I need not reminisce much, or at all for that matter, to remember what I consider to be the two best innings of cricket that were played at Sturge Park, Montserrat, before the onset of volcanic activities in 1995. Jim Allen's master class of 150 dominant runs for the Combined Islands against Guyana in 1977, spearheaded by a then rampant and hostile Colin Croft. The next being Richie Richardson's classical 156 versus Jamaica in 1983, against an attack comprising Patrick Patterson, Courtney Walsh, and Michael Holding. Both innings were legendary.
For 26 Years from 1969 to 1995, the name Peter Red Pole Howson was a household name in Montserrat generally, but, especially in cricket circles. Red Pole was Sturge Park and Sturge Park was Red Pole. Red Pole was no Usain Bolt, but, his diminutive stocky figure could not go unnoticed. Very often he would rush onto the field of play to give money to players who had made a century or had taken five wickets. Alford Corriette, Jim Allen, the deceased Haycene Ryan and George Allen, Fitzroy Buffonge, John Mack and many other Montserratian cricketers benefited from Red Pole's financial generosity. This writer included.
So did the Montserrat Cricket Association and the Montserratian public as the Eastern fence at Sturge Park was built through a significant contribution from this ardent supporter of Montserratian cricket.
Red pole was in his mid-thirties, when I first remember him, medium height, with a character larger than life. The villagers in George Street where Red Pole and I lived told me that Red Pole was originally from Long Ground in the far eastern part of the country, but he migrated to the city in the early 1960's. He followed a group of Masquerades who danced from Long Ground to Plymouth to entertain during the festive season. His language was mostly colloquial and his voice was loud. His loud voice sometimes was supported by a perpetual snarl, which often masked his innate wit and sense of humour from those who did not know him well.
Red Pole was an entrepreneur. He ran the Red Pole Snackette and French Weed Store next to the Public Market in Plymouth. From his Snackette he sold Pig Tail, Pig Mouth, Saltfish, Goat water, Bull Foot soup, and other Montserratian delicacies. He was a very resourceful business man who did not depend on the traditional banking sector to operate his business. His chief financial backer and mentor was the deceased former Chief Minister of Montserrat, John Osborne. John Osborne, he supported with unrivalled passion, and vocal enthusiasm in politics. He would often take mangoes and other fruits to the US Virgin Islands and St Marten to sell compliments of a free journey on John Osborne's Western Star or Western Sun boats.
Two weeks later, Red Pole would return to Montserrat, flush with cash galore. A lesson to today's young that a decent living can be obtained through resourcefulness.
As businessmen, Red Pole, the deceased Shooty and Eric Martin alias Monkey Eric were unprecedented. Their methods were unorthodox but extremely productive. These three names will forever decorate the memory of trading in Montserrat and adorn the pages of our history. Though none were formally educated, their craft was learnt in the University of Life. Some including my friend Mervin McArthur Browne who was Red Pole's neighbour occasionally remind me that Red Pole had flair and a love for life unlike many others he knew as a child growing up. Red Pole's charisma according to Browne was infectious, and thus many ladies were attracted to him, but perhaps for the wrong reason.
Lloyd Kepo Lee, and the deceased Sylvester Mack, both vanguards of George Street's frontline in its golden era often called Red Pole Napoleon. They all told me stories of working with him at his French Weed Snackette in their youth. He was kind in heart, but, tough in profit standards.
As a revolutionary protagonist, Red Pole was responsible for the first social unrest in Montserrat since 1942, when the famed Menzies riot took place in St Patricks. From the 12 to 14 April 1969, Montserrat was declared in a state of emergency because of Red Pole, in his incessant fight against the colonial and social injustices of the day, manifested through police excess. The riot became known as the Red Pole Riot. Long before Trayvon Mart'_n, the oppressed have always stood steadfast as bulwarks of fortitude in the fight against oppression. It was king Short Shirt, who once sang that no form of weaponry can extinguish a people's right to be free.
In my estimation Red Pole is one of the greatest in the gallery of Montserratian humanitarians. In 1985, I made my debut against Anguilla in the annual Leeward Islands Cricket Tournament. Red Pole could not come to Sturge Park that day, but having been told that I scored a half century, he immediately brought the traffic passing through George Street to a standstill. A charismatic and serious Red Pole demanded that a financial contribution be made for my benefit. Unfortunately, I did not achieve the batting heights that he and others dreamt off. However, I am sure other Montserratians will. Deno Baker is an exciting prospect.
One of my most vivid memories of Red Pole was in 1993 at Sturge Park. The Leeward Islands were playing against Barbados and Lesroy Cosmic Weekes, arguably the finest fast bowler to emerge from Montserrat and one of the best from the Leewards not to have played Test cricket, was not selected in the Leeward Islands eleven. Red Pole saw this as a grave injustice and demanded that the pitch be dug up. With a pick axe in his hand, marching towards the playing area, he was stopped by the authorities. The same uniformed men who instigated the riot of 1969. History had repeated itself. As expected, the docile Montserratian public did not see Weekes's case as justified. Red Pole, a man of exceeding pride and a champion of the oppressed was willing to make any sacrifice against injustice.
The stark reality is that this could not happen in Antigua, Nevis or St Kitts. The local fast bowler had to play. In Weekes case, not only should he have played, but above all he deserved to play. It is a dangerous blindness, when a country that proclaims a national song and intends to legislate national heroes, does not understand the making of such heroes. Red Pole is clearly an unsung hero.
Red Pole was an ardent supporter of the Desperadoes Steel Band, which was led by dynamic Daniel Port Aymer in the early and mid-seventies. He sponsored this band for several years, assisting them to purchase new pans and uniforms, so that the group could perform in the local steel band competition at Sturge Park. He was an honorary member of the band even though he could not play pan. His love of the art form of Calypso saw Red Pole competing in the first ever Calypso competition in Montserrat in 1962. He rendered the song, Sally Sally Water.
After the onset of volcanic activities on Montserrat, Red Pole relocated to Leeds in the United Kingdom. He died in 2002. I am sorry that before his death I had not written this article, which I had always planned to do. I think that had he been told of this article he would have smiled and said well done.
Red Pole had a pair of restless aggressive eyes. I still remember his quick manner of speech. Thinking of him always brings back my childhood memories and memories of other unsung heroes who too need to be acknowledged. In his own inimitable way he is deserving of the recognition that inspires, encourages, and instructs, a genuine Montserratian son of the soil. It is about time, that we as a people start recognising the worth of the valuable among us and move away from the superficial awards system For a people without the knowledge of their past moments and people in history, are not yet a people! Nuff respect Red Pole.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: Owen "Ezad" Roach is a former National Cricketer on Montserrat, a Pan Africanist, and Barrister-at-Law at the English Bar.