Hurricane Janet – 22 September 1955

Barbados is occasionally visited by Hurricanes which can cause widespread damage and loss of life. Fortunately this does not occur very often. The last major one was Hurricane Janet on 22nd September 1955.  After leaving us she went on to wreak havoc in Grenada and then across the Caribbean basin. Much has been written on the web of this which I will not repeat.

Rediffusion set from the 1950’s

Over the past few months I have been talking to many who remember that fateful day.   The story of listening to the boxing fight and being woken by Rediffusion early next morning is often repeated.

September 21 – Rocky Marciano fights for the last time, recovering from a knock-down to beat world Light Heavyweight champion Archie Moore by a knock-out in round nine in New York, and retiring undefeated with 49 wins, 43 by knock-out, as of 2006, the only world Heavyweight champion to go undefeated through his career.

Rediffusion was the lone radio station in Barbados at the time. You paid a small monthly fee to have a special box with a speaker in your home. It broadcast via cable and was connected to almost every house and rum shop. Every morning it started programs at 6am with the morning service and then the death announcements. Very few homes had telephones.  It provided a good mix of local and international news, and local and foreign produced programs. I remember listening to the Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon and President Kennedy’s death and funeral as a live broadcast. I also remember the live commentary of the Cave Shepherd fire in 1969.  The description was so articulate that we could imagine the scene in town that night. I challenge any announcer to do that today!

The importance of building your house to withstand a hurricane is also a common thread. I believe that this is lacking in most of today’s structures. Every year we get a close call and most families go and buy needless things. I wonder how many put their clothes, mattresses and toilet paper in plastic bags to keep dry when the roof goes!

Are we, as a nation, able to live for 2 or more weeks without electricity or water?  Not to mention internet connection!  Imagine no social media! Credit and Debit cards will be useless.  How will we survive!?

Every year I start the hurricane season by assuming that we will get a hurricane, my roof will blow off and we will then get 5cm of rain. I use that as a starting point for my preparations.

Thanks to all who took the time to send me their story of Janet.

If you know someone with a Hurricane Janet story and would like their story included please contact BajanThings.

Peter Reece provided this insight into the Reece families’ interest in weather forecasting.

Evelyn Reece in his weather room at Three Houses. From an article which appeared in an Advocate issue sometime after Janet in a story done by Paul Foster.
Mr. Reece’s Barograph was used to record the passage of Hurricane Janet and is still used by his nephew.

Evelyn “Bob” Reece and his two brothers, Herbert (my father) and Leonard, were all very keen weather men. Evelyn, being involved in sugar agriculture, had a personal stake in being able to predict the weather and so, became the man that was relied on to inform the industry on weather. The three brothers all got their weather knowledge from their father, Arnold Reece, who was Headmaster and lived at the old Coleridge School (before it became Coleridge & Parry) as he was a keen migratory bird shooter, a sport that weather plays an important part. I was nine years old at the time of Janet and two evenings before the hurricane arrived I remember seeing Evelyn, in his white suit which he always seemed to wear, Leonard and my father, Herbert, all standing in front of our house, “Glen Avon”, in Belleville. The three were looking at the clouds and discussing the approaching weather. I came to understand that Uncle Evelyn paid particular attention to Cirrus clouds, their shape and direction.

After Uncle Evelyn’s death in 1961 at the formation of the Meteorological Station at Seawell, most of his instruments were given to that institution. However, sometime in the 1980’s the Chief Met Officer, gave Uncle Evelyn’s Barograph back to my father, and after his death, it came to me and I hold it as a family heirloom. It is a beautifully made machine by Negretti & Zambra of London. It still works and I pay attention to this very important tool during Hurricane season.

The following is from Angus Edghill 

In September 1955 we were living on the sea in St Lawrence in an old “board and shingle” upstairs house.

In the afternoon of Sept 21 my brother, Ian, and I were in the sea with my father and a neighbour Shirley Atwell. The sea was dead calm and glassy, like a mirror to the horizon, not even a ripple, and no wind at all. I remember hearing my Father say to Mr Atwell, “Shirley, boy something brewing”

At about 3 am when the siren at the Worthing Police Station went off we knew what he meant. It was a haunting howl that was repeated for several hours.

Then the telephone started ringing with friends exchanging information on the approaching Hurricane. The US Weather Bureau in San Juan and Piarco said the Hurricane would pass North of Barbados, but by daybreak Mr Reece at Three Houses, an experienced amateur weatherman, sent out his warning by telephone to friends and Rediffusion that because the wind at Three Houses was holding steady from the North, the Hurricane would in fact pass close South of the Island if not over it. This was crucial information which proved to be correct as the eye passed 6 miles south.

