Errol Barrow and his commanding officer Sholto Douglas

This is the story of the deep bond that developed between Errol Barrow and his commanding officer Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir William Sholto Douglas who was the Military Governor of Germany after World War II. From 1945 to 1947 Errol Barrow served as a Navigator within the Commander-in-Chief, Military Governor’s Flight with the British Air Forces of Occupation, Communications Squadron, in Bückeburg, Germany. It was during this time that the young Errol Barrow got to know Sholto Douglas. The Military Governor’s Flight were billeted in huts adjacent to the Military Governor’s “Schloss”, in the village of Ostenwalde and the crews often dined with their commanding officer when he was not attending to important guests. Douglas on leaving the RAF in 1947 became a peer in 1948, sitting as a member of the Labour Party: Lord Douglas of Kirtleside. Errol Barrow who also left the RAF in 1947 went on to read Economics and Industrial Law at the London School of Economics (LSE) and Law at the Inns of Court, before being repatriated to Barbados in November 1950 after ten years away from home. Errol Barrow would go on to be the third Premier of Barbados in 1961 during the island’s transition from full internal self-government to serving as Barbados’ first and fourth Prime Minister after achieving independence on 30th November 1966.

This very personal story is told by Lord Douglas of Kirtleside’s daughter Dr. Hon. Katharine Ann Campbell (née Douglas) who was a neuroscientist, working for many years on the development of pain processing in infants before becoming a writer. She has written a book on her father: Behold the Dark Gray Man Triumphs and Trauma: The Controversial Life of Sholto Douglas.

Errol Barrow, or ‘Uncle Errol’ as he was known to me, was a large part of my life during my childhood and adolescence. My first memory of meeting him originates from when I was five years old. It was late December, 1962, and I had travelled to Barbados with my parents, Lord and Lady Douglas of Kirtleside, on a Cunard Line cruise ship, the RMS Coronia, following my father’s first stroke. Uncle Errol had suggested to my parents that the beautiful climate and scenery of Barbados might provide the ideal environment in which my father could recuperate. At this time, my father Sholto Douglas, aged 69, was still Chairman of BEA, and the stress of the job, plus the weight of two world wars, during and after the second of which he was in high command within the Royal Air Force (RAF) for a total of nine years, were exacting a heavy toll on him. My parents and I were full of hope for the recovery that this trip to a new destination for all of us would provide for my father, and Uncle Errol was there to meet us when we arrived in Barbados.

My father had told me of the skill and dedication with which Errol Barrow had performed his duties as my father’s personal navigator when he was Military Governor of the British Zone in Germany after World War II, and later, both of my parents told me of Errol’s post-war studies in Law, and at the London School of Economics, and his rise in the political sphere to become Premier of Barbados.

On arrival in Barbados, Uncle Errol made us feel instantly welcomed, and I could see immediately the affection that he and my father had for each other. We were invited to his residence, and met his wife Carolyn and his son and daughter.

Sholto Douglas and Errol Barrow in Barbados
Sholto Douglas and Errol Barrow in Barbados. (Photograph – Dr. Hon. Katharine Campbell née Douglas. This is a colourised Black & White photograph)

Uncle Errol spent as much time with my father as his duties would allow, and the memory that I have of him, from that time onwards, on every occasion that we visited Barbados (which was often over the next six years), is of him sitting exactly as in the picture, leaning forward and listening intently to my father, and my father in turn listening to him.

Later, when my father became increasingly infirm following numerous strokes, Uncle Errol would sit with his hand on my father’s arm, or he would even take hold of my father’s hand. I began to understand that the deep bond between the two of them began during their time in Germany, and operated on both filial and political levels (they were both committed socialists). Because of this dual relationship, the conversations between my father and Uncle Errol were not merely reminiscences of their time in Germany, although I did overhear them talking of their experiences there.

Despite my father’s increasing physical incapacity, he continued to enjoy intellectual conversation and debate. Indeed, he wrote to his literary agent, A D Peters;

I hope that you will not look upon me as a typical dyed-in-the-wool Service Chief, whose method of communication with the world is a series of barks and snorts! I like to think of myself as something of an intellectual, and I do in fact think deeply sometimes about things unconnected with the Service, civil aviation, or my own life and experiences.

