eternity in the palm of your hand’ William Blake
Mr. Sealy owned
Paragon house and one day he called up the young Doctor David Payne
and asked him to buy the property. The Federation Government
of the West Indies with its headquarters in Bridgetown, the island’s
capital, was being formed and Payne thought it would be a good idea
to buy the great house since homes would be needed for its officials.
He bought the
house and fourteen acres of land in 1959 for $23,000 Bds at eight percent
interest and paid $166.00 per month mortgage through Cottle Catford
a firm of solicitors. Paragon land was a wind swept
and wave battered rugged raised beach platform, with sheer 60 feet cliffs
of sharp eroded coral limestone running over to the West to Long Beach,
a mile wide bay stretch of white sand.
In 1963 Payne
rented the house to a new company called the High Altitude Research
Project for $300.00 Bds a month in the person of a Professor Dean Mordecai
for a project to do something with guns and satellites.
he should have rented it for more for shortly after they moved in a
whole army of scientists, technicians and military people descended.
The place was transformed into something like Dr No from James Bond.
He drove to Paragon every evening after his clinic to see what new and
fascinating things were happening and stood by thinking that he was
too lowly of intelligence to understand what was going on. One
day he went and the staircase had been moved.
“Do you know
anyone who could be an all rounder, get things done with the government?”
Professor Mordecai asked him shortly after the project was installed.
Payne said. He recommended a young man he had meet by the name of Carlton
Brathwaite, who had just finished working for Costain, an international
construction company that had just built Barbados’ first and new deep
water harbour. He knew that the young man had done basically the
same work. Signing in and out things and keeping check on
stores and getting things done with government.
NEWSPAPER 27TH MARCH 1962
is to play what may be a vital part in the testing of the instruments
for the exploration of the moon. Early next month a converted
naval gun near Seawell Airport will blast off a series of chemical-packet
‘bullet-rockets’ high into the atmosphere
– the start of McGill University’s spectacular
‘Operation Space’, a multi-purpose scientific project that will
make Barbados a world space research center and provide the island with
the best equipped storm detection station in the Southern West Indies.
this yesterday the Canadian University said that Barbados was
‘a natural choice’ for the location of their
‘space guns’. The island’s weather and the fact that
the University already has research facilities there under the Bellairs
Research Institute and the BRACE Experiment Station, were main factors.
‘space gun’ site will be between Seawell Airport and the seacoast.
The actual launching installation will
be at the foot of the cliffs at the east end of the runway.
A command control port will be located in a compound at the lower level.
Most of the instrumentation, radar, telemetry, receivers and so on,
will be installed close to the airport control tower so that the Department
of Civil Aviation can get “full benefit”.
launchings will be under the supervision of Barbados’ own airport
control officer, the university said. Barbados’
‘space shot’ program will fall into two stages. The
first will be a small installation around a converted four-inch naval
gun, from which payloads or instrumentation of five or six pounds will
be fired up to about 150,000 feet.
stage will be a launching tube built around a 16-inch gun capable of
sending a 2,000lb payload to 150,000 ft or 200 lbs. To 500,000 ft. or
forecasts that, when the second stage has been reached a booster rocket
will be added to the payload, using a standard solid fuel, and the original
rocket will probably “escape the earth altogether”.
will be tracked from the ground by radio and possibly radar sets, says
the university which will also provide the surveillance to make sure
the atmosphere is “clear of all airplanes or satellites before launching”.
The rockets will send back messages and these will be picked up by automatic
direction finders on the radio receivers. The radar, say
the University, besides following the experiments will also be available
for traffic control works.
still, to Barbados however, will be the complete equipment for a regular
meteorological station, vital equipment in the surveillance of conditions
before launching and a long-needed storm detection station for Barbados
– an island directly in the path of the world’s hurricane spawning
is wasting no time on the first miniature
‘blast-off’. The first exploration shots from the smaller
‘space-gun’ are scheduled to be made early next month, and the larger
gun should be in action by the end of summer, according to the University.
shots will eject sodium nitrate mixed with aluminum powder and the reaction
can be observed from the ground. Later, however, the
‘space-guns’ may fire off grenade loaded bullets which will explode
at high altitude.
BULLETS INSTEAD OF ROCKETS?
University. The gun launched probe will not be suitable
for doing all the scientific work that can be done with rockets, but
it can do a great deal of this work and has many advantages as compared
to a rocket.
In the first
place it is cheaper. In the second place it is more predictable
and reliable. It can stand in a state of instant readiness
and be fired with great frequency if need be. At the present
time much of information gained about the upper atmosphere shows great
variance simply because conditions are varying all the time, and at
the present time using rockets, it is not possible to get measurements
sufficiently frequently to trace the pattern of variation.
With the gun-launched probe this will become possible and so will help
very materially in gathering information about the properties of the
atmosphere at extreme altitude.
The gun fired
electrically, and an electrician was needed to wire the bags of explosives,
packed behind the projectile in the breech of the gun, to go off simultaneously.
