“It was Positive Action Movement,” remembered Noel in an interview. “I didn’t get a group of people, and we discuss and form a movement. I took positive action and I moved. And as I moved, people followed.”
On April 6th Lloyd marched alone around Roadtown. He carried a placard calling for ‘Positive Action’, and calling the people to a meeting on April 8th. His first, lonely walk was a success. A large, enthusiastic audience gathered on the recreation ground on the 8th and heard passionate speeches against the Batehill development, and in memory of Martin Luther King, by Noel Lloyd, Lindy de Castro and Wilfred Smith. Dr William Osborne spoke to the crowd about how events begun in the United Kingdom, Rhodesia and South Africa were all now converging on Tortola. Noel Lloyd’s solo march had transformed, in two days, into the Positive Action Movement, with Noel as its leader and the people as its support.
Lloyd’s wife, Nerida, was nervous about Noel’s involvement. “I was pregnant, and because of his mood I was frightened. I was frightened for my child.” Lloyd was determined, however. “That meeting he kept at the bandstand was well passionate,” recalls George Malone. “He was full of courage, and felt that he had confidence in who was following him.”
On April 9th, Noel Lloyd led the Positive Action Movement’s march through Roadtown. It had two aims: to honour Martin Luther King, and to have the people’s grievances about the Batehill development heard by the island administration. “I led the march with the flag that we made up,” said Lloyd. “And we did a Royal Air Force slow march.”
Advancing step by step, the marchers urged people to close their doors in memory of Dr King, and the rally grew in number. George Malone remembers, “When we hit the road, a lady came up by the name of Louella Harrigan, and she said, ‘Regardless, we got to take back our country from Kenneth Bates, and whatever we’re going to do we’re going to march this morning, and we are going to take our country back! This lease must be revoked, and Kenneth Bates must go!’ And that lady, and the passion that she had, I believe encourage a lot more ladies to follow that march.”
“It was like a Harvest Monday celebration,” said Noel Lloyd. The crowd, with banners and flags, reached the gates at the foot of Government Hill, where the Chief of Police tried to convince Lloyd and his followers to turn back. Two members of the crowd, with a Positive Action Movement banner, broke through the barbed wire fence and ran up the hill. “When I saw them inside with that banner, tears came to my eyes,” remembered Noel. “And with the force of the crowd behind me, instead of pulling the gate towards us, we pushed the gate and the Chief of Police up the hill, and we went up to Government House.” People down in the town climbed on rooftops to get a view of the chaotic scenes on the hill. “I went inside with our rebel flag, and Patsy Pickering said, ‘Noel, come back, the commissioner’s family is upstairs.’” Pursued by the Chief of Police, the crowds moved to the Administration Building and called on the Administrator, J.S. Thomson, to come down to talk to the people.
Thomson met Lloyd and his followers on the steps of the building, and after hearing Lloyd speak against the Batehill leases, agreed to meet for further discussions in town later that week. Satisfied, the crowds headed peacefully back towards the town, but when Noel Lloyd was placed under arrest for breaking the gates on Government Hill scuffles broke out between the crowd and the police. Lloyd was taken away from the police by his supporters, and spent the next few days in discussion with the executive board of the Positive Action Movement: Lindy de Castro, Wilfred Smith, Patsy Pickering, Roosevelt Smith, Vernon Farrington, and Cromwell Nibbs. Another meeting at the Administration Building took place amid more chaotic scenes; while Lloyd and members of PAM met with the Governor on an upper floor, their followers prevented the public on the ground floor from breaking out into violence. PAM got an agreement from the Governor to take their concerns about Batehill to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but Noel Lloyd was not convinced that their grievances were being taken seriously.
“At the time we only had one newspaper, and it came out and said very little about what took place,” said Lloyd. Even after the marches, the town meetings, the fights with the police, and the talks with officials, Lloyd didn’t feel that the people were really being listened to.
“So I decided, in order to dramatise our struggle, to take over the police headquarters in the name of the Queen.”
In the early hours of Saturday April 13th, with four others, Lloyd entered the police station and found the constables all asleep. “How he was able to arrest them is still a mystery with us,” remembers Patsy Pickering. “But Noel arrested them, put them in the barracks, had them under lock and key, and then he blew the siren to make people aware that something was not right.”
Later the same day Lloyd and his comrades were themselves arrested, along with Musa Muhammed, who had not been part of the raid on the station. “They told me I was being charged with treason. I had never heard that word before; at the time I was twenty years old. Court in Tortola used to be on Wednesdays, so they had us locked up until the Wednesday.” With Noel Lloyd, Cromwell Nibbs, Vernon Farrington, Sylvester Farrington and Musa Muhammed all in jail, wild rumours and threats began to spread in Roadtown. The public market was partially burned down and a fire lit at a local school.