Imperial War Museum: personal papers of MRAF Lord Douglas of Kirtleside. Letter from my father to A D Peters, literary agent – 30th September 1960.

This attitude of my father’s would have been evident to the young Errol Barrow when he was part of my father’s personal air crew in Germany, and the conversation that had perhaps started there continued in Barbados. I remember Uncle Errol asking my father’s opinion on the issues that he had to confront, firstly as premier, and then as prime minister, and my father in turn asking him questions.

Similarly, although on a much larger scale, during his first tenure as Prime minister of Barbados, Errol Barrow did much to improve working and living conditions on the island, introducing National Health Insurance and Social Security, and expanding free education to all levels.

My father, who had always had a deep interest in economics, considered it more vital to have an economist on the board of BEA than an accountant, and wrote and lectured on the economics of civil aviation, at the LSE among other places. He was very interested in the Barbadian economy as that nation moved towards independence. Furthermore, both my father and Errol Barrow, in their respective spheres in BEA and in Barbadian government, applied their socialist thinking to trade union relations, and once again, my father’s preoccupations in post-war Germany may have informed their initial conversations there. For example, in 1947, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, British Army of the Rhine, Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery, wrote a paper for my father on the internal security situation in the British Zone of Germany, expressing his concern that the spread of communism in the Zone would be facilitated by the emphasis placed on the development of trade unions and the power given to their officials. Although in agreement with everything else that Lieutenant-General McCreery wrote, my father replied;

I do not share your view that the development of Trade Unions is likely to lead to a spread of communism in the Zone. In fact, I believe the opposite to be the case. I have been impressed by the moderating influence which the Trade Unions have, at least up to the present, been able to exercise over the large scale demonstrations which the serious food shortage in the industrial towns has produced.

National Archives, Kew: DEFE 5/5. MOD Chiefs of Staff Committee. Memoranda. Internal security situation in the British Zone of Germany: memorandum by Sir Sholto Douglas – 28th June 1947.

It is also notable that, in the fifteen years that my father was chairman of BEA, he never had a strike, and always maintained good relations with the trade unions to which the airline’s employees belonged.

The dialogue between my father and Errol Barrow continued on the occasions when he came to England. Uncle Errol visited us at our home here also, first in 1964 with ‘Aunty’ Carolyn, and then in July 1966 with Frank Walcott, the prominent Barbadian trade unionist, politician, and diplomat, just prior to independence and Errol’s appointment as the first Prime Minister of Barbados. On this visit, Uncle Errol wrote a single comment in our visitors’ book: “Return to Barbados”, as though he had taken in my father’s infirmity, and wondered how long we would continue to go out there.

During this period, I watched with consternation the father whom I adored fading before my eyes. I seem to have looked around for other people who could act as father figures for me, and one of these was Uncle Errol. I wrote a poem about him and my father. One of the lines was; “they both have the same round smiling face”. There were no racial distinctions for me (there still aren’t). Uncle Errol was simply part of the family.

Sholto Douglas and Errol Barrow in Barbados
Katharine Douglas and Errol Barrow christening the new swimming pool at their St. James holiday home in 1967. (Photograph – Dr. Hon. Katharine Campbell née Douglas)

My mother had a house built in St James, Barbados, and from 1967 until my father died in 1969, we spent the school holidays there. In 1967, we held a party for the inauguration of our swimming pool, and Uncle Errol and I christened the pool by jumping into it hand-in-hand, each holding the flags of our respective countries. My father was becoming increasingly ill, and was barely able to join in the festivities. Uncle Errol had his own very kind physician attend to my father.

In the summer of 1968, Uncle Errol visited us again at home in England. The last time that he and my father saw each other was in January 1969, the year of my father’s death, when we went to Barbados for the last time as a family of three, although my mother returned alone to Barbados in June of that year to attend to our house.