At home Dad told us what to do and we started to board up the house, nailing shut window shutters and doors, and our Mother got busy cooking and making general preparations including collecting water and filling lanterns with kerosene.

Dad went to town early to look after shutting up his workplace and to attend the funeral of a friend which was scheduled for the 22nd but was brought forward to early morning. We continued our preparations at home, and began to notice swells coming in and the sea seemed to have lifted up.

By the time Dad got back home about 9 the swells were huge and high up the cliff and reflecting back out to sea. He took one look at the sea and said that we had to get out of there, like now.

He phoned his Brother, Bob, who lived in a solidly built house with a hipped roof in Cot Road Rockley to say we were coming. We packed everything we would need into a Morris minor car including 2 adults, 2 boys, 7 and 9, and a child of 3, Robin, plus 2 dogs and a Cat, and set off for Rockley.

We had left very late because the wind was already gusting from the North causing tree branches to thrash around.  The road was deserted.  As we passed the junction of Rendezvous Road and Worthing a very tall coconut tree fell down across the road about 30 yards behind the car. Had we been 15 seconds later we would either have been hit or blocked.

We reached Westerley without further incident and quickly got into the safety of the house.  The Cat disappeared.  There were many people in the house, including, the 5 Gills, 3 Elderly Edghill  Aunts, 5 of us, 6 Westerley Edghills, and 3 or 4 House helpers and their families, so maybe 28 or 30 people.

My Father and his Brother were very kind but careful in letting us children see what was happening.  At first we sat on some steps facing North between 2 walls and watched galvanise sheets flying past like paper. The air was full of stuff especially leaves and shingles, trees were being blown down. So much happening at the same time and above all the howling, whistling and roaring of the wind.  I do not remember any lull and do not remember much rain.  I do remember the wind changing direction into the ESE because we were allowed to crawl out onto the East veranda and watch a house 3 houses East of Westerley getting stripped of all its roof. The galvanise sheets would start to ripple at the ridge then suddenly they were airborne and passing north of us.  By then almost all trees were down, and all poles and wires too. Everything was on the ground.

By about 2 or 3 the wind had died down enough to venture outside, and what a sight it was. Everything was wrong, and it took a while to figure out where you were and what was going on.

Nothing was where it should be, and how would we ever get this mess cleared and return life to normal?

My Father and Mr Rex Gill left to walk to St Lawrence to check on their Houses.

We boys went down to the road near the eastern end of Rockley beach to try to help some men, The Atkinson brothers, the Wormes, and Evelyns, who were pulling boats out of the surf.  There was no beach and the huge waves were breaking close to the road and spreading across it. The sea water was brown and foamy, and itched like the judgment day. The itching made us retreat back to Westerley, but there was nothing that would stop it and we suffered through a sleepless night later.

Sometime after dark Dad and Rex Gill arrived back very badly scratched up by the jungle that was the road a few hours earlier, but relieved that both Houses were damaged but intact.

After a sleepless night, pitch black apart from the odd lantern in the background or distance, with loose galvanize banging in the wind all night, we resumed exploring and looking at the damage done.  We also helped to clear stuff from the roads as best we could and pile along the side of the road.

I do not remember exactly how long we were at  Westerley, maybe 2 or 3 days, before the roads were clear enough to go back home to St Lawrence.  When we got there it was clear that the House was more badly damaged than Dad at first thought.  Despite having Louvred shutters over all windows every single pane of glass was broken, and everything was sodden with salt water.  Some of the galvanized sheets had blown off the roof on the seaside and even shingles were missing. There was only one room that was habitable so we all slept there for many nights.

We walked around looking at the damage up and down St Lawrence Gap and drank endless coconut water as all the trees were down. Everybody in the St Lawrence area had suffered some damage, more or less.

The St Lawrence Hotel next door to us lost most of its roof and the owner, Peter Morgan, put up a sign saying they had air conditioned rooms!

Very gradually, the house got cleaned up and Dad was able to get 1 or 2 Carpenters from St Peter which had not suffered much damage and they started repairing the roof. The roads were at last passable but still with huge piles of everything on the side of the roads.

