None of the intelligence reports on the 1970 mutiny indicated there was political involvement in the events at Teteron Barracks. So said Major General Ralph Brown (Ret) as he recounted the events that unfolded more than 42 years ago during a panel discussion on Revolution 1970: The Military Speaks at NAPA.
He was one of a group of retired military officers who shared their recollections of April 22, 1970. Also participating were Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall (Ret), Colonel Hugh Vidal (Ret) and Lt Col Wendell Salandy (Ret). Brown said,?"As far I was concerned, in terms of the Special Branch reports which I?saw every week, there was no connection between the mutiny that took place and politicians and the Black Power movement. What we did have were reports of soldiers attending Black Power marches that were taking place throughout T&T."
He said after the mutiny was put down that Robinson turned up. Brown said the real reason for the mutiny was that soldiers were dissatisfied with their working conditions. He insists they were not in cahoots with the Black Power movement. "In 1990, you knew the enemy was the Jamaat. You knew who the enemy was. It was an easier proposition. In 1970, you did not know who the enemy was.
"There was discord within the military and the army was trying to get out of Teteron. The reason was they were not supporting the principal element. They were trying to get out of Teteron. They were discontented with some of the conditions under which they were working in the army. There was really no scope for officers to progress. That was their main grouse," he said. Brown said soldiers were working for $19 a week and it was under those circumstances that a mutiny took place.
Kelshall remembered sailing out to Charlotteville, Tobago, on board the Coast Guard vessel Trinity. He saw a large crowd gathering and determined that it would be more than the army could handle. He said when he heard there had been a mutiny within the rank and file of the army, he felt "sheer terror."
"We had always considered the army our brother. The fear of the army was rising. I?can tell you I?had never been so scared. The thought that the army had turned against us was scary. More happened that we want to admit. It is painful." On the flip side, he said, "There was no way we could condone the actions of officers who take the law into their hands. And we had to do our duty."
Kelshall said one of the positive developments coming out of the events of 1970 was a spirit of nationalism. "There was a big change in the country," he said. Salandy said he took a stand for country and for self. "I told Raffique Shah I?was not with the mutineers. I?moved to the left of Shah. They wanted to leave Teteron and go into Port-of-Spain, and I?said I would not go."
Salandy said it took a long time for the army to regain the trust of the country. "The army purged itself of the mutinous soldiers. The army was decimated literally. The army regained the trust of the society in 1978. It took one year to purge itself and eight years to regain the trust. We reorganised ourselves."
Vidal spoke about an assault on the bunker in the guard room, with young officers being overpowered and placed in the cells in the gun room. He escaped, went home and changed into combat wear then went to Camp Ogden, at Long Circular Road, St James. "It turned brother against brother. We must not let that ever happen again," he said.
Chairperson/head of the department of history Dr Heather Cateau thanked the former military officers for sharing their experiences of the events in which they played a role. "It is important to the historiography. We had people who were willing to share their ideas and perspectives and it has contributed to changing the historiography (systematic review of written history)," she said.
Commenting on the presentation, historian Prof Bridget Bereton said, "We heard from the panellists a unique and frank account of their involvement. We need much more of this. "It is important for the country to understand and appreciate the not so good as well as the good. I?think it has been a valuable exercise."?