‘Desi’ Allum: patriarch and patriot

Desmond Allum
Desmond Allum
By Raffique Shah
June 20, 2010

MY mother takes a seat in the limited space available in court. It is early June, 1970, and the preliminary inquiry into the charge of treason gets underway. She looks at her 24-year-old son sitting in the dock alongside 60-odd soldiers. A stern-looking Magistrate Roopchandsingh sits on the Bench, and Attorney General Karl Hudson-Phillips leads a formidable, impressive-looking prosecution team. Like other parents and families of the accused, she is nervous, worried.

When my name is called, young Desmond Allum rises to his feet and declares he is my counsel. His lawyer’s robe is torn in several places. His voice is barely audible. He looks and sounds tame when compared with a confident Karl. My mother mutters to herself: ‘Array baap! What kind of lawyer they get for my son?’ Now she is more worried than ever.

In a matter of weeks, though, her respect for ‘Desi’ would grow. By the time the first court martial got underway in October, the ‘second string’ team of defence lawyers who stood with the 13 accused had grown in stature. Algernon ‘Pope’ Wharton, QC, Dr Aeneas Wills and Valerie Alcala, who defended Mike Bazie, were well-established in legal circles. But Desi, Allan Alexander (appearing for Rex Lassalle), solicitor Lennox Pierre, Frank Solomon, Vernon de Lima, Clem Razack, Clive Phelps and others were virtual unknowns before that six-month trial that gripped the nation’s attention.

When the dust settled, a new breed of lawyers had firmly established themselves and all but changed the parameters of the profession. I focus today on Desi (and Allan, to a lesser degree) because of his passing last Thursday. These lawyers did not see us, the accused, as mere clients. They identified with what we stood for. They worked closely with us. Most of all, they sacrificed lucrative ‘briefs’ to work for months, with little financial rewards, for the ‘people’s soldiers’ as we came to be known. Some day proper tribute will be paid to all of them.

But back to Desi: Many people were unaware that he had already earned his spurs, in a manner of speaking, in a race case in London, while he was a law student. He and George Hislop, one studying law, the other physical education, were arrested and charged by a racist policeman for ‘attempting to steal motor vehicles’. George and Desi were merely ‘liming’ when the racist cop pounced on them. They refused to be intimidated by the policeman or the court, and eventually won their cases and their counter-charges for unlawful arrest. They were each awarded £4,000.

By the time the events of 1970 unfolded, Desi and Allan could easily work with Rex and me, headstrong though we were. We grew to respect each other from early on. We saw the court martial as a legal facade to what was a political trial, and we decided to politicise it even more. It was in those circumstances Rex and I, while studying our military law books in our cell, came across a peculiar defence: condonation.

This law held that if a soldier committed an offence and it was condoned by his commanding officer, he could not be charged with the offence. The catch was once one relied on that plea, one all but conceded that one had committed an offence-in this case mutiny.

Other lawyers might have advised against going down that dangerous path. Desi and Allan didn’t. They were legal iconoclasts. I was the first to make that plea, stunning the court when Desi put me on the witness stand. Rex and Maurice Noray followed, taking the same route.

The court martial predictably dismissed our pleas, and later imposed some heavy jail terms on our backsides. But Desi, Allan and others did not give up. They took the dismissal of the condonation pleas to the Appeal Court, which unanimously ruled in our favour. The State appealed that decision, taking the matter to the Privy Council: we won again, and brought all our men out of prison, thanks to Desi and others.

Desi played a critical role in that trial. His cool, clinical cross-examination of witnesses was courtroom theatre. His plea of mitigation on my behalf was a classic that would later appear in print. Post-prison, we remained friends based on that bond that we forged in those crucial 27 months while I was imprisoned. Indeed, although he represented me, all of the accused soldiers saw him as someone who championed our cause.

Although we did not see each other frequently afterwards, we bonded whenever we met or phoned each other. I followed his illustrious career, as, I’m sure, he did my chequered life. I was pained when he called to give me news of his diagnosis. I frantically tried to see if anything could be done to save this friend I so respected.

But his benign outward appearance camouflaged a warrior. Desi had already decided he was not about to fight the inevitable, his mortality. That took tremendous courage. In life, he touched so many persons. As the end drew nigh, he won even more respect as he spoke out for justice in his beloved country.

I extend my sincere condolences to his wife Cathy and his family. You have lost a patriarch. The country has lost a patriot.


June 22, 2010

Hundreds brave rain to say farewell to Allum
A team player, friend, husband and father were just some of the words used to describe prominent attorney Desmond Allum SC, as hundreds braved the rain to witness his final rites at the St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church yesterday.