There was no Electricity, or telephone, and no School for about 2 or 3 weeks. Every day I cleaned the lanterns, trimmed the wicks, and filled them with kerosene for the night. Sometimes we got big blocks of ice which were kept in a wooden box  I remember the man who delivered the ice cut small blocks from bigger blocks of ice with just an ice pick, to fit exactly in our ice box, all done by eye no measuring!

When school started we did homework by the light from the Lanterns until December when we finally got back our Electricity supply.  By then the house had been repaired enough to be liveable again, and the landscape began to look familiar again, except for all the missing trees.

Once school started there was much less time to think about Janet, but I will never forget it.

It remains as vivid in my memory today as it was on Sept 22, 1955.

David Webster’s recollections of Hurricane Janet

Dave Webster

Hurricane Janet hit the southern end of Barbados in the morning with the eye of the storm passing to the south of the island. Early in the morning before it hit the island, the governor called my dad and asked him to open the store (S. E. Cole & Co. Ltd.) so people could purchase supplies. Someone (I believe it was Mr. Gollop, Wildey’s overseer) was sent to pick up mom, Marcia, Roger and I. I took a quick run down to the beach to see the big waves on the shore. I remember looking at the beach beyond Maristow (not sure of the spelling) and seeing some of the branches of the Casuarina trees on the beach bending over to touch the water and then swing back up leaving a trail of sea water spray behind.

We then were driven to Wildey Plantation where the rest of the family were huddled together in the storm house. It looked like a military bunker not far from the “Big House”. The large Evergreen tree (I believe it was a Barbados bearded fig tree but we called it an Evergreen tree) which was in the middle of the yard in front of the big house was swaying in the wind and many of its leaves had by now been blown off of the branches. My uncle’s car (an Austin A40) that was parked in front of the big house was swaying in the wind and my uncle (Charles Bethel) was worried it would soon blow over. The conversation in the storm house was quite entertaining for a young boy of seven as the effects of a few glasses of Old King Cole rum took effect on some of the men.

All of a sudden we heard quite a loud noise and were told it was Mr. Garner’s (the plantation’s watchman) house that had been blown off of its foundation and had rolled down the hill behind the old barn. In the meantime my brother, who was two years old, kept crying for my dad. Dad arrived later after closing up the store and driving a couple of the workers home. Everyone was very relieved at his arrival and the family continued to wait out the storm. Once the winds had died we returned home to Maxwell Coast Road. This involved clearing a path through the fallen branches and squeezing the car under an uprooted coconut tree that was partially propped up by someone’s yard wall.

The day after the hurricane was great for us as kids. The tide had really retreated after the storm and we could walk around Maristow cliff on dry sand. There were coconuts everywhere – especially on the beach and even on the Maxwell Coast Road. I remember drinking lots of coconut water and pouring it over our shirtless bodies before jumping into the ocean. Evan Lodge was not damaged (it had a parapet roof) except for a length of the eve trough that had been knocked down by a mango tree branch. We had been spared the horrors of the full force of a hurricane but other islands like Grenada took a full hit that night.

Ann Croney (Hinkson) remembers Hurricane Janet

The house that the Hinkson family and friends stayed in during Janet is still standing. The shop was behind the 3 doors and the family lived behind and upstairs. Mrs Hinkson was a pillar of the community that anyone could turn to in times of need.

My parents, Cecil and Dorothy Hinkson along with my brother Frank (also known to some as George and Magi by his Lodge School mates) my sister Esther and myself, Ann, lived in Blades Hill together with my grandmother Ethel Shepherd and the extended family. The house of which the shop was part was built strong.  The walls were 12” coral stone and the roofs were all hip, all of the windows had hoods outer shutters and internal shutters which were fastened with a 2” x 2” bar. The house did not sustain damage just some leaks where the gutters could not cope with the volume of water.

Although very young – not quite 4 years old – I remember waking to find all of the windows closed and being told that there was a hurricane.  When I went down stairs there were a lot of the neighbours in the house and shop.  The shop had a side door which Mum opened and allowed some of the neighbours to sit in there.  Sylvia Mason was sitting at one end of the shop with her baby who could only have been days old.

Sybil and Everton McCollin lived to the east of us and they lost the roof of their house.  Sybil was cooking when the roof came off and my brother told me that she picked up the pot and ran to us with it – a lot of people ate from that pot.  Sybil and Everton stayed in one of the out rooms for about a week until they were able to get their roof back on.

