D’Prive who was a King

By Raffique Shah
March 05, 2024

Raffique ShahWhen I was informed last week of the passing of the man known universally as D’Prive—ex-Private Winston Nurse—I went into an introspective mode for just about a minute, and then my mind drifted to The King. Not Charlo or any other monarch. This king is the lead character in the author James Clavell’s novel, King Rat.

D’Prive and I had shared a private joke over my observation that he shared similarities with Corporal King, the main character in this epic novel set in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. King Rat was one of Clavell’s most colourful creations. He—not the generals and other high-ranked personnel, some of whom were of royal stock, and all of whom were of the officer caste—called the shots in almost every way, the exception being that he could not leave.

King was so good at what he did that he had generals and other high-ranking officers from every country that fought Japan and ended up in their war camps seeking favours from him for the duration of their stay. Hell, even the Japanese who legally owned the camp and ran it cut deals with Cpl King for items from food to clothing to contraband.

Now, I should note here that when I branded Prive “The King”, I was not suggesting that he was participating in any illicit trade or other activities. It was just that he had a way he could charm senior ranks at the T&T Regiment, and sometimes other arms of the services, that went a long way to establishing him (Prive) as the “go to” man who could get things done.

When we spoke and I learned of his influence from the 1960s (he enlisted in the army in 1964), having had experience as a police officer in one of the municipalities, his seniors saw in him a slick talker and a quick mover.

I got to know him well when I returned from Sandhurst in 1967, and began working as a platoon commander in the rank of lieutenant. He held the dubious position of dining room “NCO”, where he was in charge of no one, and no one was in charge of him. They could ask him favours, but only Nurse ruled his roost.

He and I got along very well, but in 1970 during the mutiny was when he had a starring role.

D’Prive happened to be on leave on the day of the mutiny. In the confusion that followed, he was out of Teteron and other camps, but he turned up in the Laventille Hills, where Col Serrette was featured in a photograph with D’Prive prominent at his side, Afro haircut, et al.

The following day, we were shocked to see him in Teteron since traffic at that time mostly took men out of Teteron. He would later tell me that when asked by Serrette where he wanted to go, he said, “Teteron. Because that is where I am based, Sir.” He told me all his friends were in Teteron, “So, where must I go?”

It was in the aftermath of the mutiny that I really got to know D’Prive. It was at our Friday night limes—mostly at Winston “Tambie” Richens’ basement—where the men of 1970 became “family”.

Prive was hell-bent on establishing The Armed Forces Veterans Association. He captured the attention of men who had left the army to work elsewhere, but who enjoyed the camaraderie in the military which he made possible by housing a virtual soldiers’ liming house in Barataria. There they met, drank, ate and spoke about times gone by.

What was remarkable is that he attracted offers to serve from some ex-officers who retired as colonels and higher. There were many middle-ranked officers as well, who took executive positions in the organisation that took flight.

While it did not boom, it grew progressively as he raised, in the public, the issue regarding the men’s welfare and other post-military concerns which finally found a forum for discussion.

He slowed down some, but he was often reminded of his glory days in which he took on Sheik Doll in a street fight near Green Corner.

A professional wrestler, she had D’Prive busy, but he managed to get in one good blow that felled her to the ground, much to the disapproval of bystanders. He remarked of this, “They eh say nothing when she kick me, yuh know.”

Older friends reminded him of the day, during training, when asked the name of the RSM, he proudly shouted, “RSM Piggy, Sir!” Prive was promptly arrested. You see, Piggy was an Englishman who was RSM and who was not supposed to know his moniker was Piggy. Only Prive…