Mourners give glowing tribute to ‘Dessie’
Eminent attorney Desmond “Dessie” Allum, 75, was remembered as a formidable member of the Bar, but it was humanity that defined his existence.

17 thoughts on “‘Desi’ Allum: patriarch and patriot”

  1. Thanx a bunch Mr. Shah for this timely tribute. My condolences to both families; I’m more familiar with the Alexanders; but I wonder if this kind of solidarity exists anymore in T’n’T with all the racialism I read in these other posts. I wish you long life, you remain a shining example of true citizenship.

  2. Thanks for this vignette of history that portrays what a patriot really is. That most of the population of the country was born after 1970 makes this memoir all the more timely. Sometimes, I think that the “better” people of the country are of our generation. MAny of the younger ons are social pigmies, (i hope I am wrong).
    Championing the cause of the underdog is truly the measure of the greatness of a man.

  3. I would like to see and hear of more patriot stories like this more often. It is not just the the departed but also the writer who has commanded such courage and bravery in his time that those of us who know him personally view him simply as a great Trinidadian. Not often we know people who we can lovingly call Trinidadian but this surely is one. Continue what you are doing Raf!

  4. “Sometimes, I think that the “better” people of the country are of our generation. Many of the younger ones are social pigmies.”Be careful Madame L , for the ground you are threading is dangerous. Some more rational thinkers like my wise granny, would say that “banana, can’t bear plantain,”or in lingo our more refined locals might be acquainted , or better yet, happy with, “the apple don’t fall too far from the tree.”We got to start looking into the mirror to see how our behaviors – whether in 1970, or 1990 – can impact negatively,later generations.
    To compound it, we choose to blame most of our social maladies on foreign influences such as Hollywood, MTV, and what’s that you said Bollywood? In addition ,we also seek solutions from the outside , as we throw our hands in despair. There is London Scotland yard blokes to halt kidnapping , and did our PM make up her mind on the Canadian Trini Commissioner yet, or she is awaiting a poll, some foreign legal advice, or a revelation via a pray to Sat, her religious advisor?
    Talk about our leaders continually making a monkey of our Police Service.You know what ,since they have so much more confidence in the Tethron boys and gals in green , why don’t they do the noble thing that’s lurking in their hearts, and put them fully in charge of all our domestic security as well, just like is done in Pakistan, Nigeria , Venezuela ,Cuba ,and Burma?
    That way , when they in turn get fed up with the nonsense that observe is taking place in their country, under the guise of change and progress , they too could step in, and remove everyone from captain to crook like our wonderful military cousins in Fiji. I know who ‘on paper,’ would get a kick out of that.
    Just for the record , I just hope uncle Shah is not going down the part of revisionism , like many on this here blogerspher enjoy doing lately, by claiming that it was due to Desie Allum efforts,why both him and Rex are alive today, as opposed to being six feet underground, with four bullets each in the back of the head ,as would have occurred,in any other country on the face of the earth,especially our more civilize Massa England, and their democratic American cousins.
    To think some folks want to make me hate my loving country. Again, tell dem for me , that the one who can make me do that ain’t born yet! Love country , over tribe!
    Warm Regards.

  5. Evidence of social pigmyhood:#1 I am waiting in line for my girlfriend to make a purchase in a mall downtown(POS).She is about #7 in line, and there is only one cashier. A young man comes in, picks up a couple of items and goes directly to the cashier, while chatting to someone on his cell phone. He is bigger than the cashier and is scowling. She is about to take his items, ignoring the mostly women in the line, when I speak up. “Young man, the line is over there, and you are behind the lady in blue.” I say this in a voice that is piercing. Everyone hears. The cashier looks startled. The young man, a head and shoulders above my 5’8″, goes meekly to the line and waits his turn. I tell my son about my shopping adventure.”Mom, you crazy, he could have had a gun.”
    My point to my son, was that if one’s life was to be forfeit for such a trivial thing as making a rude young man wait his turn, then, that would have been my final act for my country of birth.

