The final inferno

The Assassination of Maurice Bishop by Godfrey Smith -
The Assassination of Maurice Bishop by Godfrey Smith -

On October 20, 1983 Maurice Bishop, prime minister of Grenada, was shot dead in a bloody coup, along with ten others, after a violent split in his party.

Bishop's New Jewel Movement had staged the socialist "Revo" in 1979 against the dictatorial prime minister Eric Gairy. After the coup, US troops invaded the island (TT was one of the few Caribbean countries which opposed the US invasion, along with the Bahamas, Belize and Guyana). The coupmakers, the "Grenada 17," were tried and imprisoned. They were freed in 2008.

Godfrey Smith, author of The Assassination of Maurice Bishop -

This week we publish the fifth excerpt from Godfrey Smith's new book The Assassination of Maurice Bishop.

Godfrey Smith

All hell broke loose after the crowd had freed Maurice from house arrest. Some in the crowd had threatened: We comin’ back for you all next.” Committee members as well as soldiers panicked. They had rushed to Fort Frederick in different vehicles. (Abdullah) received instructions to go down to Radio Free Grenada in case they tried to seize control of it as they had done to Gairy in ’79. He was driven at 100 miles an hour to the station to put security measures in place.

It was a live, fluid situation. His men were rushing up to him, bringing new information. He next heard that Fort Rupert and Cable and Wireless had been taken over; more of Bishop’s men were looking to take over the logistics base in Grand Anse.

He rushed back to Fort Frederick. Layne had called him, Raymond Nelson, and Conrad Mayers and briefed them. Unison Whiteman had issued threats. Civil war was imminent. Retake the fort. Clear civilians. Arrest the leaders. No weapons or documents to leave the fort. If fired upon, use all necessary force to retake the fort.

Abdullah insisted that someone on the balcony of the Ops room had fired on the advancing APCs first, mortally wounding Mayers and other soldiers, which had caused them to shell the building in return.

After the firing ceased, Redhead met Abdullah and Nelson in the parking lot. Abdullah still had a grenade gripped in his hand. Droves of people were rushing out. Redhead spotted Keith “Pumphead” Hayling and Evelyn Maitland making their way up the steps leading to the kitchen. He ordered them to join the line of captives, which already included Maurice, Uni, and Jackie, because they were f--king bourgeois too. Private Andy Mitchell seized Pumphead’s pistol.

Merlyn Roleau, a nurse attached to the PRG’s medical centre, had taken cover in the building that housed the Office of Mobilization and Cadres when the bombardment started. When it stopped, she hurried out and was heading down the stairs to the lower level of the fort when she ran into a line of captives with their hands held high above their heads coming up the stairs. She pressed her back against the wall, making way for them to pass. She recognised Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, Norris Bain, Fitzroy Bain and Jackie Creft. Behind them were a number of soldiers with big guns levelled at their backs. After they passed, she rushed down. She saw Vince Noel lying on the ground, his face set in an awful rictus. She picked up a Coca-Cola bottle, rinsed it out, filled it with clean water and gently poured it into his mouth.

The procession of captives marched, as in a danse macabre, to the parade square where Maurice had on many occasions inspected troops as their commander-in-chief. Now, soldiers accustomed to saluting him, armed with heavy-duty machine guns and belts of ammunition, were in the role of the Valkyrie.

On the parade square, a soldier rushed up to Abdullah, telling him that he needed to take an urgent call in the communications room. Before leaving he instructed his soldiers Vincent Joseph, “Inculcate” Richardson, Vernon Gabriel and Andy Mitchell to guard the prisoners. The soldiers stood around waiting for Abdullah to return while Maurice and the others were speaking among themselves. Vincent Joseph heard Fitzroy Bain say, Dem is in control now.

Grenada prime minister Maurice Bishop, centre, and two of the “comrades” who voted to “execute” him on October 19, 1983 – Selwyn Strachan (left) and Bernard Coard (right). -

Inculcate was a big, muscular soldier with irrepressibly good humour. Like the others, he had joined the army after the revolution. Vincent Joseph was the eldest of the four and was in charge of one of the three companies at Calivigny. He had been a police constable under Gairy and had almost been shot by Ventour the morning of the revolution when the bus in which he was travelling down to True Blue with other police officers was pulled over by the revolutionaries.

It was Vincent who had found Fitzroy Bain hiding inside a tunnel with some students. When they emerged, he snatched Bain because Layne had instructed that both Bains were among the leaders to be captured. He allowed the students to go. Vincent escorted him at gunpoint to join the line of captives already being guarded by other soldiers. Abdullah had then given orders to march the prisoners up to the top square.

Inside the communications room, PRA soldier Manley Phillip was talking to another soldier. The phone upstairs was constantly ringing. Eventually Manley left to answer it. He said that the voice on the other end was unmistakably Layne, who asked to talk to Abdullah. Manley told the other soldier with him to go in search of Abdullah on the parade square and inform him that Layne needed to speak to him.

Abdullah took the call. He then immediately returned to parade square and instructed the soldiers to line up the prisoners against the wall and take up positions facing them. Soldiers present near the parade square who testified at the trial of “the Grenada 17” a few years later said Abdullah took out a piece of paper and told his captives that the order from the CC was that they were to be executed. Abdullah denied ever saying that.

