Retracing my father's footsteps
Allan Buxton describes a trip back to his father's birthplace in Antigua
Back to the Leeward islands
“As I boarded the plane at Gatwick with my family, I could hardly believe that that at long last I was on my way to visit my father Claude’s birthplace, Antigua, in the Leeward islands.
Dad had set sail from its shores in 1910, travelled the world and ended up in France. In 1917 he was driving for the French ambulance, and in 1917, being a British subject, he transferred to the British Ambulance Brigade, where he met my mum Edith, and brought up their family of four sons and a daughter.
In 1921 my father [Claude] left Andre Sleigh and started on his own as a haulier. Andre Sleigh was a printing firm. My father could only have worked for them for about three years.
Dad never had an opportunity to return to Antigua during his lifetime, but when he passed away in 1958, mum arranged for his ashes to be flown home and interred in his mother’s grave.
My new half-sister, aged 84
Throughout my life I had always believed that I had three brothers, Joe, Laurie and Alex, and my lovely sister, Doris. Sadly, we lost Doris to multiple sclerosis and Joe and Laurie also died, leaving just myself and Alex, who I am sorry to say is in a nursing home with dementia. However, I discovered that we had a half-sister, Vera, who has been reunited with us at the age of 84. Together with some of her family, she accompanied my wife, Pauline, daughter Lynn and me on this momentous trip.
I had finally made it!
A wave of emotion swept over me as I spotted Antigua below as the plane circled over the Caribbean sea in preparation for the landing approach and, as the wheels touched down on the runway, I have to admit to a few tears. After 76 years I had finally made it!
I cannot begin to imagine how different Antigua must have been 94 years ago when Dad set sail from English Harbour at the age of 22. When we were young he would regularly tell us stories about his homeland and we would sit entranced as he described his home overlooking Falmouth Harbour, and regaled us with tales of Shirley Heights, Nelson’s Harbour, and the capital, St. John’s. Now, at long last, I was going to see these places myself.”