    Item 2: I am in a large, sort of sophisticated grocery store in the US. I am in the bakery section. A boy of about 9 puts his hand in the cookie case, and bites into one. He apparently
    does not like the taste, so he puts it back, and tries another.I look around. His mother is nowhere to be seen. There are no clerks in sight. I speak up to him.”You can’t put your hand in there and bite things and put them back. That’s nasty. People eat those!”Again, this voice carries into the back of the bakery and across a few aisles. His mother comes running, and so does a clerk from behind the swing doors. I stand there staring down the boy, who is red in the face and holding the cookie he did not dare put back. His mother angrily snatches him away, dragging him off. I suspect she had sent him to have a free breakfast, but kept my thoughts to myself. The clerk enpties all the cookies from the tray with the bitten one. I no longer buy cookies from open trays in glass cases accessible to the customer.
    Pigmyhood 3: A young Muslim woman , in a hijab,is in line at the cashier’s ahead of me. The cashier, a Hispanic woman is rude to her, and challenges every item that she is purchasing at reduced price(I think the computer was wrong) she was really nasty and made remarks in Spanish about the Arabic woman to the cashier in the next aisle. The very polite vieled woman said nothing. After she went to her car,I asked the clerk if I could tell her something. She smiled pleasantly.
    “When Cabeza deBaca came to explore Texas, he had an African Muslim, Estefan deAzemour with him. They were a party of four, three Hispanics and an African who was Muslim. They were the first Europeans in Texas.That woman’s people have been here as long as yours has. Just thought you’d like to know”. She hung her head in shame.

    As I went to my car, the Arabic woman(used here to describe the language group) was still putting groceries in her car.None of the helpers went out to help her. I called out to her the Muslim greeting,and she smiled and responed.
    “Can I tell you something? I asked. Then I told her what I had said to the cashier. and concluded.”This is America.We celebrate Cinco deMayo and Eid. You have a right to be here. Stick up for yourself”.

    I went home feeling that I had done something to push humanity forward.

    Social pigmyhood exists where-ever societies value money more than they value people. The old courtesies have gone by the wayside, in favour of “me, me and me”. Trinidad, London, USA, I have observed the same things. People no longer whisper something about someone they do not care for, at a party or wherever, they say it out loud.People like Raffique, Desmond Allum and me, value the old courtesies. My Nen Lillian would have been proud of me.She wore gloves to the memorial service at Trinity Cathedral, for Queen Victoria, as was prescribed on the invitations.

  6. Ms. Edwards, by example, you have just taught us a valuable lesson.I hope the “pigmies” are listening. Your anecdotes are uplifting and as a teaching strategy, excellent!

  7. “People like Raffique, Desmond Allum and me, value the old courtesies.” All valid points Madam L , but when Uncle Shah was 24 , he too as so vividly explained , was busy , breaching our laws -a la treason-no matter how he tries to spin it today,and most importantly ,never showed any remorse for so doing.

    He instead chose to give credit to Massa England Privy Council, and some archaic laws that uncle Desmond was able to regurgitate for his benefit. Surprise , surprise , that even as late as May 24th 2010 , a whole host of our fellow nationals, still does not have the guts to stand up and admit that they are part of one of the greatest democracy on the planet.
    Who do you think they pick such non patriotism from ? Yes indeed,folks like uncle Shah, and as you so eloquently put it recently, V.S. Naipaul, and such older luminaries.
    In 2010 , he uncle Shah,would in turn wish to chastise a young illiterate punk for carrying out the directive of the son of a local millionaire businessman, as he attempt to kidnap dad , sister, or mom, because the former does not have the patience to wait another 30 years for the reading of a will, when dad is old and lame.”Do so ain’t like so,” ehh?
    We cherish and cuddle adult white color crooks and bandits ,that steals from the state , and poor desperate workers, and use a multitude of excuses to defend the miscreants, when they are caught with their hands in that cookie jar, yet act surprise when a blue color criminal emulates such , even through he unfortunately ,lacks the legal firepower, to offer a defense with the likes of a Desmond Allum , or Ramesh to enable him to walk free.
    When your Texan , phony Born again Christian, frat boy, turn President,assumed the lofty position , he had the distinction of having the highest record for death penalty execution in the country as Governor- many of which as you are quite aware , were very questionable.What message was sent to our youth, I enquire? In addition, when he jump like an idiotic bully into an ill conceived war against , an innocent country, and in the process caused the unwarranted deaths of thousand of American troops , and millions of innocent civilian in Iraq, care to explain the message that was being sent to millions of youth not only in his country , but across the globe? You guess it, ‘might is right,’ and “the end justify the means.”
    For my part , I try to ease back on the morality throttle , as often these kids today possess an uncanny ability to see through the old school pontification mantra,which in many cases are laden with hypocrisy.

    It is my hope that none of todays youth decide to follow the directives of military and paramilitary leaders mainly of your generation ,as occurred in 1970 , and 1990,or else as a wise lady use to say,and I agree, it would be “a horse of a different color.”
    Let’s keep them honest, shall we?