One of my aunts lifted me up so I could see what was going on outside and I watched Tina’s (think her surname was Wiltshire) house which was also to the east of us rock in all directions but it never came apart.  Years later the house was moved and I understood then why it did not fall apart.  It was bolted together at the corners and the roof was bolted to the house.  The pea trees in the garden where being blown in circles and the pear tree in the front yard was leaning.

My grandmother did corn beef and biscuits and cocoa to help feed everyone.

My uncle parked the truck between the gate to stop it swinging back and forth in the wind and coming off its hinges.

They had let the pigs out of the pen so that they would not get trapped if the roof fell in.

When all the winds and rain had stopped and I was allowed outside I could see that the winds had shaken all of the limes off the tree.

Lynda Lewis (Corbin) remembers Hurricane Janet

We lived at Stepney and it seems the wind got into the cellar and the floor above (ceiling to cellar) seemed to move a little. Daddy talked of seeing metal roof panels ‘walk up’ the hill by the force of the wind.  Dad was a ‘warden’ and had to open some of plantation buildings as shelter for workers if needed.  I heard the sirens at District B going off.

My grandfather lived in Strathclyde and he lost part of his roof. He claimed on insurance, was paid, and walked down the road to where roof had landed and got it back!

Memories of Hurricane Janet on September 22 1955 from Frances Chandler (Roach) and Wendy Hoad (Roach)

The house at Fortescue where the Atwell, Burton and Roach families sought refuge during Janet. The door mentioned is at the top of the steps. The outside and inside shutters and the hoods have been discarded. Also the roof has been changed from the original Hip Roof. The large overhang will make is easy for the wind to remove it.

Our family was spending the traditional summer holiday at Cattlewash. Our uncle Irwin (Burke) and his family were staying with us at Sandy Crest. Daddy and Uncle Irwin stayed up to listen to the Rocky Marciano fight on Rediffusion on the night of September 21st, and when it was over, they decided to play a joke on the rest of us by leaving on the volume of the radio, so that when transmission began again early next morning, it would wake everybody.Well, we were all awakened much earlier than they expected by a radio announcement that Hurricane Janet was about to hit us.

Uncle Irwin and family got a lift to St. Michael with a friend staying next door and all of us (except Paddy who had just started school at Lodge School and was staying with the Atwells at Fortescue) piled in to the old Hillman Minx (P6). There were the four of us, the two maids and all our belongings, including a bird in a cage.

We laboured up the hills under the excess weight and finally reached Codrington College, only to find that a tree had fallen across the road, and a car had obviously not seen it and had ridden up on it.  Daddy and others moved the car and shifted the tree as much as they could to allow traffic to pass. We then travelled on to Fortescue where we attempted to alert the Atwells of the impending hurricane.

Mr. Atwell opened an upstairs window, looking very sleepy and when Daddy told him what was happening, he said Ok and started to retreat from the window. Daddy had to shout to him to remind him that our home at Three Houses was under repairs and had no roof so we had to stay with them.

We then moved in and watched out the storm. The adults boarded up the large eastern door with a two by four post which fit into special slots in the wall, and the wooden shutters were closed on the windows.

We watched as the mule pen roof flew off and across the plantation yard. A few house roofs in Blades Hill were also blowing around.  Meanwhile, the two by four post was bending under the force of the wind, but thank goodness stood up to the test.

After it was all done, we recalled that the sunset the evening before had been an especially bright red, which we were later told by Mr. Evelyn Reece, the manager of Three Houses Factory and a hobby “weatherman”, was a sign of impending bad weather.

Memories of Janet as told by Brenda Bancroft (Nee Barrow)

Brenda’s grandchildren Shajahri, Kilea, Kia and Tamia enjoy listening to her stories of days gone by.

Brenda was 14 years old and lived at Welch Village, Bath, in St. John with her parents.  When Janet arrived she was staying with her sister, Girlie, and her husband, nicknamed Poo, and their 2 young children at Lightfoot Lane in the capital Bridgetown.They also were up late listing to the boxing fight on Rediffusion on the night of the 21st. It was usual to leave the radio on after it closed transmission for the night to act as an alarm clock. Rediffusion started broadcasting earlier than usual to alert the residents of the island that a hurricane was approaching.

Preparations were immediately started in securing the house and preparing a meal. The glass and china ware was taken off the shelves and packed away in a safe location. Poo was sent to The Ice House to buy some meat and to return home to cook soup for the family. Girlie went to work at the Seale family in Baxters Road with the intention of soon returning home.

Brenda was left to look after the 2 younger children.