This was Renee Low’s job. It entailed being at the breech
of the gun when the shots were being loaded.
was coming but the nerves could not be quite. Reaction was
involuntary,” he recalls.
on the American Bauxite Base at Chagaramas in Trinidad as Chief electrician
from 1936 and during the years of the Second World War. On his return
to Barbados in 1952 the Government of Barbados employed him as Chief
Electrician for Seawell Airport. When HARP came in 1962
he was transferred by the government to work on the project.
“At the beginning
of HARP we changed a generator at the airport and the government told
me to give the discarded generator to HARP. The electricians
at HARP were unable to adopt it to their needs. I was called
in and asked to fix it as a side job.” He remembers.
then that George Payne was not only working on the project but that
he was one of the ‘heavies’. George Payne had been in a group
of old wireless men such as Cecil Sampson, who were pioneers of radio
in Barbados, who met regularly as a group. Lowe had taught
Payne general electrics and George had specialized in radio.
George was an absolute genius, the best. George and I did something
with a radio at HARP that was astounding, that beat the fellows at the
Headquarters in North Troy. We put up a transmitter.
George did all the calculation and we were able to talk to North Troy
as though they were in St James. In order to bring it to
more efficiency George went to North Troy and rearranged their whole
transmission system. We made a phone patch.
Whatever the electronic engineers in Canada were capable of we could
do as much as that. Often when we set up projects the men
in Canada could not do the counterpart. With certain projects
here, we had to send them the technology to put it up there in North
Troy. George Payne was one of the giants of HARP.
The amazing thing was that Payne was not only a leper, he was half an
invalid and was highly respected and loved for his genius.
Payne did more electronics schematics at HARP than any other person.
He cared for nothing but the truth. Some people did not
Dr Bull was
an amazing man from the first encounter. The gun was at first elevated
mechanically. Bull decided to change the method and do it
electrically. A design to achieve this was made in North
Troy and brought down to us. As Chief Electrician I was
asked to install it. Our generator was not big enough so
I borrowed one from the airport and connected it. The motor
of the generator started to burn while the gun was still in the process
‘We had better
bring the gun back down. If it goes up now you going get
it down?’ I turned and said to Dr. Bull who was standing
by my side.
he said. ‘Don’t let that worry you, what goes up must
I don’t remember
what happened but the gun must have come down. I have seen
him do things that were fantastic. For instance a vehicle
is on the ground and the ammunition that is calculated to drive it.
He would ask Robbie Sealy, the gun captain from Goodland District, how
much ammunition he had calculated. Then he would come up
with his own figure and the explosive would be accurate.
that a gun with a 32 inch bore and a long enough barrel could shot straight
into orbit. We could have launched a satellite or put things
in the air for next thing to nothing. I remember one night
we fired the gun every two hours.
What we had
at HARP was expendability. People thought we had to obtain
things from outside or go somewhere for our technology, but we took
discarded equipment – from places like the U.S. Armed Forces and other
countries. We took systems from amateur radio and modified them
to do what we wanted.
We could not
buy certain electrical equipment so we sat down and built them.
We modified all kinds of equipment to suit our specific needs and produced
the effects that were required. I was afforded the opportunity
to try out many of my ideas at HARP. There are certain things
I could do. I would be sitting in the workshop.
An engineer would come up and say ‘I want you to do so and so and
I had to do it. Then you had to know where to get what.
HARP was worthwhile.
One of our by-products, one of the things we ended up with was a laboratory.
We had everything thought up, we tested the efficiency rate of propellant,
the burning rate of ammunition, the pressure the ammunition would produce
inside the gun. We ran tests for governments.
We tested for Germany, America, England. It was easier for
us to do this. These countries would have had to set up
a laboratory. They contracted us to try out their various
ideas for they did not have the expertise or the equipment.
When Germany, England, or Belgium had a new ammunition they would have
us test a particular aspect of a thing.
Bull put gauges
in the gun with the ammunition for Germany. When we fired
it the burning rate was so high that it could never be used.
There was no gun on earth that could have withstood that burning rate.
Our gun withstood it. Germany is advertised as the expert
on gunnery, but the English were superior. When the Germans
built something the English bettered it.
I was proud
to have worked on the project. Being Chief Electrician at
HARP was a culmination of life work in electricity.
fiddling with things during his school days in the 1920s, Morse code,
learning to make magnets, like many boys of that age. His
father was an mechanical engineer. There was no radio.
The first scheduled radio program was aired over KDKA in Pittsburg on
the evening of November 2nd 1920, when the returns of the
Harding-Cox presidential elections were broadcast to an audience of
a few thousand listening in on homemade Betsies.