    1. Neal, I must say you’ve missed entirely the point Ms Edwards is trying to make. The pygmies aren’t in the struggle for all society; they have no affinity to the natural law of civility; ‘do unto others…;’ they’re in it for selfish reasons; I’m gonna get mine. Mr. Shah and others broke man’s law, which is fallible; their behavior, however was in accordance with nature’s law which always trumps any law created by man, in any space and time. A revolution never ends, as has become evident to the advocates of ‘Massa day done’ As my Nennen used to say: “the Devil never rests;” so if your fight is for societal justice and fair play be prepared to be in it for the long haul: Its why the struggle continues for Daaga and Shah, because what you see as Democracy they see as Oligarchy.

  8. Please extend my condolences to Mr. Allum’s family. I will always remember how much we all learned from his professional demeanor on the stand. What a terrific presentation in favor of everyone.
    God bless his soul.

  9. I agre that he was a rash young hothead, a pigmy, but he grew up. The issue is what do we do with today’s brash young pigmies who do not use an army revolt to try to change the country’s direction, but put a gun to your head for ten dollars,or throw a knife for $5.00 that hits a small boy in the neck, or fires towards a highway at a banding that steas yor gold chain, and hits a small boy driving in his father’s car. If we could formulate some societal rules that the young could buy into because they can be shown the Consequences of Actions They Take,we could be on our way to a better society,in the same place. That which passes for race hate, has both economic and social implications. Every now and then, a Desmond Allum- blend of many races, his sister is my friend, comes along to point us in the real direction of one love, which is love in action, uplifting the depressed, the downtrodden- as those youg soldiers felt thet were, in 1970.

    What if the new government assessed the cost to the nation of crime in LAventille, and poured that sum into said Laventille, to turn the youth around? That would be positive action that helps the social pigmies to grow.(The term is not mine, I got it from a former Attorney Geeral of Guyana- NAtalie, who so described her husband.) Some people’s instinctive rection to strangers, is that we must fight them. We can cause learning to triumph over instinct.

  10. A nice vignette about a great Trinbagonian;an outstanding patriot and an icon for our young people.
    Thanks cousin Raff.

  11. I am with you Madam L, there’s got to be some rolling up of sleeves so to speak, in efforts to address the social problem that you have alluded to , with respect to many of our youths that , are on the verge of,or have already fallen by the wayside in the quest to destroy lives, as a result of being overcome by despair.It is why we must continue to push efforts to make ‘selective fellow nationals,’ develop a sense of self worth, and love for self, as a first step to caring for others- irrespective of their age, race,ethnicity, gender,class, or orientation.
    I particularly like where you are leading on this poignant point, where you said, “that which passes for race hate, has both economic and social implications.” Race in most cases becomes a useful bogeyman ,for so call intelligent, and skillful distractors,as they attempt to throw the more astute , off track. We globalist, know otherwise, and hence the reason why we beseech our leaders, to get off the political soap boxes , abandon the flawed advice,and misguided policy wonks.Instead , do the right in terms of economic justice, as the returns can be so much greater. Failure to appreciate these basic rules , can see political ecstasy as occurred on May 24th, quickly, evaporate. Stupid adherence to a dog with a bone mentality, and selfish neo tribalism , can have dire consequences, perhaps not from cyber tigers , but by a disgruntled , lifetime ignored younger generation , led by a conscious, ‘intelligentsia,’ similar to the likes of our Rex ,and Young Raffique.
    Much love uncle Shah. Thanks for your service ,patriotism, and efforts aimed at nation building. We appreciate yours and folks like Mr Allum who understood respect for law,and justice.
    There is work to be done, and expectations are high. Time to find a way to build bridges to the future.
    Love country.

  12. Hi Raff,
    Thanks for a well written and informative article. Please continue to add to the uplifting of T&T by your scholarly articles.

  13. Please spear us the bs about how great a guy this man was, he was a hired gun, so when you and your cohorts tried to overthrow the duly elected government of Trinidad and Tobago 1970, he defended you.

  14. I felt compelled to comment on the level of discussion about this article. The standard of the commentaries were high and informative which the ‘pygmies’ can do well to imitate (and learn from). Thank you guys for such interesting insights!

  15. If any of you bloggers get an invite to a party given by the “high and mighty” e.g. The US Ambassadors 4th of July bash,you will realize that at the top, there is no racial animus. All the big pappys rub shoulders,laugh with each other, and head for the free food, regardless of party. Then they return to giving you guys crumbs to hold on to, and to stirring the fires of hatred.Its only a game.

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