In court that Wednesday, Noel Lloyd played his trump card. Despite his AWOL status, Lloyd was still a member of the British Royal Air Force. He had taken the same oath to the Crown as the sleeping policeman and had been within his rights to arrest them. Verne Maduro was in the courtroom: “He told them on the day of the court, these other [accused] men didn’t know nothing, they were home sleeping. Being he a member of the Royal Air Force put all the blame on he. So he started giving out his rank and serial number and he asked them to turn him over to the army that was there.”
Bail was denied to Lloyd and his followers, but Noel was not to be denied his freedom. After the session Noel vaulted the prison yard wall and ran to his house. He evaded the police by hiding in a cistern in his back yard, using a length of hose to breathe through; when the police failed to find him, Noel fled to the protection of friends in the countryside above Roadtown.
What happened to Noel Lloyd at the hands of the police remains unclear, but the local newspaper carried reports from the police of Noel becoming so violent that “he was placed in close confinement where his ravings continued.” Rumours about Lloyd’s mental health began to spread around the island, rumours that Noel’s brother Alfred Lloyd believes started with the police and their bosses. “The idea was to have him appear insane so that the whole thing could be scratched. Somehow dealt with and put behind as the actions of a crazy man.”
Musa Muhammed claims Lloyd was given pills by the police on the morning of the trial, while Patsy Pickering suspected he was beaten. Alfred Lloyd says Noel could account for being injected by the police at least twice. Noel himself described a long-lasting taste of copper in his mouth and frequent vomiting. “How they had him after capturing him, it was easy for them to get to him,” says Alfred. “The turn in his being, the way he was psychically – you could tell something was wrong.”
The day after his escape, Noel appeared again in Roadtown, where he surprised Lindy de Castro by jumping into the back of his jeep, armed with a stick. Lloyd yelled, “We are free, we are free, follow us!” and attracted the attention of a van full of police, who tried to arrest him. After a struggle during which Lloyd struck a policeman with his stick, Lloyd and de Castro drove to the radio station, where Noel demanded to be put on the air. The station manager refused, and Lloyd decided to hide again in the country; but now Lindy de Castro took steps to protect his friend. “We wanted him in hospital custody,” he said in a radio speech of his own a few days later. “We did not want him in the bush and we did not think he should be in prison.” The police had other plans. As Wilfred Smith of PAM remembers: “My wife and I heard a big revolution, and when we ran out it was Noel and a gang of people following him and he was running, and a lot of police behind him. The police grabbed Noel, had him on the ground scuffling, they handcuff him and put him in their Land Rover.”
Smith continues: “I jumped up on the hood of the Land Rover, and I said to the people, ‘What shall we do? Will we allow Noel to go in jail? Or to the hospital because he’s sick?’ The people exclaim, ‘Hospital!’ By that time people were coming from everywhere, with sticks and to fight. I said no. A peaceful demonstration. Noel realised that he had help, and he kicked the Land Rover open in the back. He kicked, he kicked til he broke it and he got out. And they grab him, and the people take him away from the police. And they put him on their shoulder like a king and they marched down the street with him towards the hospital.”
Lloyd’s family and supporters were now desperate to keep him away from the police. In his radio talk, Lindy de Castro said he had found out later that the Chief of Police had been ready to shoot him while he protected Noel, until the people took the gun from him and handed it over to de Castro. The island was volatile, and with Noel Lloyd’s state of health uncertain, his supporters raised $2,700 of the $3,300 required to pay for Noel to be flown to Jamaica for treatment, and for his own protection.
“The people got together and put a box on the bridge, and people had to put money in it,” recalls Verne Maduro. “They had some big strong guys, and they made anybody that pass on the bridge – especially the whites – throw money in the box. It was like a revolution.”
In the end the British military stationed on Beef Island provided the flight that took Noel to Jamaica. Wilfred Smith and Alfred Lloyd went with Noel. “I couldn’t be more impressed,” remembers Alfred. “When the military brought him, the way they honoured him – they recognised his Air Force status, they saluted him, the whole nine yards. I couldn’t believe it, I’ll never forget it.”
Noel Lloyd’s military escort came just two weeks after his first solo march around Road Town had roused the Tortolan and Anegadan people to face the threat posed by the Batehill development. The Positive Action Movement had momentum, and while Noel recovered in hospital from the toll taken by his fortnight of positive action, his supporters continued the fight for their country. “The beauty of all this is that all he had to do… was already in place, and couldn’t be reversed,” says Alfred Lloyd. “In other words, they had gotten to him too late.”