July 24, 2021

The Editor Speaks: Remembering a “forgotten” Cayman Islands hero who was born 136 years ago.

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Colin Wilsonweb2Major Joseph Rodriquez Watler (better known as Mr. Roddy)

“Roddy” was born on 3rd March 1880 in the District of Red Bay, Grand Cayman. He died at age 75 in April of 1965.

Roddy served as Inspector of Police for some 33 years.

He also served as Light House Keeper, Foreman of Public Works, Boarding Officer of Vessels, and Warehouse Keeper.

Roddy was appointed Officer in Charge of the Cayman Islands Company of the Jamaican Home Guard on 1st October 1942 until 31st March 1945 when the war ceased.

In the raging hurricane of 1932 Roddy exhibited much bravery in rescuing 20 people who were marooned in Red Bay. For this service he was awarded The King George V and Queen Mary Silver Medal for bravery. He also received five other medals for his service to the Cayman Islands community.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoddy also found a spy for the Germans during the Second World War and promptly arrested him.

Roddy was an Elder and Manager of Elmslie United Church for many years.

He was a stalwart citizen, a fine man, a dear friend to all and respected by all.

A restraining influence on the reckless and rebellious, yet a man of reverence.

He was a thinker, with a reflective mind and a tender heart.

His chief joys were centered round his home and family. He was a farmer and kept livestock and loved milking his cows.

Roddy

By Joan Wilson

Roddy – that’s what they called him
From birth, right to his grave.
He was six foot six inches tall
So big and strong and brave.

roddy picHe was one of the finest fathers
And he loved us all so much.
He always had time for others
And he had that special touch.

He tickled our toes in the morning
Waking us to a brand new day,
With fruit from his own garden
“Come and get it my darlings,” he’d say.

He was such a good provider,
He always farmed his land.
Our cupboards were never empty
All stocked by his very own hand.

He taught us from early childhood
To respect others above ourselves,
To cherish what God had given us
Our freedom to enjoy our wealth.

And wealth didn’t mean money
For there was little of that.
It was our sunshine, sand and warm blue sea,
All ours to enjoy, and it was totally free.

He swam with us off the iron shore
I tell you, we enjoyed it all so much.
Swimming and diving with our father
In those days we were never got bored.

Work hard and plan your day
Was his fatherly and friendly advice
As the sweat poured from his brow.

“Hard work never kill nobody
Take a look at me – Inspector Roddy.”

He was serious but also very humorous
And he loved to chat a while
With friends under our plum tree
And a fresh brewed cup of coffee.

POSTSCRIPT: Despite all Major Joseph Rodriquez Watler’s achievements, service and dedication to his country there is no mention of him in the official History of the Cayman Islands. Two years ago in a special memorial dedication to the Cayman Islands Home Guard at the Cenotaph on Memorial Sunday there was no mention he was their Captain and no wreath laid in his honour even though both of his remaining living daughters were present.

After a protest about his omission from the history book from his daughter Joan, the Cayman Islands National Museum in 2009 interviewed her and others. They issued this PR:

Roddy Watler: Iron Man in Era of Wooden Ships

By E. Patricia Ebanks

Through windows flung wide to embrace the cool ocean breezes – a dubious advantage in light of the menacing hordes of mosquitoes they invited – his voice boomed over the George Town Harbour. Major Inspector Major Roddy Watler is calling the Islands’ court to order from the second-storey Old Court House, standing tall against the endless expanse of the George Town Harbour spreading to the northwest.

Emitting from the Old Court House, the distinctive voice penetrates the din of the busy harbour, recalls Mrs. Mary Thompson, who remembers her child-like fascination with that welcome challenge to the quiet of her next door bayside Merren family home. It was a suitably booming voice for the inspector’s six-foot six-inch frame, reflects author of the autobiographical, Happy All My Life, Mrs. Thompson, recollecting the energy-to-spare aplomb of this one-man army.

Those were the days- you did it because you had to and no one told you couldn’t. In
addition to serving as bailiff, Mr. Roddy was also the Islands’ top cop, clerk of court, lighthouse inspector, keeper of the King’s Warehouse (Customs), US Navy captain and later major responsible for the home guard during the war years, foreman of Public Works, head of immigration, and ADC to successive commissioners, forerunners of today’s governors.

A busy man, indeed, the essence of his life is captured for posterity in some of the few surviving photographs of the pre-World War II era. Among these, he jauntily strides from duties at the now-Museum complex, or smartly aids Commissioner lvor Smith from his schooner on the Commissioner’s arrival at the George Town Harbour opposite the historic government centre.

Everything, of course, happened in proximity to the centre. Just up the road, for example, towered the famous Cotton Tree lookout that figured so prominently in the protection of the Cayman Islands during the remarkable World War II effort. From the vantage point of that cotton tree look-out some 42 steps up from ground zero, says Mr. Clifton Bodden, one had an unobstructed view as far as Spotts right down clear through to Northwest Point.

Mr. Bodden has retired now from some pretty historic roles, himself, to a position as gatekeeper at the Government’s Central Funding Scheme. Before succumbing to the itch to pursue a sea career, he had worked for a number of years under Mr. Roddy’s supervision in two capacities- as a corporal and later as a Sgt. Instructor in the US Navy.

As the preamble to that, the Navy had established a base in the Cayman Islands in the area behind the present library in central George Town. Cayman had emerged as a strategic war-time location for monitoring shipping passing through this area, and both men had been identified and trained in Jamaica, at Up Park Camp, Kingston, and at Fort Lawrence, Port Royal.

Promoted to Major on his return, reckoned the only Caymanian to achieve this status on home soil, Mr. Roddy commanded the five outposts maintaining twenty-four hour vigil over the territory’s waters.

During those years Inspector Major Roddy was a central figure in the intriguing story of the capture of a German spy. Accused of shipping metal containers from Cayman to Jamaica for onward shipment to Germany for use in the manufacture of armaments, the spy was arrested with dispatch after months of surveillance by Mr. Roddy.

“I can remember that day very clearly,” says daughter Mrs. Joan Wilson, one of Roddy’s nine children. She watched, she says, with a mixture of fear and fascination from a star apple tree on the boundary of the property of the enemy spy.

True to the rustic nature of the times, Inspector Roddy did not own a car, instead deftly pedalling his Raleigh bicycle around George Town. For duties calling him to outlying districts, he depended on the services of Mr. Ira Walton. Those days, Mr. Ira was one of the few persons operating a taxi service.

Both Mrs. Wilson and Mr. Bodden recall accompanying Mr. Roddy on his many district forays, not the least of which were excursions to check on the state of the Islands’ lighthouses.

“In those trips to the lighthouses, my father would always take time to stop and visit friends and acquaintances, who would always have heavy cake and coconut water to offer us for refreshments,” recalls Mrs. Wilson, speaking about “the beautiful friendship between my father and those people….”

END

A stage play “Watler’s War” was written by Colin Wilson featuring Roddy Watler and the events leading up to the death of his son Ladner (“Laddy”), who was serving as an officer in the British Merchant Navy, In December 1942. The play won the CNCF Playwriting Competition and was staged at The Prospect Playhouse by the Cayman Drama Society. The play has been shown on local television CITN/Cayman27 four times. It has been published under the title “Walter’s War” by a UK Publishing House.

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