Poo was the first to return but when he tried to light the Coal Pot the wind blew out the fire. Girlie soon returned with a pot of food that the Seale family sent for them.

Brenda said that they watched other houses being blown apart by the strong winds. Galvanise sheets, house roofs and trees were flying around. There was a Large Tamarind tree to the back of the house and a Clamcherry tree to the front. Both threatened to fall on the house. Poo decided that it was unsafe and that they would relocate to the Moravian Church in Chapman Street. Before they could leave the roof blew off and they had to crawl out, thankful with no injuries.

They made their way to the church and spent the remainder of the hurricane there.  However Poo and Girlie did not like the behaviour in the church and decided to move to his sister who lived at 3rd Ave Park Road, Bush Hall. The behaviour got worse when Mr. Mottley arrived with Biscuits and Corned Beef and there was fighting to get the food.

Once the winds had abated a bit they left. Many trees that were along the Whitepark area were blown down. It was night by now and progress was very slow.  The road was covered with utility poles and the remains of houses that were torn apart. They had to climb over and crawl under the debris as they walked past Country Road, Bank Hall and up Bush Hall.

Poo went in front with one child, Girlie next with the other and Brenda brought up the rear holding on to Girlie’s dress. It was pitch black and Poo would call our “I going” and every one would reply in turn “I coming”. When they reached Park Road they were relieved that the house was not damaged. It was a wall house with a Hip Roof.

Brenda had to remain there for nearly a week until the buses were operating again. During this time she was very worried about her family in Welch Village. The telephone lines were down and there was no way of getting information.

When she returned home there was a lot a damage but she was pleased to see that her mother’s house was intact. A branch of the Breadfruit tree had broken off and lodged on the roof but did not do any harm.

St Marks Church sustained some damage to the roof.

Brenda also recounts a story that has been repeated by others that a few days later a rumour circulated that “Janet turn around and coming back!” This caused some panic in the island.

She also tells a story confirming how good a weather forecaster that Mr. Evelyn (Bob) Reece was.  One day during crop she was working loading cane in a field to the East of Three Houses Factory.  Mr. Reece came and told Mr. Atwell, the manager of Fortescue, that a lot of rain was coming and he should get the trailers out of the cane ground. Mr Atwell ignored the advice. The rain soon started. It was a very heavy downpour that lasted for days. Everyone had to run for cover. It took weeks for the ground to dry out enough for Gall Fowl  get the trailers out with the Fordson Tractor.

There was so much rain that Mr. Beckles had to leave his snow cone ball cart and take the donkey home in Three Houses Hill.

Hurricane Janet – Barbados 1955 by Winifred K. O’Mahony
Winifred O’Mahony’s story was taken from: The British Empire; courtesy of Overseas Service Pensioners’ Association (OSPA).

Winifred O’Mahony tells the story of living through what was one of the most powerful Hurricanes to have ever hit the Caribbean and how the colonial authorities attempted to deal with the disaster.  Winifred O’Mahony’s husband Dr. O’Mahony was Chief Medical Officer for Barbados at the time of Hurricane Janet.  They lived in a Colonial Services apartment in the Garrison which had previously been the Military Headquarters.

HurricaneJanet-1955_7603729298
Hurricane Janet damage. The National Archives UK.

It was during the small hours of the night when I heard the telephone constantly ringing. Befuddled with sleep I could recognise the voice of the Commissioner of Police asking for Dr. O’Mahony. Apparently there was an hurricane alert but I was not to be ‘alarmed’. Shaking my husband awake I handed him the ‘phone. Yes, Piarco Air Base in Trinidad had alerted us that Hurricane Janet had altered course and was heading for Barbados. Several hours could elapse before it reached us but there was much to do.

In less than 10 minutes Dr. O’Mahony was dressed had taken out the car and was headed for Police Headquarters and the big General Hospital nearby.

My first job was to close the big hurricane shutters on all 20 windows. Jamming each one of them with the great wooden bars to ensure their security. Then to telephone various friends to whom we had promised shelter in the event of a severe storm. So far the public had not been alerted and the time was around 3 a.m. I left the radio on as I knew that in due time the Government would be broadcasting general instructions as to what to do.

Then down to the big flat beneath our apartment which belonged to the Director of Public Works, now on vacation in Trinidad. Again I had some 20 big windows to secure, doors to bolt and in agony I had to decide that all the beautiful plants on their verandah would have to be left to the mercy of the oncoming storm.