After my father died in October 1969, when I was twelve years old, Uncle Errol continued his support of my mother and me, and over the next three years, he was there at many of the most important moments of my life, although not necessarily in person, but in writing. He started to call himself my godfather, and took his assumed responsibilities of being a father figure to me very seriously. We continued to visit Barbados in the years after my father’s death, at least once staying in Errol and Carolyn’s beach house.

Errol Barrow riding a horse November 1972 - The Barbados Advocate
Errol Barrow riding a horse – November 1972 (Photograph The Barbados Advocate – Errol Barrow – Icon, Leader, National Hero by Dorian Bryan, 21st January 2021)

I enjoyed horse riding very much, having been encouraged in this by my father, and it became Uncle Errol’s habit on our visits to Barbados to take me riding. He would turn up at wherever we were staying mounted on a beautiful grey horse, with a gorgeous bay on a rein for me. It was clear that he was a very good horseman, and we loved going out on rides together. We rode past small wooden houses down tracks, and so many people came out of their homes to wave and say: “Good morning, Prime Minister”, and other complementary and encouraging things. I felt so proud to be with such a popular and eminent man. I remember once riding on the beach with Uncle Errol, Sammy Chandler his riding instructor, and some others, with the waves splashing at the horses’ hooves as we galloped. It is a memory that I shall treasure all my life.

My mother, who had always had a very close relationship with alcohol, drank heavily at this time, and I remember a party at Uncle Errol’s official residence, at which she became very drunk and slightly aggressive, ending up in floods of tears. I was so embarrassed that I wished that the ground would open and swallow me up, but Uncle Errol’s attitude to my mother was so completely non-judgemental. He put his arm around her, and guided her gently to the waiting car, kindly sending us on our way.

He visited us three times in England in 1972, and signed himself “The Godfather” in our visitors’ book! On the third occasion, he was accompanied by Courtney Blackman, the Barbadian economist and diplomat, who signed himself “A contented hostage”, under which Uncle Errol wrote: “Released by Errol Barrow”. On the 16th September 1972, we had lunch with him at the Dorchester in London. He had just been for an audience with the Queen, with whom he said that he had a very congenial and warm relationship.

Our visits to Barbados became less and less frequent, and I do not remember going back there after October 1972. My mother returned twice after that, but we gradually lost touch with Uncle Errol, and our lives went in different directions.

Olive wood creche from Bethlehem
Cherished olive wood crèche given to Katharine Douglas by Errol Barrow following his trip to see Golda Meir in 1972.

I was very sad when I heard that he had died. However, there is one gift from him that I still have and will always keep. Uncle Errol went to Bethlehem at some point, and brought back for me an olive wood crèche, charming and beautiful in its carved simplicity. Every Christmas, I bring out the wooden figurines and place them on our hall chest, and I think of my very dear Uncle Errol.

[Errol Barrow made an official visit to Israel in 1972 . He was asked about his Jewish roots by then Prime Minister Golda Meir. He confirmed in the affirmative that he had Jewish lineage and exclaimed: “Where do you think I get my brains from?” Golda Meir burst out in laughter. Errol Barrow’s great grandfather Simon Barrow changed his name from Baruch to Barrow. By coincidence the Douglas family also has Jewish roots going far back. ]

My father’s own words are perhaps the best tribute to this remarkable man. As if prophetically, in 1942, my father made a speech that was broadcast and was addressed ‘To the people of the British West Indies’, in which he concluded:

“It is not impossible that the men who destroyed the enemy in the skies today will rebuild the world of tomorrow. For I believe that the young pilots of this war are more alive to world problems, more conscious of the cause and effect of individual and national actions, more sensitive to their responsibilities in creating a better world than we young pilots of the last War were; and in this great scheme of world shaped nearer to the needs of men, the West Indies will play its part”.

RAF Museum: A2084: Reminiscences of the RAF, 1939-1945. Speech by Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas to the people of the British West Indies.

There has seldom been a finer exemplar of my father’s hopes for the role of the West Indies in the post-war world than Errol Walton Barrow.

Additional information on Errol Barrow’s time in the RAF can be found in the following BajanThings post:

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