Friday, February 23, 2018

Cemetery hides American bunker

Moruga archaeologist uncovers old St Margaret’s Fort among hilltop ruins

When you walk into a cemetery, the first thing you notice are the rows of oblong shapes of earth that represent the graves of the deceased. However, in La Lune, Moruga, these graves do not necessarily mean the final resting places of humans.

In the 1940s, during the Second World War, the St Margaret’s Cemetery in La Lune was an ideal site to store ammunition, given the series of graves that composed the site and its location at the base of the hill where the St Margaret’s Fort was located.

The Americans constructed a bunker in the cemetery, covering it with three eight-inch (20 centi­metre)-thick concrete lids that camouflaged as the graves of well-to-do folk. When archaeologist and sculptor Eric Lewis took me to the site of the bunker, at a glance, I saw three graves covered with concrete. This was until Lewis showed the details of opening the lids. The bunker was really perfectly camouflaged. This site is located a mere 800 feet (244 metres) away from one of Lewis’ archaeological sites.

Last year, Lewis uncovered the concrete remains of the fort at the top of the hill. This is one of three forts rediscovered so far in the Moruga area and one of two in the La Lune area.

While access to the fort is restricted because of decades of abandonment and the resulting overgrowth of vegetation, the bunker site is easy to locate as a result of Lewis’ efforts at clearing that part of the cemetery.

Atop the hill at the site of the St Margaret’s Fort, it is easy to see why this site was chosen by the Americans. There is a panoramic view of Trinidad’s southern coastline, all the way across the Columbus Channel to the mangroves of the Venezuelan coastline. From the prominent height of the hill, the spread of the undulating terrain around the countryside is impressive.

According to Lewis’ investigations, it has been said there was at least one bombing of a German submarine executed from the St Margaret’s Fort. Lewis has interviewed the elders of the La Lune community who have lived in the vicinity around the cemetery. As youngsters of families who worked on cocoa estates, they witnessed the return of the Americans to the area after the period of the war. The ammunition and guns that were stored in the bunker were taken away.

“The local community of La Lune has always had knowledge of the presence of the bunker and fort in the area but allowed these sites to become inaccessible because of disuse and a general feeling that this part of our history belongs to the past and so must remain buried, literally. The cemetery, of course, is used when there’s the event of a death but the actual bunker remains in bush,” said Lewis.

The road to La Lune is in poor condition and this is one of the reasons why the area has not been explored for its full potential. There are breakaways and cave-ins throughout the length of the road, and little progress has been made in developing the area as an historical and tourist destination. The two beaches in the area, La Lune and Marac, are beautiful, the latter displaying prominent stacks where the land once extended.

The St Vincent Ferrer Society, headed by Lewis, is already working on plans to pursue remedial works in the area. This is in keeping with their goal of re-establishing the historic importance of La Lune and seeking the protection of these sites as part of our national heritage.