Dr. O’Mahony rushed in for a few minutes, swallowed a cup of tea, a bite of toast, and was away again in an endeavour to visit the many outlying country hospitals – about 7 of them, a few of which were below or at sea-level. Now I could hear Police Vans with hailers telling the public to clear the roads, batten down their homes and remain there. The streets were no longer safe. Meanwhile the wind increased and our friends were arriving with emergency cases, and even a young baby with his nurse.

In an endeavour to be shielded against the coming storm, a huge Shell Tanker had been left against the great old boundary wall of the Garrison. Later I realised its worth when it served military and other lorries as they subsequently went out on their various missions. Beside the tanker were parked a big number of Public Works lorries hopefully left there for later salvage work. Inside the ancient Fort Walls lay the big old ammunition store, and this was now receiving military personnel and soon we could hear the purr of a huge radio which was installed inside the walls which were about 10 ft. thick.

Returning to my flat I heard the Government broadcasts which were now on a more urgent note. The hurricane was now expected rather earlier than anticipated and would probably pass to the south of the Island. All business firms, banks, offices, etc. were to close immediately and everyone was urged to get off the streets. Our good Canadian friends, Mr. and Mrs. Garrett, had now arrived, together with their little golden cocker spaniel. Alas they had not had breakfast so I had to set about cooking as big a meal as possible for them, not knowing when the next meal would be.

Up until then the weather had been fairly normal but now I was aware of sharp gusts of wind from the North West – an unusual quarter for us – and gradually these were increasing with squally rain. Then Mrs. Merrivale Austin arrived with her daughter, son-in-law, their babe of 2 1/2 years, together with Nanny. Multitudes of baggage were carried in by their butler and chauffeur, who then hurriedly left for their own homes. Then I allocated a great big spare bedroom to the nanny and babe and gave out the necessary items for food preparation, etc. Mr. Austin was supposed to be in Grenada with his brother, the Chief of Police, and in an endeavour to alleviate his anxiety we put through a telephone call. Luck was with us and we got through, only to learn that Merrivale had left for Trinidad. To our amazement, Grenada had then had no intimation of the approach of ‘Hurricane Janet’. It was then approximately 10 a.m.

Dr. O’Mahony was still not home and the wind was increasing all the time. Eventually however, he arrived, put his car in the garage and battened it down as securely as possible. The wind had now shifted to the North and we could still stand on our sheltered verandah, watching the trees being blown hither and thither.

Rediffusion had been off the air some time, and electricity now was cut out. Hurricane lanterns had to be lighted as the hurricane shutters at the windows completely precluded all light. Then came the deep murmur of the emergency generator from the Military H.Q. nearby. I prayed that the aerials, both there and at Police H.Q. and at Government House would stand up to the fury of the gale which was now ranging around us.

Through a tiny gap in the kitchen jalousies we watched the torment of a quadrangle of tulip trees some 80 ft. high, as limb by limb they were torn apart, one of them flung across a building behind us. Then a great evergreen tree, a centenarian at that, had its branches torn off like shreds of paper. Corrugated sheets from nearby Nissen huts were being flown around in profusion whilst the noise was utterly terrifying. The wind was shifting again and we realised that the peak of the storm was at hand. The menfolk kept a constant check of windows, doors, etc., which were taking a tremendous battering, but we heard the wind now approaching from the South and our front door, which was of immense thickness, with four big bolts and two locks, was beginning to give way. Hurling our full weight on it, my husband and Bill Duncan were able to jam a huge 3ft. square piece of timber under the main lock and then wedge the other end with further pieces of timber which they nailed to the floor. Now the great gusts of wind were shaking the whole of this huge old building which had been Military H.Q. for well over a hundred years. The wooden staircase leading up to the flat was another anxiety – it was laced with a huge bougainvillea – but if it were torn down how on earth could we get out of the building in an extreme emergency? We had Julian Garrett, a man of 76 years, and Mary Ann Duncan, a pregnant woman, amongst our ‘refugees’!

The turning point soon arrived and by 1.45 p.m. we realized that the winds were diminishing. Carefully opening the kitchen door, which had been protected by trellis on its verandah, my husband carefully stepped out and I followed him. The great lawns around us were smothered with leaves and the torn-off limbs, as well as many entire trees completely uprooted. An acrid-like smell assailed us from everywhere; it turned out to be sap from the tortured trees. The Adjutant and his staff, together with some of the personnel, were now coming out from their shelter in the old Ammunition Hall nearby. Almost immediately orders were being given for squads of men to start out in convoys of lorries with lifting tackle in order to clear some of the main roads and to re-establish communications. A squad was allocated to Dr. O’Mahony and he immediately got out his car, – intact, thank God! – and they slowly started out to try and get down to Medical Head Quarters at the General Hospital.

