Commander of the disbanded People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) General Hudson Austin has spoken out publicly for the first time about the operation undertaken 42 years ago by the armed wing of the New Jewel Movement (NJM) to stage the coup d’état against the elected Eric Gairy government.
In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY, the ex-army General said that the soldiers of the National Liberation Army (NLA) of the NJM used to train secretly at a place called “Freedom Hill” which was overlooking the Grenada Defence Force (GDF) base at True Blue in order to get familiar with the terrain.
He disclosed that he was in control of the area at the time because of a construction project he was engaged in and that the main NLA men used to come there for training in preparation for the armed struggle against the Gairy regime.
“The men who went on that attack were trained right down there….where we call Freedom Hill. I was doing the construction there at the time and the men used to come right down there and get their training where they could see the barracks. There they got their final training.
“The men were divided into different groups to attack. A lot of people don’t know, we didn’t go inside True Blue from True Blue. We went all the way in Calliste and come from the back and when the men get there they didn’t just go and open fire.
“We put the men on high ground over the barracks down inside dey because you can’t send your men down inside dey while you firing bullets because they (will) get killed too. So we take the high ground. We didn’t just go randomly and fired bullets – this thing was well planned.
According to General Austin, he was the overall Commander of the NLA operation against the GDF with Lieutenant-Colonel Ewart “Headache” Layne leading one platoon, and Major Basil “Aqui” Gahagan in charge of another section while another person whom he did not remember was in charge of another squad of men.
The army chief was full of praise for Major Gahagan and described him as one who has “a lot of military sense”.
The General also denied reports circulating in the country at the time that the NLA forces were assisted by Cuban revolutionaries to help defeat Gairy’s defense force.
“You hear people talking about they hear people talking Spanish (on the morning of the NJM military operation at True Blue) – what foolishness. It was all locally done, we didn’t have a single foreigner involved in we business – not a single foreigner,” he said.
He said the Cubans did not assist as the NJM did not have any relationship with the communist island at the time.
“We didn’t even have contact with them – so anybody who say that (the Cuban helped in the overthrow of Gairy) they lie. If anybody come and say that tell them Hudson Austin say they lie.
“Lemme tell you this – we got all the arms that we got in Grenada. We got some from overseas but we ain’t get nothing from no Cuba.
“If you look at the weapons that we used on the morning of March 13 (1979) was 303 (rifles) and we had this American weapon called the M1 and pistols and so on.
According to Austin, the NJM had infiltrated Gairy’s defence force and was able to get weapons from inside there for use by its military wing to stage the coup d’état.
He admitted that the young Grenadian revolutionaries had received a cache of arms and ammunition from two U.S-based Grenadians – Chester Humphrey and the late Jim Wardally – who helped shipped them out to their homeland in what became known as the “barrels of Grease”.
Humphrey and Wardally were arrested by law enforcement officials in the United States and charged with gun-running a few weeks before the NJM staged the military operation to topple the Gairy regime.
The two young revolutionaries fled the USA while on bail and showed up in Grenada amidst fanfare from the NJM and their supporters.
Armed with information from the U.S authorities on the shipment of the arms and ammunition, Gairy’s security forces engaged in an islandwide manhunt and searched the homes of all NJM top leaders to find the artillery but was never successful.
General Austin also denied that he had military training from the Cubans to help pull off the armed overthrow of the Gairy government in the coup d’état in the English-speaking Caribbean.
“People thought I was trained in Cuba – no, Sir. I didn’t get no training from Cuba – that is nonsense.”
The General disclosed that the original military training he received was through the Grenada Voluntary Constabulary (GVC) unit which was set up to help in the defense of the homeland during the colonial era.
The island’s first Governor-General, the late Sir Leo DeGale, a world War veteran was head of the GVC.
Austin said that he and others in the outfit were taken secretly to Guyana by the British for more advanced training including jungle warfare.
“I was trained in jungle warfare and all kind of things,” he said, adding, “You are the first person that I am going to reveal that to because I had 40 years of secrecy. I couldn’t say it – I couldn’t tell nobody that”.
According to the former army Commander, he was made to sign a document to keep this for 40 years as the British were giving training to selected men in the various islands in the Caribbean to help the authorities in the respective colonies to deal with “certain upheavals” that were taking place in the region.
General Austin told THE NEW TODAY that the decision to stage the coup d’etat was influenced heavily by information that he had picked up as the then Chief of Intelligence that Gairy had left instructions on leaving the country for a trip to the United States to liquidate the NJM leaders against the backdrop of the security forces’ failure to lay their hands on the imported arms and ammunition linked to Humphrey and Wardally.
He spoke of setting up an elaborate network of spies during the rule of Gairy.
“I had people giving me inside information from almost every government department. I was a civil servant. I had the contact,” he said.
“I know when Gairy enter the plane to leave (the country) and the report came to me right in my house – he going up on the plane right now. I knew everything – I was the head of Intelligence – it didn’t have (Liam) “Owusu” James and them that time”.
The General confirmed reports that minutes before the NLA forces set out on the operation to defeat the GDF and to seize power that the top leaders of the NJM including Bishop, Whiteman and Coard had addressed the men on the historical importance of the mission they were about the undertake.
The NJM leaders were then taken away to a nearby house near to the True Blue roundabout to await word on the success of the mission.
The General told THE NEW TODAY that there were no plans put in place for Bishop and the others to flee the country and seek political asylum outside of Grenada if the NLA did not manage to dislodge Gairy from power.
He said the NJM took the decision not to send all of its military troops to attack the GDF base but to use some to protect the NJM leaders.
“You won’t be so stupid to send all you military men inside True Blue. That would have been stupidity. You must have a back-up. Even some of the leaders didn’t know about that back-up. Just some of the military men knew about it.
Austin also rejected claims made by former Revolutionary soldier, Kennedy Budhlall of Tivoli, St. Andrew that he was part of a hit team that had received instructions from the NJM leadership to stake out Gairy one night at one of his small hotels in the south of the island.
According to the General, Budhlall might have been acting on his own as this was not an NJM operation.
“I don’t know about that – Kennedy Budhlall and them does say all kinds of crazy thing. I don’t know about that – such a decision taken by NJM. I don’t know if they had another faction that wanted to do that but not the original NJM with Maurice (Bishop), Uni (Whiteman) and all the top people. I must have known. Maybe it could have been somebody who want to do their thing and didn’t tell me,” he said.