by Suzanne Francis-Brown
In October 2016, Martin and Beth Aub visited the UWI Museum carrying a visibly battered artifact that immediately connected the university to the history of the site on which the Mona Campus is located. Martin, a retired senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and former Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences (now Science and Technology), recalled literally walking into the metal helmet while walking across campus, through the old Gibraltar Camp site. Many of the wooden, barracks buildings, constructed in 1940 to house World War II evacuees from Gibraltar, were repurposed when the university started on the site in 1948.
Why would there have been a helmet there? Gibraltar evacuee camp was a civilian facility, but after the Gibraltarians returned home in 1944, the military took over the camp and the site was a military facility until December 1947, after which it was handed over for the use of the then University College of the West Indies which became the UWI in 1962.
Martin, who joined the university as a lecturer in 1963, had found a World War II military helmet – what a former military officer visiting the museum later identified as a Brodie helmet. It would have been one of millions issued during the war, and one of hundreds issued to soldiers billeted at the camp. But it was the only one known to have been found on the Gibraltar Camp site and is a priceless piece of UWI pre-history. That connection to World War II would have been special for Martin Aub for another reason. His family had been split by the war and it was the strange twists of fate that had brought them to Jamaica at all. His father, Dr Rudolf Aub, was a German Jew who was able to flee the country – and the threat of incarceration – in 1938, based on an invitation to work with his wife’s brother in Sierra Leone. His wife was not Jewish, and could remain in Germany with their daughter and two sons while they tried to negotiate visas to go elsewhere. However, in Sierra Leone, a British West African colony, the declaration of war eventually meant that all persons of German origin were interned as enemy aliens – even if they were Jewish and themselves, at threat from the Nazi regime in Germany. At the end of 1940, Dr Aub ended up being sent with other internees to Jamaica where they were held in the Male Internment Camp adjacent to military HQ, Up Park Camp. There, he lived in a compound with Jewish internees, Jamaican political detainees, naturalised British citizens of enemy origin and a few others, segregated from German and Italian internees who might have anti-Semitic views. In 1943, he was allowed to join the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps in Jamaica, gaining a degree of freedom though he could not practise medicine until after the war. He was finally able to bring his family to join him in 1947 and he wrote his story in a typescript manuscript, My Life, which is deposited at the National Library and the St. Andrew High School Museum.
Martin Aub would therefore have grown up, with his siblings, in a wartime Germany that was especially dangerous to a part-Jewish family. He was sixteen when he came to Jamaica, meeting his father again after nearly nine devastating years. He went to Wolmer’s Boys School and gained a scholarship to the University College London where he did his degree and PhD in mathematics. An unassuming, committed, quietly humorous person, he taught at Mona and then from 1969-1970, was seconded to the College of Arts & Sciences in Barbados, which would grow into the Cave Hill campus. He returned to Mona in 1971 and continued to serve the UWI for years after he retired in 1991. Emeritus Professor Robert Lancashire, himself a friend of the UWI Museum, remembered Martin Aub as the go-to person when you needed advice on Faculty rules and regulations or clashing timetables. “On a personal level he always seemed to be the calm one in the room, being able to maintain his control when all around the voices were becoming over-excited. We chatted casually up to just a few months ago when I would spot him in the carpark in Chemistry or at the Mona Post-Office. He retained a keen interest in the political atmosphere affecting the World.”
For more on the Aub family story, pp10-12 of the 2007, UWI Department of History & Archaeology newsletter, for an article by Dr Gertrud Aub-Buscher, then of the University of Hull: