Was there a “Fifth Columnist” secretly in play, in the Bahamas, in 1942? Was a “Fifth Columnist,” spy or agitator, planted among the Americans workers? Was it their job to undermine, and destabilise the Bay Street oligarchy which ruled the House of Assembly, and to create anarchy for the abdicated King if England, now Governor of the Bahamas, the Duke of Windsor?

If so, who stood to benefit?

Who was behind it?

Was the Burma Road Riot instigated by secret powers who were trying to control the Bahamas?

Some at the time thought so. It was the middle of the World War Two after all. There were spies and agitators everywhere.


THE FIFTH COLUMN

A “FIFTH COLUMN” is any group of people whose aim is to undermine a larger group from the inside, from within. The Fifth Column engages in covert or open acts of sabotage by spreading disinformation or engaging in more extensive undermining activities designed to topple a group, a government, or a nation from within.

In the late 1930s, as the prospect of another world war loomed large on the horizon, espionage, sabotage and secret spies were the order of the day, in Europe, and around the world.

The term “fifth column” was commonly used to warn of potential sedition and disloyalty.

The term is said to have originated during the Spanish Civil War. It was during the Siege of Madrid that Nationalist Emilio Mola is said to have told a journalist that in 1936, as his four columns of troops approached the city of Madrid, a “fifth column” of supporters working from inside the city, working to undermine the Republican government from with the city.


WERE FIFTH COLUMNISTS RESPONSIBLE FOR DEVASTATING BURMA ROAF RIOT?

As the riot was taking place, as windows to Bay Street shops were being smashed and looted, as frantic native policemen raced to instil order, word spread quickly across the globe.

The Bahamas was in trouble.

A place called paradise, by just about everyone who visited, had suddenly imploded under the weight of mayhem and an angry uncontrollable mob. What began as a quiet protest over pay, was highjacked by those who had set out that morning to cause trouble. When the dust finally settled, three days later, many who participated in the riot, it was found, didn’t even work at The Project.

Governor, the Duke of Windsor, who was in America on an official visit, rushed back to his post at Government House. Members of the House of Assembly were called to a crisis meeting.

Just days after hostilities had ceased, the questions about why and how such an awful destructive thing could happen, in what was a modern tourist destination, needed to be answered, and fast.

The workers from “The Project” said they had heard from the Americans working on the airstrip that they were making much more money than the Bahamians. In fact, the mention of the wage difference was bragged about.

Bahamian unskilled labourers were making 4 shillings a day. They were told by some American workers that the Bahamas government had deliberately negotiated the wage difference.

This was just not true.

The House of Assembly in 1942, had no say in the amount of pay unskilled labourers received. What was being paid, was negotiated in Washington D.C. as part of the American war defence package. What Washington D.C. went by, were the prevailing rates of pay in the Bahamas. Prevailing rates of pay in the Bahamas were markedly different than those in America.

If “Fifth Columnists” were in play, they may have used already volatile racial and segregation passions to spread disinformation about the root cause of the wage difference between Bahamian and American unskilled labourers. Fifth Columnists may have caused disinformation to spread across the Grant’s Town community. This may add to the explanations as to why some 3,000 rioted so violently, many of which, were not even employed at all with The Project.

(Miami Daily News, Tuesday June 9, 1942)

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