Jackie looked desperate and was telling Maurice something, but he hushed her. If he died now, all he would be able to leave his children was the proceeds of a small life insurance policy.

They were instructed to take off their shirts.

Abdullah ordered Vincent Joseph, Cosmos Richardson, Vernon Gabriel and Andy Mitchell to make ready. Fitzroy Bain pleaded, “How all you could do that, we ent done nothing to deserve this, what you all doing that for?”

Maurice Bishop in Grenada. -

Cosmos Richardson said, 36 years later, that Abdullah was younger than he was, but if he refused to fire, Abdullah was capable of saying, “Ok, you go over there and join the line.” The leadership could not have got anyone but Abdullah to execute the grisly task.

“Prepare to fire,” Abdullah ordered.

The firing squad aimed their Kalashnikovs.

“One. Two. Three,” Abdullah counted.

Inside the communications room, Manley Phillip heard the burst of machine-gun fire. Everyone still on Fort Rupert heard it as well as many others in the surrounding area.

Vernon Gabriel saw Fitzroy Bain’s belly burst open from the heavy machine-gun fire. Gaping holes appeared in Maurice’s chest, back and head, spurting blood. One of Jackie’s hands was shot off. The bodies crumpled to the ground, bloody pieces of their flesh stuck in patches against the wall behind them.

Fitzroy Bain was sprawled on the ground, his guts spilling out, gasping for breath. Abdullah ordered Vernon Gabriel to finish him off.

Vernon resisted. “You ent see all the bodies is in bits already?”

“This is an order. Go the f--k up closer,” commanded Abdullah.

Vernon Gabriel fired a single shot.

Major Stroude gave instructions for all soldiers to fall in at the Mess Hall and instructed that they were all to remain on the compound until further orders. Sixteen blue blankets were issued from the storeroom and Vernon, Elton Thomas, Jacqueline Cain, Beverly Charles and Marrast Paul were ordered to remove the bodies. They began putting the bodies in blankets and carried them down the steps to the lower level.

Beverley Charles was traumatised by the sight of Maurice’s bloody corpse and dropped her end of the blanket. Elton Thomas took over from her. He and Vernon brought his body the rest of the way down before going back up for another corpse.

Vernon put Jackie’s severed hand into the blanket beside her badly mangled body. It was so messy they had to join two blankets lengthways, put holes in each of the blankets, tie them with a piece of cord and roll the body up onto another blanket.

Derek Allard was a party member present at Fort Rupert that day. A soldier commanded him to get into the back of a yellow Public Works Department truck to receive the corpses in the blankets and lay them in the back of the truck. Ruggles Ferguson stood at the rear of the truck and Derek stood at the front. As the bodies were handed to them, they held the ends of the blankets in such a way that the corpses looked as if they were in a hammock. Derek, Ruggles, Terrence Wilson and a man whose last name was Church were ordered to go around the walls of the fort to see if there were any bodies or injured persons. They found three male corpses.

In the parking lot, cleaning-up operations had begun. A piece of a hand was lying by a telephone post. Bodies were still strewn on the ground. A little boy was lying inside a public works truck. He appeared to be dead. Firemen rolled out a 75-foot length of hose and began washing away the blood.

Manley saw Bugman coming down and asked him what had happened. Bugman didn’t say a word but drew his hand across his throat in a slicing motion.

On his way up to the barracks, Manley saw Pumphead’s corpse.

Rupert Roopnaraine said that later that afternoon he received a call from James, who told him that the situation was tense but under control. He asked James, “How is Maurice?”

“How was Maurice you mean,” James replied, correcting his tense.

Over at Fort Frederick a ceremony was held to congratulate the soldiers on the success of the mission and to honour the fallen.

Later that night, a knocking on his door awakened Manley Phillip. It was Vernon Gabriel. He had instructions from Layne to get Manley to help burn the bodies.

Abdullah led the squad of soldiers. The bodies were in an open-back truck. Manley travelled in a Suzuki van driven by Abdullah. On the way to Calivigny they stopped at a fire station and picked up gasoline and discarded tyres.

At Camp Fedon in Calivigny, the soldiers removed the bodies from the dump truck, which had got stuck in the swamp, and loaded them into a blue jeep. They had to douse the bodies with a small case of liquid Dettol to neutralise the smell of the decomposing bodies. They trudged through the mud and dumped the bodies into an open pit.

Broken crates and truck tyres were tossed into the hole. Gasoline was poured over the crates and tires. Abdullah struck a match and threw it in. The tires burst into flames with a loud “whoosh.” Abdullah instructed the driver to return the soldiers to base while he remained behind feeding more boards and tyres into the ghastly blaze incinerating the prime minister and his cabinet ministers. But the tyres had been placed above the bodies instead of underneath, leaving some of the bodies only partially cremated.

Copyright 2020 Godfrey Smith. All rights reserved.

The Assassination of Maurice Bishop is published by Ian Randle Publishers,

1 (876) 978 0745,

Available online, and in bookstores.


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