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The Arrival of Steel Drums in Trinidad - A Pan Story

by Ann Zimmerman

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Ann Zimmerman: I would like to leave a story that my father, who is deceased, told the family.


Navy picture of charles
Charles J. Getz

Charlie (Charles J. Getz, Chief Storekeeper) was supply officer for the US Navy on Trinidad during WWII. They had problems unloading petroleum before the U-boats blew up the supply ships. Charlie came up with the idea that the supply ships could roll oil barrels (drums) overboard very quickly and escape before the submarines spotted them. Then Charlie sent out skiffs to net the floating drums and bring them into port. This worked well, he received a medal, and the practice was embraced elsewhere because of the lives it saved. However, this left a lot of empty drums, since the ship didn't pick them up as it did under the former practices.

Charlie traded the empty steel drums to the locals for rum for the officers (and most likely for himself), and they made steel drums from them. It was his understanding that the British had previously outlawed the playing of drums, but the American Navy had no such concerns. Charlie then hired locals to play the drums on the base - everyone seemed so much happier in their work with the music in the background.

I once attended an Andy Narell concert in California where he thanked the US Navy for steel drums, but I was too shy to come back stage and tell him this family story. Too bad--at that time Charlie was still alive and could have given an oral history.

Charlie loved steel drum music all his life.

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