Veteran, Legend, Hero

The life and times of James Edward (“Bobby”) Fulford.
By Carlton & Debbie-lee Mills

Shown here sporting his full regalia, the late James “Bobby” Fulford was a decorated veteran, legend, and hero in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

In March 2020, it was my distinct privilege to interview Mr. James “Bobby” Fulford as part of my research for a book I was contracted by FortisTCI to write on the history of electricity in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Mr. Fulford, though 93 years old at the time, was quite adept as he recalled the highlights of his life and his pivotal role in the history of our country.

Early life

Mr. James Edward Fulford, affectionately known as “Bobby” Fulford, was born in South Caicos on May 9, 1926 to Herbert Adolphus Fulford and Helen Durham Fulford.He was the eldest of four children. As a boy growing up on the small island, he did the usual childhood chores such as toting water from the popular Basden Well, collecting wood for his parents to cook with, and looking after their domestic animals. Despite the numerous chores, Bobby still found time for fun. He used to shoot marbles, make and fly kites, play football, and spin tops with the other neighborhood boys. He attended the government public school in South Caicos which was known as Mr. Powell’s School—named after the well-known headmaster from Jamaica.  

Bobby’s life took a sudden downward turn when at a very tender age, he lost his loving mother. Bobby was devastated but he had to focus his attention on helping his grandmother take care of his younger siblings. This responsibility prevented him from being able to leave South Caicos at age 12 to attend high school in Grand Turk as did most of his peers. During this era, children had to leave public primary school at the age of 14.

Since Bobby could not attend secondary school in Grand Turk, on reaching this mandatory age, he left school and took his first job as a butler. His determination and fortitude were evident from this early age, as he performed his role with pride and dignity. He later became a carpenter under the guidance of his uncle Mr. Coleta Seymour, a renowned carpenter on the island.Bobby also worked on the donkey cart delivering water to the community with his faithful donkey, Brown Boy.

Bobby Fulford worked on the donkey cart delivering water to the community. Here, he recreates those early days in South Caicos.

Army life 

World War ll (or the Second World War as it was called) is described as the largest and most deadly conflict in human history. It involved more than 50 nations. This war was fought on land, sea, and air in nearly every part of the world. Political tensions which were spinovers after World War I were among the contributing factors to this war. It began when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, and raged across the globe until 1945 when Japan surrendered to the United States after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the end of World War ll (1945), an estimated 60 to 80 million people had died, including up to 55 million civilians, and numerous cities in Europe and Asia were reduced to rubble. The Turks & Caicos Islands found themselves engaged in this war as a result of their colonial status with Great Britain.

At the age of 16 years and without the knowledge or consent of his family, Bobby decided to enlist in the army. When his grandmother found out, she and his uncle Richard Ellis put a stop to it. But a determined Bobby later reapplied and gained acceptance. His grandmother only found out on the evening when he was expected to leave for Grand Turk. It was too late for her to do anything. Bobby was off to the serve his country in the army. Bobby was accepted on January 2, 1943 as a Private rank. He was sent off to Jamaica for four months of training by the UK 8th Army Division. Bobby described how vigorous and rough the training was. Their instructor was extremely tough which made his time in Jamaica even more difficult. Despite these challenges, he made it through and received his first stripe.

He returned to the Turks & Caicos Islands and was stationed at the army barrack south of the Kittina Hotel in Grand Turk. There were two camps in the barracks holding about 40 men from the TCI who had also enlisted in the army and were preparing to go overseas for active service. Bobby and the other recruits had to return to camp by 10 PM every night when all lights were put out.This was done to avoid the possibility of German submarines lurking in the area firing on them.

After military training in Jamaica, Bobby returned to the Turks & Caicos and was stationed at the army barrack in Grand Turk.

Bobby quickly climbed the ranks to Acting Sergeant and was placed in charge of a platoon. A part of his duties required him to keep guard at the “Lookout Point” which was located in the vicinity of the current Cable and Wireless (now FLOW) building. Bobby was eager to go abroad, but to his great disappointment the war ended before that dream became a reality. 

Post-Army life

After World War ll came to an end, Bobby had what he referred to as a “stand down” after his three years of military service. Subsequently, he left the army in 1946 having achieved the rank of Two Striped Full Corporal.Bobby now had a choice of whether to go into business or pursue a career. In 1947 at age 21, Bobby was offered a golden opportunity to go to Jamaica to pursue further studies. He attended the Industrial Garage, an affiliate of the University of the West Indies, where he was trained in diesel engineering. As a part of his training, he also spent time at the Webster Shipyard and Ice Factory. In 1949, he was commissioned to return to Jamaica to collect and sail home the new government vessel, the President Forth.  This ship was named after the first president of the TCI who served from 1849–1852. 

In 1949, he married his beautiful soulmate Anita Ariza who predeceased him by six years. This union lasted for 67 years and produced four children, although he generally boasted of being the father of nine children: Monica (deceased), Joan (Dar), Annett (deceased), James (Jimbo), Gracita (Gigi), Antonio (Tony), Oswald (Whoobie), Shirley, and his adopted daughter Nekoda. James and Antonio are believed to have been blessed with his electrical engineering skills, as this was the professional career that they chose.

In the early 1950s, the Turks & Caicos Islands Government was in the process of constructing the Grand Turk Hospital. In preparation for some of the electrical works that were needed, Bobby was sent to Jamaica once again to pursue studies in electrical installation and repairs. On his return home, he and Mr. Noel Roberts, along with the Ariza brothers, played an instrumental role in providing electricity to that hospital. He was also responsible for servicing the Lister Blackstone Generators that provided power to the hospital.

Bobby was also employed with the TCI Government in the Public Works Department as acting superintendent of maintenance, becoming superintendent in 1974. Before the island of Grand Turk had generators, the three main government establishments—the administrator’s residence (now governor’s residence), the hospital, and the dental clinic—were all powered by solar energy with the use of wind chargers, with the energy stored in cell batteries. It was Bobby’s job to check the levels of the batteries daily to ensure there was a steady flow of power to these establishments. He retired in 1983 but continued in this maintenance role in the Caicos Islands until 1986.  

Church life

Bobby was an ardent Anglican. He was an active member of the auxiliaries of his church, especially the Anglican Church Men’s group, of which he was a founding member under the rectorship of Father Savanas Regisford. Bobby was proud to sport his maroon jacket, which was the uniform of the men’s group during special occasions. He received the group’s highest award on February 22, 2019 for his devoted service and dedication.

Social life

Bobby was also an active member of the Odd Fellows Eunice Lodge #3798 where he was initiated in 1946. He rose to the rank of Major General in the Second Brigade of the American Jurisdiction. Like his maroon jacket, he wore his regalia with honour, dignity, and pride. He received the highest ranking within the Lodge and was a part of the Patriarchy. He often travelled to the Bi-annual Movable Conference (BMC) and installation ceremonies in Philadelphia. It was here that he received one of the highest honors, his degree and title of Honorary Past Grand Master from deceased Grand Master Oswald Pinder during his tenure.

On October 26, 1983, another proud moment occurred when Bobby was invited by the Queen of England to attend a reception at Buckingham Palace. Here the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh hosted delegates to the 22nd Annual Conference of the British Commonwealth Ex-Serviceman League. While at the palace, he had the distinct honour of meeting Prince Charles (now King Charles). Then-TCI Governor John Freeman also honoured him with a plaque of appreciation in recognition of his dedicated service to the Crown. On July 7, 2021, the First Regiment of the Turks & Caicos Islands named their recruitment camp the “Turks & Caicos Islands Regiment Camp Fulford” in Bobby’s honour.

Rescue at sea

Bobby further shared with me the story about what occurred one day when he and the crew left on board the President Forth to go to South Caicos to pick up Administrator Wood and Assistant Administrator Willis. Prior to their leaving South Caicos, Sergeant Georgie Lewis asked them if they could take his daughter Earlie to Grand Turk so she could make her connection to Jamaica where she was accepted into nursing school. About five to six miles off Grand Turk, the vessel developed mechanical problems. The engine later caught fire, forcing the crew to board their lifeboat and abandon the President Forth. They had totally forgotten that Earlie was still aboard.When they reached shore, Bobby realized that the girl was not with them.

He and John C. Williams returned to the burning vessel where they found Earlie fast asleep below deck. Bobby recalled that the extent of the blaze was a deterrent, but he was bent on finding the girl. John promised him, “If you die, I will die with you.’’ Before boarding the President Forth, Bobby cautioned John, “If there is an explosion, go leave me.” They were able to rescue the little girl. As soon as they were off the boat, a loud explosion occurred. This was attributed to a 45-gallon drum filled with gasoline that they had on board. This was certainly an act of bravery on the part of both men risking their lives to save a young girl who later became a Registered Nurse.

The following Sunday, a thanksgiving service was held in gratitude that no lives were lost from that incident. Unfortunately, Bobby was never recognized or honoured for his bravery.

An exceptional man

Humility, strength, nobility, courage are terms that typically personified Bobby Fulford. He was a man who made sacrifices. He was a provider, a dedicated and committed family- and civic-minded individual.

It can be said that Bobby lived an exciting and jovial life. He was fun to be around. It was when he complained of constantly feeling fatigued that a red flag regarding his health was raised. Although he had several health issues, this did not prevent him from having conversations with people. He would often brag that he was the oldest known man in the TCI. As his health continued to decline, he was restricted to moving around with the use of a walker. He was later confined to his home with his special seat on his sofa, where I was fortunate enough to interview him. Bobby was blessed to celebrate his 97th birthday with his family on May 9, but passed away quietly on May 27, 2023. 

It is my view that Bobby has made a significant contribution to the Turks & Caicos Islands, the country that he loved and joined the army to defend. He was an honourable man.  A man of integrity. He stood for principles and displayed high ethical and moral standards. There are few of his kind today. We can say beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the TCI has lost a great man.

The authors would like to acknowledge using information from the Funeral Booklet of Mr. Fulford, his son Tony, and other family members.

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