do so since the French, in landing, had failed to keep their powder dry. Everybody on both sides waited while the French spread out their powder on sheets in the sun.

Some Anguillans wanted to toss burning sticks onto the sheets, but their leader, Deputy Governor Benjamin Gumbs, said No; that would be "ungentlemanly". (There are still today some Anguillans who want to shoot flaming arrows onto sheets of gunpowder, an there are still the others who reject it as ungentlemanly.)

Eventually the French powder dried and the French troops attacked. They were professionals against amateurs, the islanders didn't have the same handy heights at Rendezvous Bay they'd had at Crocus Bay fifty-one years earlier, and the Anguillans were driven gradually backward across the island. The invaders killed everybody they got their hands on - raping the women first, of course- and burned houses and crops, all according to plan.

The Anguillans retreated slowly all day long, dragging with them their few small cannon, and finally took their last stand at Sandy Hill, ten miles from the original beachhead and almost at the opposite end of their small and narrow island. After running out of cannon balls they melted down the lead weights from their fishing nets to make new ones and fired them at the French. And Benjamin Gumbs displayed a certain grasp of military basics when he told his men, "I'll tell ye what, I know nothing of marching and countermarching, but my advice to you is to wait till the enemy comes close, and then fire and load and fire again like the devil."

At last, low on ammunition and high on despair, the Anguillans decided they had only one move left: counterattack. They came down off Sandy Hill with such fury and desperation that they drove the French back, and back, and finally all the way back across the island to their original beachhead at Rendezvous Bay.

As the French were scrambling off the island, having had more than enough of the Anguillans for one day, there appeared offshore the British frigate H.M.S. Lapwing, Captain Robert Barton commanding. The cutter that had gone for help had met up with Lapwing at Antigua. Now, between the crazy Anguillans on shore and the twenty-six-gun Lapwing out at sea, the end of the day was not a happy one for the French. And thus ended the second invasion.

The third military invasion of Anguilla took place on March 19, 1969, when the British sent in their 315 Red Devil paratroopers, who had been transported by frigate and who were supported by helicopters, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, and a stand-by detachment of London policemen waiting on Antigua. This time the Anguillans put up absolutely no resistance of any kind, and yet they defeated their invaders once again. The instant the first paratrooper boot touched the sand at Crocus Bay, Anguilla had won what is possibly their most glorious victory of all.


The above is the first 3 pages of "Under an English Heaven" by Donald E. Westlake. This book is 264 pages and is available on amazon. From the cover, "Being a true recital of the events leading up to an down from the British invasion of Anguilla on March 19th, 1969, in which nobody was killed but many people were embarrassed."

This is an entertaining book and I highly recommend that anyone interested in Anguilla get a copy. Vincent Cate

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