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The Swinging Thirties: The Young Ladies Union   

The Swinging Thirties: The Young Ladies Union   

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The world economic depression wreaked havoc on the colonial economy in Bathurst in 1929; the devaluation of the going currency the French Franc was devastating. It was most distressing for local merchants and traders several of who had to foreclose and sell off major stocks and landed properties. Merchant philanthropist James Thomas Roberts, the man of style, elegance, and taste of 8 Oxford Street, Bathurst, one of the ten richest Gambians of the day, was among several Krio traders that fell in battle while several Syrian and small European houses continued wounded only with the fortunate aid of external support. 

MC Cousin Fred  The Hon Wilfred Davidson Carrol
MC Cousin Fred
The Hon Wilfred Davidson Carrol

However, the community began picking up the pieces into the 1930s that dawned with hope in the first-term Teddy Roosevelt’s promised New Deal in 1932 to bring recovery to America and in fact to all parts of the world economy, including England’s that hopefully would filter down eventually to its colonies.

In the meantime society in Bathurst found its way for survival, especially when education had laid the foundation for resilience in trade and other means. The bottom line was that life was to be lived and the ambience was staunchly supported by the know how to maximise profitability in the civil and professional medical and legal domains, or at the wholesale or retail levels of business. There was enterprise everywhere—tailors and seamstresses, cobblers and publicans, importers and distributors of cola nuts and textiles, liquor and tobacco, foodstuff and varied European consumables to feed the appetites of a rising middle class. 

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The horizons of the Krio continued to widen even further into the decade and life was being lived. The Thirties soon turned swinging and would mark the height of Krio elevation of the example as recorded of a social event on Monday night on July 13, 1937, the eve of the French National fete, Le Quatorze Juliette. The Bathurst Reform Club added a richness of achievement to its history when it hosted the first Annual Dance staged by the Young Ladies Union. It was to surpass all of the Club’s memorable engagements in many years since its opening in 1921 to commemorate the life and times of Henry Richmond Carrol, immigrant artisan and merchant, who had died in Freetown in 1913 while on a short visit to his home of origin. 

These were the words of a journalist of the day reporting in the Gambia Echo newspaper on one evening in the life of mannerly Krio: “Indeed, the credit and reputation of the Ladies Union were fully established in high spirits at this gala which was no small affair. Winds, lightings, and heavy rains conspired in vain to spoil the evening. In fact they proved to be blessings. For one thing they paved a way for a select crowd apart from cooling the heated atmosphere and creating enormous demand at the bar.

“The very tasteful decoration of the Hall beggars any description. Coloured lanterns shaded the white glare of the lights, producing a most beautiful and subdued illumination. But all these were really insignificant in comparison with the   esprit de corps which prevailed.

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“The men’s stiff linens mingling as they did with the gleaming jewels of the ladies, shed glamour over the function, and the magic music set the hall going in rhythmic movements. In frocks of varying hue and cut, and a grand array of frills and bows, the brilliant company sat at tables.

“The personnel of the Union adorned themselves in ankle-length pinks, completed in delicately worked cowl-fronts and waistline in evening dress style. There were times when they moved among the gay crowd; but when they sat together, they were simply charming and looked as if they were daughters of one mother.

“The Police Band under Sergeant Athanasius Thomas discussed some of the principal items on a first rate programme. The band struck the opening march promptly at 8.30 with Rumba breaks and two imposing Lancers sets which chimed with the heavenly breezes wafting the strains around in broadcast fashion bidding all come in spite of bad weather. Up to 11 p.m. pairs were steadily flowing in. 

“The Union left everyone impressed by the careful manner things were organized.  Two drinking bars were run to prevent congestion and delay, and at each a variety of miscellaneous refreshments were provided, the most conspicuous of which were prepared pea nuts for the asking, cakes by the basket, tempting sandwiches and iced drinks by the dozens. The Honorary President of the Union Mrs. Julia Clarke was a charming hostess. Modest to a fault, she was frightfully keen about the comforts of her guests. The rest of the members including the indefatigable Secretary Miss Margaret Macauley, busied themselves ushering and welcoming fresh arrivals.

“Senses ran riot. Money was lavished and a constant stream of service was the order of the evening. Consciousness itself was actually benumbed by the wealth of stimuli. The Band simply excelled for music — “Ole faithful,” “I’ll string along,” “Ballerina,” and “Good ship Lollipop” formed a few of the selected masterpieces on the list.

“The smooth running of the whole show reflected admirably on the business-like manner in which the MC, the Hon W Davidson Carrol, popularly known as Cousin Fred performed his task. He timed the dances to the satisfaction of even the fastidious. As clients of his for the evening, dancers submitted themselves to him wholesale, and he could never have pleaded better on their behalf than the way he repeated the popular pieces.

 “He treated the audience to a good few of his large treasury of humour, none beating an occasion when, as if in court, he put a leading question thus:- ‘The next dance is a Fox-trot, “Back to those happy days.”  Do you want it?’ And out as from a million throats came the deafening answer, ‘Y-e-s.’

“Twice he caught the ladies blushing by ordering that choice of partners should proceed from them. It gave great trill to see the “super-fines” and “ladies’ fancies” being ‘besieged’ and their less-favoured brethren being brushed aside, just for the fun of it. The excellent catering service under Mr JT Sowe spoke volumes. Top-floor stores were distinct and safe under Mr Ndoye.

“At 2.30 am the Band had scarcely packed their straps, when “Dynamite” pealed forth from the Radio pick-up. From then till dawn this modern amenity provided soul-stirring music. In quick succession came “Clementina,” “Ali Baba,” and “Cat-a-plume,” to quote just a few of those records which afforded Rumba adherents any amount of muscular activity and turned the hall into a factory of emotions.

“The party present were Mr Justice Gray, Chief Patron, Hon ICC Rigby, Dr Lockhead, Messrs KC Jacobs and Wilson Plant, Vice Patrons Messrs Spell, Butterworth, Martin, Slemmens, Lotley, Dr AE Carrol, WP Cole, JR Forster and Miss Forster, Mr Herbert Jones and Miss Jones, Mr JL Mahoney and Miss Mahoney, RH and G St Clair Joof, EC Sowe, HB Nicol, JF Senegal, MG Leigh, Joiner, Lawani, Downes-Thomas, Njie, Able Thomas, Jarra, King, SJ Bidwell, LF Valantine.

“Mr and Mrs Pedro Elliott, Mr and Mrs JL Danner, Mr and Mrs PA Carrol, Mr and Mrs JA Maxwell, Mr and Mrs CJ Clarke, Mr and Mrs HD Carrol, Mr and Mrs T RG Roberts; Mr JW Kuye, Mrs LS Mahoney, Mrs Lloyd Evans, Mrs Evelyn Carrol, Mrs SJ Mahoney, Mrs Roberts, and Mrs JF Jallow.

“Misses Cynthia Hollist, Lucy and Elsie Riley, Phebean Downes, D Beckley, N Kennedy, A Johnson, J Williams, Rosamond Fowlis, Ethel and Winnie Bishop, L Bidwell, Gwen and Lucy Forster, L and G Mensah, H Forster, MM Forster. Owens E Johnson, Hannah Gomez, Margaret Macauley, Comfort Oldfield, and Rose Stapleton.”

The cream of Bathurst society was swinging in patent shoes and stilettos and in silk garments and pearl necklaces; the band would play for another thirty years before the curtains would begin to fall in the watershed years of the 1960s.

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