The event marked
the birth of schedule broadcasting, an application of radio telephony
which had been proposed in 1916 by David Sarnoff, at the time
a young employee of the Marconi wireless company. The first
sponsored broadcast was on August 28th 1921 over WEA in New
York. The National Broadcasting Broadcasting Company (NBC)
was formed in 1926, and on New Years Day 1927 the first coast to coast
network program, a football game, play by play, was broadcast from the
Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Columbia Broadcasting System
(CBS) was formed in 1927.
in the 1920’s there was Cable and Wireless on the Reef Road in Bridgetown
behind a vegetable and meat market. The idea of a loudspeaker
was not known. There were a few radios around but they were
with headphones. The idea of the Rediffusion wire service
came a long time after that. There was a lot of outward migration
from Barbados at that time such as Barbadians going to Panama to help
build the Canal. There was a great need for engineering
there. Lowe’s father had worked in Panama as a mechanical
In the 1920s
it was hard for the coloured man to find work to suit his qualifications
in Barbados. Many coloured people with qualifications like Lowe’s
father found it easier to work overseas than in Barbados at the time.
These Barbaians went overseas and learnt a lot and when they came back
they put their knowledge to use.
Radio was developing
and in World War I it was used a lot and that sparked the imagination.
In Barbados there were quite a few coloured fellows before Lowe such
as Fitzgerald Grant, Freddie Miller, Tom Rocheford. There
was only one white man that got together with these coloured men and
that was a Mr. Archer who lived at the corner of Strathclyde a suburb
of Bridgetown, the capital, which was then divided into two a
black side and a white side, with the blacks not allowed to walk on
the white side.
books from the library and bought books and read theories, met, discussed
them and set out to prove what they had read. They took
discarded telephones from the telephone company, took the receiver and
the transmitter out and built their radios.
money and sent to England to buy his equipment and the information but
the coloured fellows imported from America because it was cheaper and
easier. Customs gave the coloured fellows problems for they
were frowned on as seen as trying to reach above their station.
The superiors felt stupid in the face of these progressive young men
and deliberately set out to give them all sorts of problems.
Lowe began doing electrical work, house wiring, installing lights.
He found it difficult to get a reasonable paying job because he was
so dark skinned.
see the paper today?” A solicitor acquaintance of Lowe called out
by a paper when I cannot by food.” Lowe said.
a job in Trinidad for an electrician like you,” he replied.
“Go and see this man.” The solicitor wrote the name
Crawford and an address at the central foundry in Bridgetown.
were hiding?” Mr. Crawford, who turned out to be a white
man said. “You don’t know me?” Crawford
realized that Lowe had not recognized him. “You foolish
bitch, you are the one that taught me electrics. Go and
tell them that I say give you the job.”
The time was
World War II. Many Barbadians went south to Trinidad.
The job in Trinidad turned out to be Chief Electrician on the Tremblodora
Dock with the Bauxite Industry at the American base at the Chagaramus
terminal. During the war years Bauxite was needed to make
the airplanes used to win the war. It was mined in Jamaica
and British Guyana as it was then called, and sent to America and England.
The war shall be fought and won in the air, Lord Beaverbrook said.
No large sea
going craft could sail the rivers of the interior of British Guyana.
Small craft were needed to travel into the interior to bring out the
Bauxite ore. These craft then delivered the ore to Trinidad
where they transferred their much needed cargo to the much larger sea-going
war there was need for all kinds of engineers at the transfer station.
They all had radios and listened to the speeches and the goings on of
fight them in the trenches, we shall fight them air” When
Churchill said those words, the people, who worked in the Bauxite plant
knew that he was talking with his sinews only for they knew that England
had nothing to fight the Germans with, for there was no bauxite getting
through to build his planes. The German submarines were sinking
the ships bound for England with bauxite and food.
The war was
fought at the Caribbean’s back door yet the average Caribbean person
knew nothing. There were a lot of German submarines in the
area and many reports that they were stationed at Martinique and Guadeloupe.
There were stories of German submarine crews coming ashore at Pelican
island, an island just outside the Bridgetown Careenage, changing their
clothes, visiting nightclubs, and gathering information on shipping
in and out of Barbados, and then going back to their submarines.
Not only did
the Germans try to stop the Bauxite shipments but also the food sent
from the islands to Europe – plantain, bananas, from the other islands,
and sugar from Barbados. Many ships were sunk in Caribbean
waters, and many not more than two miles of the coast.
Trinidad was always tense because of the large amount of shipping.
Trinidad had a large harbor and many ships came there to berth.
They were followed by the German U boats. Every day survivors
came into Port of Spain. On board the ships were also Caribbean
soldiers on their way to war.
“I am going
off to England to the war. This was heard more and more.”
One day a merchant
vessel, the Cornwallis, was torpedoed just off Bridgetown in Carlilsle
Bay. Some of the volunteers who had just boarded the boat
to England were rescued, and brought back to port greasy and grimy with
all there belongings lost.
While in Trinidad
Lowe lived in Belmont a small suburb in Port of Spain. His wife
had accompanied him and his daughter was born there. He
returned to Barbados in 1945. A fellow radio buff was now
Deputy of the Government Electrical Department, and he hired Lowe to
work in the Department.