The Exemplary Life of Honourable Dudley Thompson….Cont’d
He would train at the Officer’s training college at Cranwell. Thenceforth he got his wish and flew as a member of an aircrew over Europe. Between 1941 and 1945, he earned several war decorations as a Flight Lieutenant.
Following the end of the war, he worked with Ulric Cross in the Colonial Office as a liaison officer before returning to Jamaica. An unlikely incident initiated his interest in law and served as a prelude for a lifelong career in the legal profession. Returning Jamaican RAF officers on a Swedish ship the Bergensford, armed themselves and assumed control of the ship after being insulted by white Trinidadian officers about the quality of their service during the war. As senior Jamaican RAF officer on the island Thompson was asked to mediate. He got the Jamaican men to lay down their arms and arranged for the ship to dock at Kingston where they would be met by their families. The authorities however had the ship dock at a Port Royal coaling station where armed soldiers with rifles drawn awaited the men. Thompson quickly arranged for the greeting party to withdraw their arms. The disembarkation proceeded without incident until one of the returning men, Corporal Alexander, suddenly punched the white officer, Colonel Dagleish who commanded the troops on the ground. Following his arrest, Alexander asked Thompson to represent him. Colonel Dagleish stormed out of the proceedings in the ensuing court martial proceedings, unable or unwilling to withstand Thompson’s withering cross-examination. With Dagleish’s departure, the prosecution’s case folded and Alexander was exonerated.
Flight Lieutenant Dudley Thompson was soon awarded a Rhodes Scholarship which took him to Oxford where he graduated with a Masters Degree in Jurisprudence and later a Bachelor in Civil Law. For a period, he served as president of the West Indian Students’ Union and interacted with Eugenia Charles (later Prime Minister of Dominica) while she served as an executive member. In 1950 he was called to the Bar in London from the Gray’s Inn. He was tutored by Sir Dingle Foote, a future Solicitor General of the United Kingdom.
By 1950, Dudley Thompson was at a professional crossroads. His logical next step would have been to return to Jamaica to set up a lucrative law practice and occupy an exalted place in the island’s social circles. Indeed, Norman Washington Manley Q.C. who would become Jamaica’s Prime Minister and National Hero offered him a position in his law firm. That Manley would make him an offer which virtually every West-Indian barrister would accept was a tremendous honour. And yet family circumstances conspired to prevent him from doing so.
Thompson had gotten married a few years earlier and had two children. A son had gotten ill and showed no signs of recuperating. When asked what could be done, the family doctor recommended a warm dry climate for Thompson’s ailing son. The doctor knew the ideal place for his young patient’s recuperation specifically Tanganyika in East Africa.
And so Thompson responded, in his words to a “call of the blood.”
“It was the best decision I ever made,” he added.
He had good reason for this admission. He traveled to East Africa and practiced law in Kenya and Tanganyika. He became close friends with the countries’ future leaders Jomo Kenyatta and Julius Nyerere. Indeed, the highlight of his legal career was his successful defense of the former along with legal heavyweights such as H.O.A. Davis of Nigeria and D.N. Pritt Q.C. The irony of this momentous legal battle was not lost on Thompson. The colonial who had taken up arms against the empire’s arch enemy was now engaged in a tough battle against the mother country in defense of one who had taken up arms against the injustices of the self same mother country.
In the ensuing years, Thompson built a solid reputation as an excellent advocate. He interacted easily with influential African leaders such as Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah and Nyerere. When the latter sought a Chief Justice for his fledging country Thompson served as a reference for the brilliant Dominican jurist Telford Georges who ultimately got the nod for the position.
Thompson left a lucrative practice in Africa to return to Jamaica in the early 1960s on the eve of the island’s attainment of national independence. It was the best and worst of times. Jamaica was in the throes of despair and jubilation having opted out of the West-Indies Federation. Norman Washington Manley would fight a valiant but losing political battle against his nemesis and cousin, Alexander Bustamante. Thompson would join the fray when, widely referred to as “Burning Spear,” a nickname of Jomo Kenyatta, he fought and surprisingly lost a grueling electoral battle against Jamaica’s future Prime Minister Edward Seaga.
Thompson recovered quickly however and immersed himself in his law practice. In 1962 he became president of the Jamaica Bar Association, a position he held for many years. He practiced in many islands including Trinidad, Barbados, St. Kitts, Dominica, the Bahamas and Grenada. He was appointed a Queens Council in 1963. He also played a role in the independence movement of both Belize and Bahamas.
Politics however remained a central preoccupation. Thompson was a vice-president of the Peoples National Party (PNP). He became a member of both the Senate of Jamaica and later, a member of its House of Representatives. With the triumph of Michael Manley at the polls in 1972, Thompson would occupy a slew of important Cabinet posts including Minister of Foreign Affairs, National Security and Minister of Mines and Natural Resources.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thompson traveled with Manley to Cuba in the mid 1970s for a secret meeting with Fidel Castro. The latter took them to his summer retreat and spread out a map on a table. Castro pointed to the unimpeded access which the South African military forces had to destabilize the entire region with its Apartheid philosophy. The Cuban leader pointed out that but for the intervention of his forces and the decisive victories in repulsing the Apartheid forces, southern Africa would have degenerated into a racist redoubt for the South African government.
Thompson also played a significant role as an Ambassador of Jamaica. He helped renegotiate the contracts with the bauxite and alumina multinationals and a crucial role in the formation of the International Bauxite Association. He also figured prominently in securing Jamaica as the permanent site for the International Seabed Authority in Kingston.
Such an extraordinary lifetime of service to the cause of freedom and African liberation rarely goes unnoticed or unheralded. Dudley Thompson has, not surprisingly, received a number of accolades including the Order of Jamaica, a Gold Medal from the Mico College, and another from the Organization of African States recognizing his status as a “Legend of Africa.” In 1992, he was empanelled as a member of the Group of Eminent Persons charged with implementing the Movement for Reparations to Africa and the Diaspora.
Flight Lieutenant Dudley J. Thompson, the man who left Jamaica to bomb the daylights out of Adolf Hitler, has soared to the stratosphere of success in his life and in so doing has made the world a better place for generations of people worldwide.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Irving W. André attended the Dominica Grammar School and Sixth Form College. He attended the University of the West Indies in Jamaica where he was a Gold Medalist after graduating with a First Class Honours Degree (B.A.) in History, English and Philosophy. The recipient of a Graduate Award to pursue the PhD. in History from John Hopkins in Baltimore, Mr. André studied there for two years prior to studying law at Osgoode Hall School in Canada. In 1990, Mr. André was called to the Bar of Ontario, and has served as a Ministry of Labour prosecutor, an Assistant Crown Attorney and later, as a Criminal Defence lawyer. He was appointed a Justice in the Ontario Court of Justice in 2002. He holds a Master of Laws degree and has published several works on Dominican history and society.
Gabriel J. Christian attended the Dominica Grammar School and Sixth Form College. He taught History at the Dominica Grammar School before attending the University of the District of Columbia College of Business and Public Management in Washington, D.C. where he graduated with a BBA in Procurement and Public Contracting. Mr. Christian studied law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. graduating with the degree of Juris Doctor in 1991. Mr. Christian was admitted to the Bar in 1991 and now practices law in Maryland. In 2007, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley appointed Mr. Christian to the position of Judicial Commissioner, Maryland Court of Appeals. André & Christian co-authored In Search of Eden: Dominica, The Travails of a Caribbean Mini-State (1992) and In Search of Eden: Essays on Dominican History (2002). Mr. Christian also authored Rain on a Tin Roof in 1999.