Amos Ford was part of a unique taskforce of forestry workers recruited by the British Government from Belize, based in Scotland during the war
AMOS FORD, who died at the grand age of 98, was a member of a group of
Central American forestry workers that braved - and survived - Nazi torpedo attacks to travel to support King and Empire from a base in the Highlands of Scotland during the Second World War.
As a member of The British Honduran Forestry Unit, Amos was part of a group of one thousand volunteers who responded to an appeal for workers to help maintain the supply of timber to British industry as the war intensified.
The Ministry of Supply launched its appeal in 1941 to the former colony British Honduras (now Belize), and the men who worked in the country’s immense and reputable mahogany plantations responded with alacrity and patriotism.
Amos, then a former mahogany cutter, was quick to apply for the chance to,
not only defend the so-called “Motherland”, but also to earn some money for
The deal posited by the British government was that men were needed to serve as volunteers for a period of three years – or for the duration of the war – whichever was longer.
When the contract ended, a group of 93 of the men were repatriated home via New York, only to themselves incarcerated in Ellis Island as illegal aliens because the British had failed to issue them with landing documents for the United States.
This is just one of a number of shocking revelations Ford would later document in a book published in 1985 called, Telling the Truth: The Life and Times of the British Honduran Forestry Unit in Scotland (1941-44), published by Karia Press.
In it, he relates the story of the forestry workers and seeks to justify his claim that the British government undermined, attempted to sabotage and even tried to expunge the unit’s contributions from the public record.
Ford says that the specialist taskforce faced shocking levels of discrimination and subterfuge on the part of their sponsors, the British government. They were given poor rations, inadequate clothing and accommodation, accused of laziness and low productivity, despite their efforts and experience.
In addition, official efforts were made to try and stop the black men fraternising with local white women – a particular bugbear – which saw even Harold McMillan (the then-Colonial Office Minister) wading in to denounce that particular “evil”.
The ex-serviceman spent much of the latter part of his working life and retirement years trying to set the record straight and obtain official acknowledgment that the unit was defamed. It is a charge that has never been adequately refuted by the authorities, and investigating and promoting his case became a lifelong campaign by Ford.
The initial trip to Britain, which had brought him and 150 other volunteers across treacherous waters manned by enemy subs and U-boats in October 1941, saw high drama when the loggers’ steamer was hit by torpedoes from a Nazi U-boat. However, the ship fought back and actually sank the German vessel.
That story was reported by the Daily Telegraph on October 13 1941, under the headline: “Torpedoed Ship Hits Back”, describing a “thrilling duel” on the
high seas before the stricken steamer was able to “limp” into a port in Iceland.
There, the crew was transferred to another vessel bound for Scotland’s
Ford became a “scaler”, a supervisor of the forestry workers and their
production targets. The unit was largely stationed in Kinlochewe, Achnashellach, Golspie, and Kirkpatrick, Duns and Traprain Law. A documentary was made about the forestry workers by Scottish TV in 2004.
Amos Ford was born in Belize City, formerly the capital of British Honduras, on November 15 1916. He came from a family of eight boys and three girls, and his father, Amos Ebenezer, was a policeman who later became a plantation owner.
After leaving school early, Ford took up a number of different jobs, from office
work to farmhand. He later went to Mexico to work as a lumber cutter in a mahogany camp before scarcity of work and the effects of the global economic depression forced him back home before the outbreak of war and the call to support the Empire that would transform his life.
After the Honduran unit was disbanded, he moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and worked with Newcastle Breweries Ltd, the London and North Eastern Railways, and later studied accounts before becoming a civil servant in the Ministry of National Insurances, retiring in 1980.
Actor and singer, Nadia Cattouse, a fellow Belizean who also came to Britain as a volunteer in the women’s services during the war, salutes Ford’s campaign to expose the plight of the Honduran Forestry Unit and described him as a “committed campaigner and activist”.
The two worked together on an emergency committee set up to challenge Guatemala’s claim to ownership of the territory, and supported a number of different black community organisations in the UK, such as The West Indian Standing Conference, The West Indian Leadership Council, and The West Indian Ex-servicemen’s Association.
Additionally, he was an accomplished musician, specialising in Spanish guitar, and provided support to ex-pat Belizeans before the establishment of the Belize High Commission in London.
Ford also wrote a memoir about his childhood and early life in Belize,
Amos Adolphus Ford (November 5 1916 – March 28 2015) was pre-deceased by his wife, Mavis in 1997, is survived by his children Sandra, Ann, Marie and Marcus.