Marion Garret and I struggled through the debris towards the road, which was blocked by fallen trees and a medley of telephone and electric light wires lay everywhere. Several huge gas lamps from the huge holders had been snapped off and lay in the littered road. Any trees which remained upright had been stripped of leaves and had turned a dark brown. Venturing towards what had been a magnificent copse of tamarind, manchineel and coconut trees which bordered the sea behind our flat, my friend and I found it utterly impassable. The beautiful great trees had been ripped up and hurled against one another, whilst the roots lay exposed some 8 to 10 feet in the air. The erstwhile calm blue Caribbean was now a boiling, roaring horror. Sickened by it all, we crept back home. No electricity, no refrigeration, but thank God I had an adequate supply of food.

Mrs. Merrivale Austin started packing up her belongings when her chauffeur arrived with news of the severe damage to their fine old home. The verandah had been completely destroyed and it was feared that the house itself had shifted from its foundations. A tree had been blown down across the roof of the garage, which had given way under the impact. Their car was in a sorry state.

It was late at night when my husband returned, deadly tired and very silent. He fell asleep in an armchair immediately, too weary to even walk to his bedroom. I roused him later, gave him a light meal and he retired to bed. At 4 a.m. we were up again, hurried cups of tea were made on an oil stove and once more the poor D.M.S. started off on his Island-wide survey. The emergency dynamo from St. Ann’s Fort was still chugging away, and now lorries and other vehicles were coming and going all the time. Little by little the whole battalion were reporting for duty. By daylight tents were being erected on the surrounding lawns. Sentries were stationed and soldiers with rifles were being sent out to guard strategic food supplies. Soon Army trucks with personnel were leaving to try and open up the blocked roads and clear communications. The Public Works Department called up all available carpenters, masons, etc., and instituted flying squads to commence the immense task of repairing damaged buildings. Then the Electricity Department and Telephone Company co-opted every electrician and every technician available and with vans, cars, or any possible transport, they started off on the task of disentangling and repairing the hundreds of miles of ruptured and damaged wires. Day and night these gangs of men worked in relays at the immense task.

Later in the day, when there were only short sharp squalls of wind and rain, I ventured further afield from our immediate vicinity. Sick at heart I saw the lovely great trees uprooted and it was a miracle that so many had fallen between the houses or into the road or gardens. Most homes appeared to be damaged in some way and many had lost their roofs. Even strongly built concrete houses had their roofs entirely lifted off. The sea was subsiding but the flooding in many places bore evidence to the phenomenally high seas.

Approaching the many hotels bordering the sea, I found the verandahs piled high with sand to a depth of 3 feet or so, whilst fish were floating in the flooded ground floor lounges. The Royal Hotel, with its luxurious air-conditioned bedrooms, once the proud possessor of a Restaurant built out on a pier in the sea, which had now vanished and merely the damaged piers were left standing, was now roofless and derelict. The Manager’s beautiful bungalow, recently built, was now shifted from its foundations and the roof lay shattered in the middle of the street. Further up the road I saw the home of a distinguished merchant completely cut in two, as if from bomb damage.

My courage failed me here and a passing Staff Officer in a military jeep gave me a much needed lift home. No servants and no help were anywhere available. Sand carried in the wind had permeated every corner of the house. I swept and dusted until my hands were blistered. My lovely mahogany furniture was dull and horrid from the salt-impregnated air.

I then learned of a further horror which had occurred near our home. The big Picture House, solidly built of concrete, had been used as a shelter for a large crowd of people. The storm in its fury had ripped off the roof and so caused the walls to collapse. There were many killed and seriously injured.


see also: St. Philip, Barbados in the 1950’s & 1960’s. A very brief recollection of the people and events.


A Selection Hurricane Janet photos taken from The National Archives UK

You can mouse over the image for the caption or click on the image to see a larger image with title and captions.


Hurricane Janet, Her Stories 60 Years Later – Part 1

Part one of a two part series which looks at what happened the fateful night of September 22nd, 1955 when Hurricane Janet made landfall in Barbados. This poignant series is driven by the memories of the survivors and how Janet affected their lives. Published by Barbados Government Information Service.

