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The forgotten woman

Family disappointed that anthem’s co-author never received honours

BY JANICE BUDD Associate Editor — Sunday buddj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 28, 2011    

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AS the dust settles from yet another Independence celebration and the nation prepares for its momentous 50th anniversary next year, there is an 83-year-old woman who has yet to be fully recognised for her role in helping to pen the soul-stirring National Anthem.

Mrs Christine Allison Lindo, formerly Mrs Eugene Mapletoft Poulle, was one of four persons who had a direct hand in the creation of the national anthem. There have been suggestions that the chorus; those simple, yet inspirational words, 'Jamaica, land we love', came from her with arrangement for the tune coming from her late former husband.

Yet, neither Mr Poulle, who died in 1981, nor his then-wife have ever been formally acknowledged by the government for their contribution.

Today, the ailing Mrs Lindo, one of two surviving persons involved in crafting the anthem — the other being Major J B Joe Williams — lives a quiet life, with her second husband Raymond Lindo and his brother Donald in Kingston.

Donald Lindo told the Sunday Observer that his brother's wife has short-term memory loss, but has never forgotten her role in the crafting of the anthem, although she is too gracious to allude to the fact that history seemed to have almost forgotten her.

"My sister-in-law has always been a very retiring individual and so has not said much about the lack of recognition regarding our National Anthem, but is proud of the fact that she and her first husband were able to make this contribution to our island," said Lindo.

However, her family also said "it is disappointing to know that neither Allison nor her husband have ever received any formal recognition from the Government for their efforts". The Poulles' three children (Mary, Andrea and Peter) have the same sentiments but are very proud of the fact that their parents had so much to do with the anthem.

The couple's involvement went unacknowledged for years with all the accolades going to Sherlock and Lightbourne alone, until a revision of the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) handbook on emblems and symbols was recently put together by Logistics and Protocol consultant Merrick Needham. Even this, Needham said, came only after great persistence on his part.

"The Anthem is the creative work of four persons, the late Rev and Hon Hugh Sherlock, OJ, OBE, the late Hon Robert Lightbourne, OJ, the late Mapletoft Poulle and Mrs Poulle (now Mrs Raymond Lindo)," reads the modern handbook.

According to Needham, who has been trying since 1989 to get the Government to accord the Poulles some type of honour, "Of the 20 bars in at least one verse of the anthem, only four are derived from Lightbourne's music. So it is really Mapletoft Poulle who wrote the national anthem based on a theme by Robert Lightbourne... But they (the Poulles) have never had any honour," said Needham.

The origin of the national anthem has proved the source of immense controversy.

Official accounts are that a national competition was held in March 1962 where persons were asked to submit possible lyrics for the National Anthem. A contest would be held for someone to come up with the music. Members of the Houses of Parliament remained divided between two possible choices until July 1962 when, after feverish debate, they approved a hastily put together version presented in the lobby of Gordon House.

In another version of the story, a faux pas on behalf of organisers led to words written by a foreign bandsman, a member of the white military regiment, being selected as the winning lyrics, an unseemly choice for an anthem celebrating the severing of ties with Britain.

According to Needham in his 2001 newspaper article, in a quick solution, local musicians, including the Poulles, Sherlock and Lightbourne, and yet another foreigner -- bandmaster of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Hampshire Regiment, John Plant -- rallied to the cause, to make sure a worthy anthem was ready for the history-making moment the Union Jack was lowered and the Jamaican black, green and gold hoisted in its stead.

Poulle, a lawyer and classically trained musician was to bring the original lyrics and music together in a suitable way, but this called for significant rewrites of the words. This is where Allison Poulle stepped in, changing, for example, "through the din and darkest hours", to "be our light through countless hours".

Even former Prime Minister Edward Seaga later wrote about the omission of any mention of the couple's involvement in his autobiography, Edward Seaga-My Life and Leadership: Volume I: Clash of Ideologies 1930-1980.

Seaga said that he later secured information on another version of the origins of the anthem and, quoting from another of Needham's articles published in the early 1990s, corroborated the Poulle's involvement.

If that were not enough, Sunday Observer, courtesy of Donald Lindo, a genealogist, was able to access copies of documents in the national archives with a detailed account written by Mapletoft Poulle himself describing how he and his wife helped create the anthem, particularly how difficult it was to fit the winning lyrics to the tune he had been given.

"I gave the printed verse to my wife Mrs Allison Poulle and asked her to alter the words so that the lines could be shorter. She took the printed verse and from it wrote in her own handwriting in pencil what appears on the sheet of paper which I shall call No 1," reads the archived photostat copies of his original letter.

Needham -- who said he saw a file containing correspondence between the government, the Poulles and the other players in the convoluted tale -- has been writing letters on the matter since 1989, to little avail.

"There has been, initially, a desperate reluctance and resistance by government in years gone by, to not give the Poulle's any credit whatever for their major role in the creation of the national anthem," said an outraged Needham when Sunday Observer put the question to him.

In 1996, Pansy Hart also publicly took umbrage at the fact that the Poulles had been ignored in a letter she wrote to the editor of the local paper.

"I am beginning to wonder if there is some sinister reason for the Government's failure to recognise the contribution made by the Poulles to the composing of our National Anthem," said Hart. "Last year, I wrote to the Prime Minister (then PJ Patterson) on the 10th May 1995 appealing to have this matter once and for all put right in the interest of national integrity."

Her reply, she wrote, was dated May 31, 1995 and said that "the appropriate action will now be taken to verify all the facts and in due course an official statement will be made to put the matter to rest, once and for all. A year is past and we are still waiting", Hart complained bitterly.

Seaga wrote of Poulle's bitterness at his lack of recognition by the Government. It had been whispered that after he completed his task and his name was left off the list of contributors, government officials in their shame offered the barrister £100, which he refused.

"Mapletoft Poulle felt much slighted at the failure of Government to credit him with his considerable work on the National Anthem, and, as a result, withheld the documentation of the musical score and other papers which should have been sent to the Jamaica National Archives.

"Poulle's understandable reaction gave rise to the widely held view that Poulle sent his original documents to the British Library," wrote Seaga. However, Mrs Lindo recalls accompanying her late husband to a Kingston office where she suspects he handed over the documents which are now properly protected in the archives.

Much later, Needham's growing dismay led to him taking action, even though Mapletofte Poulle had gone to his grave at age 58 without any official honour and his former widow, now remarried, was ailing.

"I eventually thought that it was so bad that there was no honour, that I put up Allison Poulle merely for a Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service in the early 2000s," he said.

"I thought that if I put her up for a higher level of honour, they would probably turn it down because of embarrassment. But would you believe me they went and turned down my nomination, even for her to get just a badge of honour, which is, I think, frankly insignificant and seemingly small in some ways, ...a national disgrace," he said.

"They don't give rationale to nominators," was his terse response when the Sunday Observer asked if he had been given any reason for the Government's decision.

Seaga added his own voice to those clamouring for recognition for the Poulles, if only after he demitted office as prime minister.

"I believe it is in the national interest to have this (Needham's) account fully reviewed to correct all inaccuracies and make all amends necessary," said the former prime minister in his autobiography.

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