Bahamian history is rich with stories of locals who fought and even gave their blood to serve country and King. Several years ago, I shared in the article The Price of Freedom a glimpse on one of those Bahamians, my cousin Warren Lightbourn. It included a treasured photo shown below that depicts a handsome Warren with four other courageous World War II servicemen – Hartis Thompson, Phillip Farrington, Garth Johnson, and George Moseley. Like cousin Warren, the Garth Johnson and George Mosely gave the ultimate sacrifice in their deaths.
I came across an vintage copy of the Bahamas Handbook that pictured this same photo in an article about the Abaconian Thompson brothers, who represented the Bahamas and the British Empire during World War II. These Thompson names immediately sounded familiar to me. Perhaps I had heard Dad John Lowe’s voice recount a story. Thus this quest began.
Bahamian genealogists suspect that John Old Keg Thompson was born around 1810 at Harbour Island, Bahamas. He married an Elizabeth Russell in 1830 at St. Matthew’s Church in Nassau, Bahamas. In his autobiography I Wanted Wings, Leonard Thompson recounts the origin of the nickname Old Keg:
He (Old Keg Thompson) and a friend had gone turtle hunting on the east side of Hope Town. In no time one was spotted and over the side Thompson went to catch the turtle. His friend waited and waited in the boat, scanning the sea all around, but all he could see was a barrel drifting a long way off. In desperation he decided to return to the village for help.
The search party was led by Joshua (Old Keg’s son) who, when he heard about the barrel, stopped and turned back. “That’s no keg, that’s my father out there!” he exclaimed “Don’t you know he can stay underwater as long as a turtle?”
Old Keg’s great-grandson, mariner William Maurice Thompson*, was born before the turn of the twentieth century. In 1914, he married Lena Muriel from the Abaco Albury family. Captain Maurice Thompson and Lena were was blessed with a large family of eight children. They played along the harbor shores of Hope Town on Elbow Cay. Its signature candy-striped, kerosene-powered, lighthouse majestically stood in the background.
Hope Town was settled in the 1780’s by British Loyalists, some from the Carolinas, seekers of refuge after the American Revolutionary War. The Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town summarizes the origins of the settlement as follows:
Some of the first settlers that came to Hope Town were Wyannie Malone and three of her children Ephraim, David and Young Wyannie who was married to Jacob Adams. Both Ephraim (Malone) and Jacob (Adams) had been Loyalist soldiers in South Carolina. In 1807 both of these men received large land grants on Elbow cay.
Four of Captain Maurice’s children – Hartis, Leonard, Chester, and Maurice – answered the call to fight the enemies of King George during World War II. Because of their heroism, they were dubbed The Fighting Thompsons By Sir Etienne Dupuch, publisher of the Bahamian newspaper, The Tribune.
Below is a synopsis of these brothers. I encourage you to click the links and read the books referenced in this post as you reflect on their contributions to the freedom we enjoy today.
Hartis Harvin Thompson (1915 – 1997)*
Hartis was the eldest of the eight children. As a volunteer, he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF).
His natural athleticism won recognition as a physical fitness instructor. After his service during the war, Hartis joined Nassau’s air traffic control in 1947. He was appointed the first Bahamian Acting Director of the Civil Aviation in Nassau in 1953 and Director of Civil Aviation in 1956. His predecessor, Captain Edward Mole, shared the follow thoughts about Hartis…
I sent for the senior air traffic control officer — one Hartis Thompson, a white Bahamian who had served with the RAF during the war. I told him that from the moment he was appointed Deputy Director, I relied on him to help me sort out our problems and keep the airport running smoothly. Hartis proved to be a tower of strength, reliable and absolutely loyal.
Hartis is credited with planning, overseeing and building Nassau’s International Airport at Windsor Field , as well as airports on the family islands. The Nassau airport has been renamed the Lynden Pindling International Airport. Hartis Thompson was appointed Permanent Secretary to the Bahama Islands Ministry of Transport in the late 1960s.
Leonard Maurice Thompson (1917 – 2008)*
Leonard joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). His book I Wanted Wings: The Autobiography of Leonard M. Thompson is an excellent and moving account of his heroism.
A 2013 article in The Abaconian summarizes this hero as follows:
Leonard Thompson was born in Hope Town, Abaco, on 17 June 1917 and in his memoirs he observed that one day as a young boy everyone was given a holiday to watch the first seaplane land in Hope Town harbour.
It is that day that he attributed to affecting his future life. The plane had been chartered to bring in a doctor to attend the mother of Mr. J.W. Roberts who was very sick at the time. The pilot was Captain A. B. Chalk, an early pioneer of aviation in the Bahamas, and the young Leonard Thompson decided that day he would like to become a pilot like Capt. Chalk. Years later that dream did come true as Mr. Thompson went on to earn his wings.
When war broke out in Britain, Leonard Thompson felt it his duty to offer his services in the war effort. He traveled to Canada where he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and qualified as an aero engine mechanic.
After a while he was posted to Elementary Flying Training School and after months of training, in 1942, he finally earned his wings. He was then posted overseas along with 13 of his classmates of whom, sadly, only three returned at the end of the war. While flying as a bomber pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Capt. Thompson was shot down over Germany and detained in a prisoner of war camp for 18 months. Fortunately, he survived the ordeal and was happy to return to Abaco to his new wife and young son whom he had never seen.
After the war, Leonard obtained his commercial pilot’s license and joined Bahamas Airways in 1945. Later on he started a charter flight company called Skyway Bahamas Ltd.
Richard Chester Thompson (1922 – 2012)*
Chester served in the British Royal Navy. At age 23, Chester commanded the Landing Craft Tank (LCT) 527. It was involved in the Battle of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Chester Thompson graduated from the University of Toronto in 1950 and married that same year. When he returned to the Bahamas, he served as Out Island Commissioner at Fresh Creek, Andros. Upon the couple’s move to Nassau, Chester started his career in real estate.
At an early age, Chester had a love for reading. He went on to author The Fledgling, a story about his birthplace in Hope Town, Abaco, and The Long Day Wanes … A Memoir of Love and War.
William Maurice Thompson, Jr. (1923 – 1966)*
Maurice was the fifth son and the youngest of this memorable quartet. The Abaco Account newspaper article described his service as follows:
He was assigned to the North Atlantic Theatre aboard a destroyer based in England, Scotland and Iceland. Then came a transfer to the Far East where he was posted successively in India, Burma and Ceylon.
One of a bare dozen Royal Navy boys who proudly wore “Bahamas” shoulder patch, Maurice was honourably discharged at the war’s end.
He returned to the Bahamas and served in the Immigration Department in Nassau. His political involvement included an appointment as Commissioner at the island of Mayaguana in the southern Bahamas. His passion for his Abaco roots, he never lost. As President of the Great Abaco Construction Company and head of the real estate company, Marsh Harbour Enterprises, he significantly promoted the growth and development of many Abaco communities including Treasure Cay and Marsh Harbour.
Maurice founded Abaco’s first publication in January 1964, titled The Abaco Account. While on assignment in Nassau to cover Her Majesty’s visit, he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 43.
As noted above, Old Keg Thompson’s wife was the granddaughter of Jacob Adams and Wyannie Malone Adams. This makes the Fighting Thompson brothers the 4th great-grandsons of Jacob and Wyannie Adams. I too am a 4th great-grandson of Jacob and Wyannie.
As we enjoy an outdoor barbecue, a beach picnic, or just a lazy day indoors this weekend, let us not forget those who sacrificed much, even their lives, for our freedom.
*Source: The Bahamas Handbook and Businessman’s Annual, A Dupuch Publication, 2007.