A man from another time…Aviation pioneer, Victor Fitt, is a special person.
Pull quote: “I got a message asking if I would fly over and try to locate where Clement Cuffy was hiding. David Rose and a party of policemen had left on foot. I flew over and eventually spotted Cuffy, who pointed a gun and fired at my aircraft…”
He played in the home of a young Forbes Burnham and that of Guyana’s first Ambassador to the
United States. He sent wireless signals to warn of enemy ships lurking off the Atlantic. And he helped to track down a desperate and deadly fugitive long before many of us were born.
Chatting with 92-year-old Victor Fitt is like hopping into a time machine and traveling on an intriguing journey way, way back in the past.
As Victor Fitt puts it, he first saw the light of day around 4.00 pm. on July 4, 1919, at the family’s home at Lot 26 Lamaha and Irving Streets, Queenstown.
His parents were Richard Joseph Fitt and Matilda Da Silva. He was the third in a family of ten (five boys and five girls). His maternal grandfather, Manoel Cipriani Da Silva, a labourer from Maderia, was brought to British Guiana to plant sugar cane. But this uneducated labourer managed to amass enough money to acquire large amount of land and open several stores in Georgetown.
“My grandfather worked so diligently that the manager liked him and gave him a big piece of land…He put up a little shop and at the back of the shop he planted vegetables to sell to the villagers,” Mr. Fitt recalls.
“My grandfather owned drug stores, provision stores, butcher shops, rum shops…. I used to sell in the stores after work, even sell rum. Governor Sir Edward Brandis Denham, sometimes dropped in at the Lamaha and Irving Street house for a shot of whiskey.”
The young Victor Fitt attended Comenius Moravian School and St Stanislaus College.
His father was the manager of the Fogarty’s Philharmonic Store and would later open the Shu-All Hat and Shoe Store in Camp Street, opposite what used to be Bookers Garage.
“We had a long backyard of concrete where we played cricket. We produced Bruce Pairaudeau (who would go on to represent the West Indies in 13 Tests).” We also used to play football.” The ‘football’ consisted of the blown-up bladders of slaughtered cows.
“I also liked to swim, and would check out when the tide was low and go to the Kitty seawalls to swim. John Carter (who would later become Guyana’s first Ambassador to the United States and was a key figure in the nation’s pre-independence turmoil ) was living in
Sandy Babb Street, while (Forbes) Burnham was living two corners from Carter, at Stanley Place. I used to play in both of their houses. We were good friends, but politics has no friends.”
“Mr. Bastiani in Queenstown had a stable with horses and carriages, and we would get horses and carriages to take us to church, and I would climb up by the coach-man to hold the reins.
“Eventually, we bought a motorcar from Geddes Grant, a black Ford. In those days the police were not so strict with licences. I learned to drive and also was the mechanic.
After graduating from St. Stanislaus College he gained employment as a telegraphist with Cable and Wireless at Atkinson Field. This was during the Second World War, and, according to Mr. Fitt, he assisted in alerting ships, via Morse Code, of possible enemy vessels lurking out in the Atlantic.
He married Noreen Edghill, a pioneer in hairdressing in Guyana, whose father was Director at Wieting and Richter Ice House in Water Street. They had two sons, David and Jonathan Fitt.
Later, he joined the British Guiana Police Force, eventually achieving the rank of Superintendent. He served as officer in charge in many parts of the country. He remembers once serving under an eccentric Irish police officer who had a habit of rounding up his men at odd hours to go on raids in the then notorious Tiger Bay.
After his career in the force ended he joined Bookers as Chief of Security. He was injured in a vehicular accident which left him with a shattered right hip. Though he underwent surgery, the mishap left him with a limp.
It was during his early adult years that he started his career in aviation.
He enrolled in a flying club at Atkinson Field, and eventually gained his pilot’s licence to fly simple aircraft.
Along with his brother, (the late Henry Fitt, whose plane, with five passengers disappeared in 1981), Victor Fitt began working at Toucan Air Services Limited, which operated non-schedule and charter service flights.
He also developed a hobby of building and flying model planes. “The boys at Atkinson knew that I was into this and so when a two-seater aircraft crashed the chief engineer asked me if I wanted it and I said, ‘Of course’.
He dismantled the damaged Luscombe Silvaire aircraft and had it hauled to his Irving Street home. With the assistance of friends, he reassembled the plane. According to Mr. Fitt, he made one maiden flight in the refurbished aircraft but abandoned it because of a serious flaw that would endanger him.
And there were a few instances when he came close to death.
“I was flying one day and did not put on the fuel tank cover properly.” It was only when he was airborne that Victor Fitt realized that he was losing fuel.
“I made a turn and headed for the ocean because I was thinking that if I crashed they would find me and I wouldn’t be lost forever.” Fortunately, he eventually landed safely at Ogle.
On another occasion, he flew to Ebini (Upper Demerara/Berbice) to buy a bull. But night fell as he was returning, leaving him in a quandary as to how to find the unlit Ogle airstrip in the dark.
“I saw one light shining where Ogle was supposed to be and managed to land. But I couldn’t let the boys at Atkinson know that I was night-flying, so I didn’t tell them and after I parked I got into my car and drove away without mentioning it to anybody.”
It was in September 1959, that Victor Fitt played a major part in the country’s history. A young fugitive by the name of Clement Cuffy was creating havoc on the West Coast of Demerara.
An enthusiastic young Assistant Police Commissioner named David Rose was spearheading the manhunt for the fugitive. The death of two policemen was blamed on the fugitive during the hunt. Mr. Fitt said that the police eventually sought his assistance.
“I got a message asking if I would fly over and try to locate where Cuffy was hiding. David Rose and a party of policemen had left on foot to look for Cuffy. I flew over and eventually spotted Cuffy in the backdam. He pointed a gun and fired at my aircraft. I circled back and guided David Rose and his party to where Cuffy could be located.”
The fugitive was then cornered and killed.
To this day, Mr. Fitt remains upset that he never received any accolades for assisting in Cuffy’s capture.
Back then, the veteran pilot owned a Piper Tripacer plane, which he eventually sold to an American missionary, who used the light aircraft in the interior. He said the aircraft didn’t last long in the missionary’s care.
“The battery was dead so he had to spin the propeller by hand to start it. He did not put on the brakes and he had the throttle open. He spun the propeller and the plane ran off. He tried to hold it back but it smashed into a school.”
Long retired, Mr. Fitt now a widower, lives in a colonial-style house at Lot 133 Church Street, Cummingsburg.
He’s passed the aviation baton onto his two sons; Jonathan, who is Safety Manager at Liat, and David, who is a senior Captain with Caribbean Airlines Limited.