Sip Sip History - Bahamas Historical Society
Bahamas Historical Society's Remembrance Day Tribute
By Jim Lawlor, BHS
Nov 11, 2011 - 4:56:41 PM

The Memorial Lych Gate

Nassau, Bahamas - On Remembrance Day  it is fitting that we release the speech and images that Jane Lloyd presented at the recent “Tribute to the IODE” at the Bahamas Historical Society.

Nassau, Bahamas - On Remembrance Day  it is fitting that I release the speech and images that Jane Lloyd presented at the recent “Tribute to the Imperial Order of Daughter's of the Empire (IODE)” at the Bahamas Historical Society.


Maxwell Lane, Off Farrington Road, Nassau, Bahamas

By Jane Lloyd

60 Commonwealth War dead of the First and Second World Wars are commemorated in the Nassau War Cemetery, previously known as the Royai Air Force Cemetery. The cemetery also contains two non-World War graves, those of Hilary St George Saunders CBE MC, the official RAF Historian and Group Captain L W Brabizon Rees, VC, OBE, MC, AFC, both of whom died after the end of the Second World War.

In the entrance to the Cemetery are bronze paneis forming part of the local war memorial erected by public subscription and which bear the names of airmen with no known grave who were killed while based in The Bahamas.

When war broke out in 1914, the IODE became involved in war relief under the Geneva Red Cross Convention. They organised a sailofs canteen as well as shipments of hospital supplies, clothing etc which were sent regularly to the British Red Cross as well as to the Bahamian soldiers in various regiments. At the outbreak of World War II, the IODE decided to widen their scope of capabilities by forming a branch of the Red Cross. Lady Dundas obtained the necessary warrants and The Bahamas Branch of the Red Cross was formed. In ali civic and war work accomplished by the IODE in The Bahamas over the past 104 years, the establishment of the Red Cross may well be regarded as one of its most worthwhile achievements.

During the Second World War, Oakes Field was used by the Royai Air Force as a training base. Ali of the casualties commemorated in the Cemetery were airmen, including síx Czechs, who were serving in the RAF and who died ferrying aircraft or whilst on training duty. The other casualties include two from the Canadian Army, a South African and five contingents of the local Bahamian forces, two of the latter being from the First World War.

Her Majesty The Queen visiting the Cemetery in 1994 with the Duke of Edinburgh

The RAF's No. 250 Air-Sea Rescue Unit was one of the units based in The Bahamas and they were equipped with amphibious aircraft and fast launches. They operated from bases at Fort Montagu, Lyford Cay and Harbour Island. Their function was to rescue the crews of aircraft which carne down in the sea and to co-operate with naval forces in the area. There was also a fully-equipped RAF hospital situated at Oakes Field to deal with service casualties. Apart from transient aircrew personnel passing through these units, over 3,000 officers and men were stationed in The Bahamas. A canteen for the RAF officers and men was opened by members of The Bahamas National Chapter of the IODE in the Masonic Hall on Bay Street, which was kindly offered for this purpose by the Royai Victoria Lodge.

The task of providing a final resting place for those airmen killed whilst on active duty in The Bahamas was shared by their colleagues and by many generous Bahamians who, together with the United States Post Engineers, constructed the Cemetery in the early 1940's when the graves were initially marked by crosses. In the late 1950's the crosses were replaced by headstones provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Memorial stone



The Cemetery was consecrated by the Bishop of The Bahamas, The Right Reverend Spence Burton, in February 1944 and the corner stone at the entrance was laid by His Royai Highness The Duke of Windsor in May of that year.

H.R.H. The Governor with The Duchess of Windsor for the Dedication of the Memorial Lych Gate, December 15ch, 1944

In 1921, the IODE was made a representative for the Earl Haig Poppy Fund, selling poppies throughout The Bahamas on behalf of war veterans but this was later taken over by the Bahamas Branch of the Royai British Legion and the IODE continued to assist them with their annual Poppy Week Drive. Every year a service was held at the Cemetery on Remembrance Day and attended by the IODE, Royai British Legion and British High Commission.

In 1943, the IODE formed the Nassau War Cemetery Committee to oversee the general care and maintenance of the cemetery, reporting directly to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the United Kingdom. The IODE provided ali the trees and flowering shrubs for the Cemetery and even though the Commonwealth War Graves Commission paid for any major works required at the Cemetery, the IODE continued to provide assistance whenever necessary.


The Cemetery has undergone various changes over the years, following damage by several hurricanes and lately in the form of vandalism but the Committee strived to keep the Cemetery in good condition at ali times. IODE members and family often volunteered to help in the clearing up of the Cemetery following many a storm and I, personally, was always very grateful to my husband who spent many a Saturday afternoon cleaning and polishing the bronze name panels in the lych gate after they had been attacked, yet again, by paint spray vandals.

In 2003, due to the decreasing numbers in the IODE membership and, unfortunately, the increasing crime rate in the vicinity of the cemetery, it was decided that the IODE could no longer be responsible for overseeing the upkeep of the cemetery and it was agreed through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that the IODE could appoint an independent gardening contractor who would then report directly to the CWGC in the UK.
Throughout the years, the Cemetery has seen a number of important visitors, including Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip in 1994. During her visit in 1955, Princess Margaret also planted bougainvillea in front of the lych gate. In 1995, the IODE welcomed the Horticultural Officer from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as part of his worldwide inspection of war grave cemeteries. In 2003 the President of South Africa visited the cemetery to lay a wreath at the grave of the only South African airman, Lt. John Griffith Owen who went missing in The Bahamas while attached to the RAF Training School.


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was established by Royai Charter in May 1917 and continues to mark and maintain the graves of members of the forces of the Commonwealth who died in the two World Wars. Over the years, Nassau War Cemetery has been visited by people from ali over the world, anxious to see the final resting place of their loved ones.

At the IODE's farewell luncheon in April 2005,1 thanked the Daughters for their dedicated service and commented that, whilst it was a sad day for us ali since it truly was a hard decision for us to disband the Order, each and every one of us should be extremely proud that we have been part of an organisation dedicated to the promotion and stimulation of loyalty to Sovereign and Country and we, and our predecessors, have ali helped in our own special way to provide an immense amount of support to those in need not only here in The Bahamas but Worldwide over the past 104 years.

On behalf of ali the IODE ladies here tonight, I would like to thank Mr Lawlor and the Bahamas Historical Society for providing us with this opportunity to enlighten everyone on the history of the IODE and the Nassau War Cemetery. I hope visitors will take the time to view the IODE display cabinet kindly put together by Mr Lawlor and members of the Historical Society.
The Duchess of Windsor with members of the Bahamas Red Cross/IODE arriving at the Cemetery circa 1944

The IODE was never an organisation to be in the public eye, instead the ladies worked quietly but diligently with their fundraising efforts to assist many individuais and charities at home and overseas.

(VIDEO) West Indies Calling (1944): Bahamas Role in the War

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