Ewart Joseph 'Headache' Layne
Courtesy John Douglas, photographer
Ewart 'Headache' Layne was born 7 May 1958 in La Digue, St. Andrew's parish. He also spent his youth in Richmond Hill in St. George's parish. He gained the nickname 'Headache' or 'Ache' - some say - because he had headaches in school; others say because he wore a band around his head.
Holy Innocenct Anglican Primary School in La Digue was his first school and St. George's R.C. Boys' Primary his second. Layne graduated from Presentation College in St. George's, an esteemed Roman Catholic school for boys.
Out of Presentation College youth activities, Layne had joined the Organization for Revolutionary Education and Liberation; also secondarily known as the Organization for Research, Education and Liberation [OREL]. OREL supported NJM in the 1976 elections and soon after the NJM and OREL joined forces. Layne would have been 18 years old at this time, and following in his brother Raymond's footsteps in OREL.
From 1977-1979, Layne taught at St. David's Secondary School (SDSS) in the field of mathematics and economics.
According to one source, Layne was one of the original '12 Apostles' - meaning those who had trained in military studies before the takeover from the Gairy Government 13 March 1979. Layne later wrote about the 1977 grouping of a top-secret echelon referred to as the National Liberation Army. The NLA was rumored to have undertaken military studies in Guyana.
Layne was one of 24 or 46 men in the assult team. The difference in count may be a count of who was military and who leadership. Layne was one of five squad leaders, all members of OREL, during the 13 March 1979 assault on True Blue Barracks.
Following 13 March 1979, Layne was immediately a member of the newly-formed People's Revolutionary Army with a captain's rank. On the day of the takeover, the NJM Party held a Central Committee meeting, but Layne was not part of the Central Committee until November, 1979.
In the 1980s, Layne was one of three officers who were sanctioned by the NJM [for mistreatment of prisoners]. All three of those officers were later members of the Political Bureau and/or the Central Committee.
By June 1981, Layne was a Major in the PRA and a PRG defense minister. Layne was one of three top defense ministers who were concerned about the 'rasta elements' and the fear that the Rastafarians were planning to attack one of the PRA military camps.
Bernard Coard moved to change the rankings of army officers in September, 1981. Coard proposed a reorganization where Layne would become Army Chief of Staff. Coard accepted a compromise at the time, but a year later, Layne, who was then promoted from Major to Lieutenant Colonel, was Deputy Secretary of Defense under the the Ministry of Defense, portfolio of Prime Minister Bishop. Within the structure of the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG), a 'Secretary' - as Layne had become - was also a Junior Minister.
A top secret committee was instituted in late 1981 for security and defense. According to Thorndike:
At the time of the Julien Fedon Manoeuvre on 5 February 1982, Layne said the following:
"The Security and Defence Committee's membership was never publicized, nor its deliberations made known. All records were carefully monitored but destroyed during the invasion because of their sensitivity. The Committee met fortnightly under Bishop's chairmanship, and included Lt.-Col. Ewart
Layne, . . ."
Sandford in his book "New Jewel" obtained the following from reports and cover letter to Ministry of Finance regarding the incident with Lt. Col. Layne, provided by C.F. Toppin, chairman of Grenada Breweries, Ltd.:
"'Unlike August, when they were coming out boldly and aggressively stating their intentions to invade the country, they have not recognized such boldness had the effect of galvanizing our people's unity and determination to stand up to them. Their tactic now is pretending to be quiet, for us to become complacent and less vigilant - but we shall never mix up the calm before the storm with the storm itself.
The imperialists are keeping quiet merely to fool us. Just as Fedon fought bravely against the British in 1795, defeating them time and time again, we in the same spirit would fight any aggressor, regardless of how strong and mighty the enemy may be, for just like Fedon, we would never surrender!'"
from Free West Indian 5 February 1982
"In July 1982 . . . when the management of Grenada Breweries refused to pay an employee for a period of unexcused absence for militia training, senior managers were brusquely summoned to army headquarters at Fort Rupert and given a violent tongue-lashing by Lt. Colonel Ewart Layne. According to company officials, Layne warned that if one cent of the employee's pay were touched, they would 'feel the full weight of revolutionary action from the People's Revolutionary Army and the Government.'"
Layne, by then a Lieutenant-Colonal in the People's Revolutionary Army [PRA], became a member of the Politburo October 1982 of the NJM party, along with two other military men, without full party member consultation. General Hudson Austin, Commander of the PRA, was also appointed Minister of Construction. Layne then became the day-to-day Commander of the PRA.
From Maurice Bishop's handwritten notes of the Central Committee ideological study group meeting, November 25, 1982, emerges Ewart 'Headache' Layne's summary of the party's position:
In late 1982, Layne was assigned to edit Congressman Ron Dellum's report on his visit to Grenada.
As day-to-day commander of the People's Revolutionary Army, Layne left Grenada in April for military studies in Moscow. Layne was not to return to Grenada until 8 September 1983 when he was recalled for the Extraordinary Meeting of the Central Committee of NJM, 14-16 September 1983.
"The only way to transform the countryside along soc[ialist] lines . . . is thru the radical restruc[turing] of [the] countryside on [the] basis of collectivisation and state farms."
