Banana Drama – World War II

Generally, when Jamaicans think of World War II, they think of a foreign, historical event.  Very few will recall Jamaica’s involvement and the effects it had on the nation as a whole.


The main causes of World War II were nationalistic tensions, unresolved issues, and resentments resulting from the World War I and the interwar period in Europe, plus the effects of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The culmination of events that led to the outbreak of war are generally understood to be the 1939 invasion of Poland by Germany and Soviet Russia and the 1937 invasion of the Republic of China by the Empire of Japan.

Under the “Bases For Destroyer Deal” established  in 1940 – United States was given the right by Britain to build bases on British possessions in return for fifty (50) mothballed World War I destroyers.  Jamaica, under British possession at the time, was the chosen site for two such bases. Vernamfield Air Base in Sandy Gully, Clarendon and Goat Island Naval Base in Old Harbour Bay.  The deployment of American servicemen to Jamaica marked our Island’s first major contact with Americans.  

Photo adapted from Historical Boys’ Clothing site

Though the real war was far away from Jamaica, we were still greatly affected. Beef was scarce, as farmers had gone to work in the ammunition factories in America and England. Kerosene oil and rice were sold by issuance of tickets through appointed agencies. There were very long lines to obtain these commodities and when you did get to the top, you were allowed only one pound of rice per family per week.

Children had to walk miles to school as some school buses were taken off route for lack of gas. Some motorists had to replace their engines with horses to draw their car. Only people in “Essential Services” e.g. doctors, high-ranking soldiers and policemen were issued gas.

The war ended in 1945, but life on the Island did not immediately return to normal. Ships were still experiencing difficulty travelling the seas as mine traps previously set were not all removed and boats were being sunk.

Mom shared this with me – adapted from her “Memoirs”

‘”Trade was also affected as we had a trade agreement with Briton to take our bananas but when the ships did not come, the bananas piled up on the wharf and rotted and the banana growers lost revenue.

Therefore, they started giving them away free to anyone who had transportation to haul them away.

Many little banana depots sprang up all over the place and you could get a bunch of bananas (9-hand bunch) for a measly 3 pennies. That was good for the population for we were near to starving as most of our food items were imported and could not reach our shores.

We were eating bananas in every conceivable way.

My mother would have two bunches tied up in the kitchen ceiling to ripen and we watched out for them and picked and ate each time we passed by.

We ate green bananas boiled along with meat kind like ackee and codfish. We had fried green bananas, roasted green bananas, green bananas crushed with butter, banana porridge, we made banana fritters with the over- ripened ones.

Can be crushed with butter or eaten with meat kind

Banana Fritters

My mother would grate the green bananas (there were no blenders in those days); she would put it out in the sun to dry on a sheet of zinc and when she beat it out and pass it through a sieve, you got the best quality banana flour.

This was used to make banana cake, banana pudding and banana dumplings. These were all very delicious but after a time it could get cloying.

One evening my mother was having a long discussion with the food vendor at the fence and we thought she was staying too long. So we set to work, Joyce (my sister) and I started eating the bunch of ripe bananas. We were just being brats and we ran up and down the big yard and made space for more.

By the time we got through, we had eaten  7 hands from a nine hand bunch. Then you know for another 10 to 15 years I could not look at a ripe banana without getting sick.”

Do you have a story to tell about life in Jamaica during World War II? Please feel free to share…or comment.


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