ALFRED HUBERT MENDES,
WEST INDIAN WRITER, 1897-1991
Alfred Hubert Mendes, "Alfy" to his family and friends, was born in Trinidad in 1897, the eldest of six children in a rising Portuguese Creole family. He was educated in Trinidad until 1912 and thereafter in Great Britain, and hoped to continue his studies at university to develop a passion for writing that had begun early in his life. However, the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 fired him with the desire to experience conflict at first hand. After briefly returning to Trinidad in 1915, and very much against his father's wishes, young Mendes joined the Merchants' Contingents of Trinidad along with other like-minded young men, and sailed back to Britain. He fought for two years as a rifleman in Flanders, along the Belgian Front (chapters 4, 5), where he distinguished himself on the battlefield, and was awarded the Military Medal. Towards the end of the war, he accidentally inhaled the poisonous gas used as a weapon by the German army, and was sent back to Britain to recover.
Mendes returned to Trinidad in 1919, and worked without enthusiasm in his wealthy father's provisions business. All of his spare time was spent in writing: poetry, short stories, his first novel, Pitch Lake, and in establishing contact with other writers, artists and scholars, most notably with C. L. R. James in the early 1920s. He married in October 1919, and had a son, Alfred John, the following year. His first wife, Jessie Rodriguez, died of pneumonia after only two years of marriage, and