Brian Meeks lists Ewart Layne's 1983 Activities:
" . . . responsible for overall running of the PRA and commander of the first military region, he was on a weekly basis the tutor for six political classes, study guide for applicant members to the party, liaison for the NJM party support group of workers on the airport construction site, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Grenada Farms corporation (the umbrella body which had taken over Gairy's state farms), Chairman of the Board of Directors of Grenada Agro-Industries Limited, and a member of the Political Bureau and of the Central Committee. He also, as a leader of the revolution, had from time to time to address parish Councils and other meetings of a political nature."
Layne attended the eventful 25 September 1983 Central Committee meeting. He was Vice-Chair of the 16-man Revolutionary Military Council (RMC). During the landing of US forces, Layne was soldiering with his troops.
He went underground in Westerhall Point with Austin and Cornwall where they were revealed by other Grenadians and captured, along with two white men, at Weatherhaven on 27 October 1983, according to one source, by members of the 82nd Airborne. All five prisoners were flown to the USS Guam for questioning. Layne claims he was captured by US troops in St. David's on October 30th 1983.
Layne entered Richmond Hill Prisons along with other members of the group who call themselves The Grenada 17. During his incarceration in 1996, Layne obtained his LLB (Law) (Honours) degree by London University and in August 1999 wrote final exam for a LLM (Masters in Law), Commercial and Corporate, London University. He is part of the Prison Education Project, teaching other inmates.
During his incarceration, in September 1999, Layne issued this statement:
STATEMENT TO THE MEDIA BY EWART LAYNE, FORMER DAY-TO-DAY COMMANDER OF THE PEOPLES REVOLUTIONARY ARMY
"On October 19, 1983, as the day-to-day commander of the People's Revolutionary Army, it fell upon my young shoulders to make certain decisions in the context of the serious political and military situation which developed in our country. At that time, in 1983, as I was discharging what I honestly perceived to be my duty, I could not imagine the catastrophic consequences which would flow from my actions.
I had always been deeply committed to the Grenadian Revolution. In my early teenage years I accepted as an ideal the necessity of the revolutionary transformation of Grenada and I worked tirelessly towards that. I was one of a few dozen Grenadians who in the early hours of March 13th, 1979 risked everything to herald the Revolution.
I was due to leave Grenada with my family on April 7th, 1979, three-and-a-half weeks into the Revolution, to migrate to the USA to live and study. To the dismay and incomprehension of my family, hours before our scheduled departure, I turned my back on this opportunity. The only explanation I have ever given my parents for this action, which broke their hearts, is that duty demanded that I stay. In fact on the morning on which I was due to depart I was called upon by the leadership of the Revolution, and by Prime Minister Maurice Bishop personally, to remain at home and help consolidate and build the revolution which I had contributed to making.
I say all of the above to make the point that there is no way that I, Ewart Joseph Layne, would have done anything which I believed could hurt the Revolution, not to mention destroy it. Of course I was young and immature, and above all I'm human, and therefore I was fully capable of making blunders. But I think my state of mind and motives at the time were beyond reproach.
What happened on October 19th, 1983 was in no way planned. I awoke on that tragic day very hopeful that a solution to the political crisis was at hand. There was no way that the thought crossed my mind or could have crossed my mind that in just a few hours the greatest tragedy imaginable would descend on our country and that in a few days the Grenadian Revolution would be no more.
Reflections of the day even 16 years later have the feel of a very bad dream.
First, I remember the crowds gathering in the streets; then their appearance at the entrance to Mr. Wheldale; then the breaking into the compound and the taking away of Maurice.
Next thing I knew hundreds had overrun and seized Fort Rupert, the headquarters of the army. Then alarming reports as to what was taking place at Fort Rupert and as to the declared intentions of those there, started to come in: the Operations Room had been occupied; members of the General Staff were under arrest; the soldiers had been disarmed; the armoury had been seized; weapons had been distributed to civilians; units were being formed to move to seize the Radio Station, and Army Logistics Base where all the reserve weaponry of the army were held. Civil war was evidently at the door.
Faced with this alarming situation, efforts were made to contact those assumed to be in charge of Fort Rupert with a view to resolving the situation peacefully. But all of these efforts were rejected out of hand with the demand to surrender or face the consequences. It was in this context that I gave the order to a military unit to proceed to Fort Rupert and retake the headquarters.
I honestly believe that any objective observer who is aware of all the material facts would recognise that October 19th was a spontaneous situation, which got terribly out of control.
But I do not consider this an excuse. My perspective is that those who were leaders must accept responsibility for what happened.
I was the one who ordered the troops to go to Fort Rupert and to use military means to recapture the Headquarters.
Therefore, from the military standpoint, I must unreservedly accept responsibility for what happened. I so do. It is a very heavy responsibility given the magnitude of the events and given my youthfulness and immaturity at the time. But it is one I must bear.
I know it is terribly difficult for many Grenadians to forgive what happened, and particularly so for those who lost loved ones. Indeed, it is only in the last 36 months that I have finally been able to forgive this, and myself with a lot of help from my family, some dear friends and several spiritual leaders. But still, I seek the understanding of all Grenadians as to the extremely, almost impossibly difficult situation which I as a 25-year-old Lieutenant Colonel had to face up to in 1983.
Once again I express my profound regrets and apologies for the consequences of my actions."
Ewart Layne was one of four prisoners interviewed in 1999 on GBN by Leslie Pierre and others. He was released 5 September 2009. See Grenada 17.