By Wednesday, October 19, 1983, in response to Maurice Bishop’s house arrest, the citizens of Grenada declared a national strike and businesses everywhere are urged to close their doors.

Thousands of people pour into the country’s capital of St. Georges and a huge crowd forms in Market Square.

By 9:30AM, with a barebacked Unison Whiteman taking the lead, in the sweltering heat, the crowd makes its way up the steep hill of Upper Lucas Street and arrives at the gates of Mount Wheldale, the official residence of Maurice Bishop (and Deputy Prime Minister, Bernard Coard).

Schoolchildren pushed their way to the front chanting “We want Bishop” “No Bishop, no school.” “No Bishop, no revo.”

The security unit makes several attempts to hold back the crowd: they form a human chain against the gate leading to the access road to Bishop house; APCs arrive from nearby Fort Frederick; and soldiers even fire shots into the air.  Although initially stunned by the gunfire, the crowd is unfazed and it isn’t long before the crowd continues to surge forward to Bishop’s house as the soldiers standby. They have been given strict orders not to fire on the crowd.

Positioned at the front of the crowd, a student from Grenada Boys Secondary School (GBSS) and a few of his friends devise a plan to rescue Bishop by going through the gate and passing the parked APCs on the left.  They get to the back of Bishop’s house, and at some point, Maurice Bishop and Jacqueline Creft are carried out of Bishop’s home.

In a matter of minutes a released, though visibly exhausted, Bishop is presented to the crowd.  “We have we Leader!” the crowd erupts.   Thousands of Grenadians line the streets ecstatic to finally get a glimpse of their Prime Minister. Bishop travels inside of a pick-up truck and leaves the Mount Wheldale compound and the crowd reverses their route amidst a massive flow of people, cars and trucks and head for Market Square.

Stunned by Bishop’s release, by 10:30 AM members of the Central Committee begin to assemble at nearby Fort Frederick.

A Change of Plan

As the huge heads into town, the procession route is changed when the vehicle that Bishop is riding in turns left at Church Street in the direction of Fort Rupert instead of continuing straight ahead to Market Square.

Lots of speculation surrounds the fateful decision to go to Fort Rupert instead of Market Square.  Why would Bishop do that?  The theories are numerous:

  • Bishop was tired and needed medical attention; the hospital was located adjacent to the fort
  • Bishop would have access to the PRA transmitter to speak with the crowd
  • To arm his followers with weapons
  • Bishop was still Commander-in-Chief and might be able to influence doubters in the military not to support his rivals
  • To gain access to arms and military while depriving Coard of the same
  • Security – Fort Rupert had a dominating position with one narrow approach. Bishop would be safe for a while with food, water, and ammunition and would have time to recover, time to think, time to organize and time to mobilize assistance.

Fort Rupert is located approximately 100 meters above sea level in Grenada’s capital.  Built in the 1700s, the fort was originally named Fort Royal, then it became known as Fort George and then renamed Fort Rupert by the NJM in honor of Maurice Bishop’s slain father Rupert Bishop.  The fort’s edifice is visible from all over St. Georges.  Surrounded by the bay and the General Hospital, outside the fort walls is a steep hill area with bushes and boulders located 50 feet above the ground.  The architectural principle of the buildings within the fort consists of four (4) ascending squares.  Each square strategically looks over another square and is connected by stone steps and a series of narrow tunnels.    In 1983 Fort Rupert contained offices, barracks, prison cells, a canteen and an armory.  The only entrance to the fort was a steep incline leading to a parking lot in the lower level area.

The first level upon entering the fort via the narrow access road included a two-story building with rooms identified as the Ops Room and other sensitive areas including a communications room, an engineering room and a combat room.  All of this looked over a large courtyard.

In 1983, Fort Rupert served primarily as the administration army post (Fort Frederick was the full-fledged army post) and approximately 60 military personnel would have been based there.  Because of the Fort’s position, soldiers there would certainly have seen a freed Bishop and the massive crowd heading in their direction giving them at least 15 minutes before the crowd’s arrival.

It’s estimated that the main portion of the crowd arrived at Fort Rupert around 11:00AM.

Initially, soldiers at Fort Rupert stopped Bishop and the others from entering.  Bishop, however, speaks to soldiers directly and eventually the crowd funnels through the small and narrow access road into the parking lot of the fort.

Maurice Bishop and several of his closer supporters occupied the Ops room located on the second floor of the first building. A balcony that ran the length of the building was packed and hundreds of people filled the parking lot below.

A flow of people spent the next two (2) hours going in and out of the Ops room.  Meanwhile, Bishop and Unison Whiteman began the process of writing a speech for Bishop’s address to the masses.

Although several hundred people were at Fort Rupert, the majority of the demonstrators assembled in Market Square.  They had gotten word that the plan had changed and that Bishop would talk to them from Fort Rupert.  Their wait would be in vain.

APCs Dispatched

By 12:25pm, in an effort to regain contro, Ewart Layne dispatches three (3) armored personnel carriers to Fort Rupert l (where Bishop and his supporters were). According to him, he was acting along in his capacity as Operational Commander of the Army. His goal was to capture the fort and restore order with minimal force. Layne would go on to say: “I remember sitting there, watching those units leave. Nowhere could I imagine that within the next hour the greatest tragedy in the history of Grenada would occur.”
The convoy of vehicles left Fort Frederick and headed down Lucas Street turning left on to Church Street just as Bishop and his supporters had done a few hours before.

• #1 Lead by Conrad “Connie” Mayers
• #2 Lead by Callistus “Abdullah” Bernard
• #3 Lead by 2nd Lt. Raeburn Nelson

Troops in full combat gear carrying machine guns rode visibly on the outside of each armored vehicle. A truck filled with additional PRA soldiers followed behind. Onlookers made way for the vehicles as they roared through the streets of St. Georges. Many people may have believed that the APCs were being sent to aid Bishop. It seems that the vehicles were not viewed as a threat.

As the armored vehicles approached Fort Rupert, soldiers dismounted and walked up the incline toward the parking lot and first level building.
Meanwhile, Don Rojas, Bishop’s press secretary was also on a mission. He was tasked with contacting external media. He was at the telephone exchange on the Carenage. On behalf of Maurice Bishop, he needed to make sure he communicated these four (4) important points to the outside worlds:
1. Grenadians had the capacity to solve their own problems
2. Dispel rumors of Cuban involvement
3. Calling on Grenadians living outside of Grenada – New York, London, Toronto – to support the revolution and express their solidarity
4. Call on the working class organizations and progressive trade unions throughout the Caribbean to make statements of solidarity.
Rojas spent the next 45 minutes or so making calls to several international news and media agencies. He successfully managed to communicate with the Caribbean News Agency (CANA), telexed Ambassador Caldwell Taylor at the UN Mission in New York.

About the Author
Debbie is the founder and host of 'The Caribbeanist'