My dad, John Wesley Lowe, enjoyed the simple, carefree island life that Green Turtle Cay, Abaco offered during the 1930s and 1940s. A meager handful of his tattered photos remain to capture his experiences during that era. Dad’s eyes gleamed in delight when he reminisced of the summer fun memories and the selfless people who comprised this close knit community.
After dad’s passing, I discovered a Green Turtle life photo shown below in his collection. No names detailed on these mystery faces: a handsome teenager dressed in Sunday’s best posed with two island youngsters. A New Plymouth cottage complete with dormer windows and a wood burning stove provides the historic backdrop.
My quest for answers began. I emailed the charming picture to a couple Green Turtle Cay natives. A quick reply from my cousin Estella Curry Lowe (named after Pa Harry Robert’s wife) identified the young teenager as her uncle! Reginald ‘Reggie’ Harold Roberts was born in April 1925 to seaman Harry Roberts (1892-1976) and Estella Louise Lowe (1895-1927).
Cousin Estella also identified the two toddlers as her brother Allan Curry and herself! The three of us collaborated online about this identified treasure. I listened as they shared Green Turtle Cay memories of their Roberts family heritage. Reggie’s mother, Estella Louise, is the daughter of Jabez Gilbert Lowe Jr., a great-great-grandson of patriarch Captain Gideon Lowe, Jr.
In January 1927, two years after Reggie’s birth, tragedy struck the home of Harry and Estella Roberts. Ma Estella lost her life during childbirth. The baby girl perished as well. Pa Harry faced the daunting task of rearing their five children, four brothers and one sister, ages 11, 9, 7, 5 and 2. As further evidence of the close-knit community, Hawkins Havlock Lowe and wife Paulena Lenora Roberts cared for Pa Harry’s five year old daughter, Roselyn. At the age of 12 years, Roselyn returned home to Pa Harry to be his helper.
Both Reggie and my dad were born on Green Turtle Cay, Abaco in 1925. They hiked up the island hill to school in the mornings and horsed around on the docks in the afternoons. They both left for the capital city Nassau to seek employment after finishing Green Turtle Cay’s All Age School.
Reggie’s older brother Reuben had already moved to Nassau in 1936. John REUBEN Roberts was born in Green Turtle Cay in 1915 and named after his grandfather John Roberts IV (1864-1908). Reuben married Lula Albertha ‘Bertha’ Roberts in 1935 at Green Turtle Cay. They separated and divorced in 1946.
In Nassau, Reuben worked for Stafford Sands, Sr. at City Meat Market where he trained as a meat cutter. Reuben later recounted that his salary in 1938 was five British pounds per week. Reuben played a key role in securing my Dad’s employment at City Meat Market in the early 1940s.
In 1943 Reuben and former Green Turtle Cay buddies, brothers Gussie and Jack Roberts, volunteered to serve in World War II. Reuben joined the U.S. Army on November 11 at the age of 28. After training in southern England, he was deployed to Easy Red, Normandy.
John Reuben Roberts (1915-2004). Photo courtesy of Estella Lowe and Allan Curry.
In 1946 Reuben became an American citizen. That same year misfortune met his brother Reggie. Seaman Reggie often ran on a banana boat to South America with Green Turtle Cay native Kenneth Lowe. On a trip from Nassau to the United States, he was brutally assaulted while at port in Miami. He received no medical treatment and headed back to Nassau where he died as a result of internal injuries. Reggie was 20 years old and engaged. Pa Harry was devastated. Summoned, he went to Nassau to identify Reggie’s body. Reuben also flew to Nassau to check on his brother.
Cousin Allan shared with me several war stories that Reuben had recounted to him.
One day when my unit prepared to hit the beach, we encountered resistance from the enemy on the shore. We were located about three to five miles off shore at that time. The commander of our ship called for the big guns that could reach up to seven miles.
When the ship fired, she rolled from side to side. It felt like we were about to capsize. After an hour of bombing the shoreline, our troops landed.
To avoid being shelled during the attack, I positioned myself firmly pressed against the ramp of the landing barge. But when the ramp dropped, I fell in the water.
On another night, the Sergeant arrived at camp to enlist ten volunteers for a mission. I was selected, but since I was the only barber, the Sergeant needed me to stay behind to cut the hair of several men, including my commanding officer. The group of men that went on that mission were never heard from again.
I remember a night mission to blow up a bridge once our troops landed. However, our unit was ambushed on the bridge. Only one other soldier besides myself survived that dreadful attack.
I can’t forget freezing nights of prolonged huddling in fox holes. Soldiers emerged from the fox holes extremely cramped. They screamed in pain while Army Medics warmed and stretched out their limbs.
After the war Reuben was discharged in Jacksonville, Florida. He soon headed south to Miami to be with family. His maternal Uncle Curtis Lowe operated the first barbershop in the Miami International Airport. Able and ready, Reuben applied his barber skills. Opposite the barber shop sat Pan American Airlines’ check-in counter. Here Reuben met and married Marjorie Hanford Pippinger in 1947. Reuben transitioned back to the food service industry. He worked as a meat cutter for Winn Dixie and later as a store manager for Food Fair. In 1969, Reuben and Marjorie moved to Key Largo where he continued his career well into retirement years. He passed away in 2004.
Allan registered his Uncle Reuben as a World War II veteran in the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. One mystery photo initiated an amazing journey through this Roberts family and gratitude to those who have sacrificed at great cost to preserve our freedom!