Hurricane Janet, Her Stories 60 Years Later – Part 2

The second of a two-part series on Hurricane Janet. Here survivors continue the story of what happened the fateful night of 22nd September 1955 when Hurricane Janet made landfall in Barbados. Published by Barbados Government Information Service.

7 thoughts on “Hurricane Janet – 22 September 1955”

  1. I was just 16 when the hurricane hit. We lived at Ellerton House in St George, and had advanced warning because of Rediffusion. I remember going out at the height of the hurrican to help rescue some pet rabits, cowering in their hutch which had more or less blown to pieces. A large coconut palm at the back of the house was uprooted and whirled away right over our roof.
    Later we had around 20 people from Ellerton village sleeping in our drawing room as their small homes had been destroyed. Luckily our house was not damaged, and we were able to provide them with shelter for several weeks. We also had no electricity for about three weeks.
    I was a student at the Lodge school at the time, and I remember some of us were trucked to a place in Christ Church where we had to parade in front of the people holding posters saying that a better way of feeding them was coming soon!

  2. I was four years old and lived in Rockley, in a house called ‘Clarendon’. My grandfather, Lionel Evelyn lived in Navy Gardens.
    Clarendon was an older wooden house with coconut trees in the yard, and faced Rockley beach from across the road.

    My grandfather’s house was brick, and we all went there to wait out the hurricane. The two coconut trees toppled over on Clarendon, and my father said that was all that kept it from blowing away. It got damaged though.

    I was allowed a peek outside during the storm, and I remember seeing tree branches flying by, and galvanize sheets, and wind roaring.

    The wreckage to the island was awful. I was too small to fully understand that, but my parents talked about it for years after.

    P.S. – If anyone reads this and knows anything about ‘Clarendon’, please contact me. I’ve looked for it when on island, but I think it’s been torn down. It was (I think) also a hair dressing parlour at one point some time after we left. I can’t remember the exact spot, but I think when you came down the hill from Navy Gardens you turned left, and house was on opposite side of road to beach somewhere along there.

    .

  3. These recollections of Hurricane Janet are truly interesting and historical for me as I was only a year and seven months at that time! I belive the wind speed that was recorded on that day was an incorrect one due to inaccracy of instruments at that time. The devistation and flattening of coconut tree and other species leads me to belive this. I was told that Bayland had been hit hard.

  4. Hi Ellen

    Thanks for your comments on Hurricane Janet. It is very likely that your mother used the doll to raise funds for the victims of Janet. That was the only major disaster we had around those years. Rediffusion was a main feature in most house holds. In the days before the internet, and as most homes did not have telephone we relied on it for accurate and up to date information and entertainment.

    Rediffusion had at least 3 models to choose from. The one pictured was wall mounted. They also had 2 table top versions, a basic model and an upmarket model. My Grandparents had theirs set up so it was plugged to a special plug supplied by the company. During the day it sat on a table in the living room and at night Grandpa carried it into the bedroom to listen to the late night news, and be woken early next morning.

  5. Message:
    This story of Janet is interesting. My mother was a Bajan living in the U.S. as permanent resident at time of Janet. She made a doll to raffle for hurricane relief in Barbados. I remember her making a large doll – handmade, of course, – that was raffled for money to send to Barbados to help with hurricane damage. Is it Janet? I am not sure but the timing would be about right for it to be Janet. So I guess it could be Janet but no way to know for sure. I remember a doll that was about two to three feet tall. She would later make one for me about that size which I still have.

    Also I see the Rediffusion unit pictured in the link below. My grandmother listened to Rediffusion for her news and I recognize the unit from a visit I made to Barbados in the 60’s.

  6. That’s a very interesting article, William. Thanks for sharing their stories.
    Glad you would pack your toilet paper in plastic bags when your roof blows off. xx Maria

  7. These were wonderful articles. I am so very happy that I subscribed to BajanThings.com. Born in the U.S. of Barbadian parents in the first half of the 1900s. I love to hear and learn all I can about the island. I was a teenager when Barbados was struck by Janet. Fortunately none of our relatives were lost. I did have a friend who lost her sister in the Janet hurricane.

    My first visit to Barbados was in 1964. The relatives drove us around the island to show us all of the things our parents spoke of. (I travelled to Barbados with my sister.) We both loved the island, We have visited many times since, loving it more each time.

    I like to hear and see the old time things as well as keeping up with the current. I am also interested in the lore of various Parishes. Guess you can say I am a Bajan wannabe. The articles and pictures in this issue of BajanThings were very enlightening. Thank you.

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