In recent years, the Remembrance Day ceremony in Dominica has been a very important part of post-Independence celebrations for me. As one of a small number of Canadians on island, I have in recent times found myself in the public area facing the Cenotaph at 8 a.m. on the Sunday closest to November 11th (which in 2014 falls on a Tuesday).
This year, I felt particularly strong about making a quiet presence at this special annual service. Although I am far away from my `home and native land,“ I was deeply affected by the recent terrorist attacks there in which two Canadian soldiers were killed in two separate incidents. At the same time, I was (am) tremendously proud of my countrymen and women, who collectively took a firm stand against such horrific acts in a society with an international reputation for peace. While the deaths of these servicemen is truly tragic, Canadians will not now or ever be intimidated by those with a propensity for violence and hatred. My attendance at this important function seems to strengthen my personal resolve for a peaceful and loving way of life, not just for myself, but for everyone on the planet.
With a `poppy“ on one lapel and a Canadian flag pin attached to the other, I drove in to Roseau at about 7:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. I parked a short distance away from the site of the service, and as I approached I could see formally attired police officers standing in strict and straight alignment while the Music Lovers` Government Band warmed up their instruments nearby. Along with a few other members of the public, I positioned myself in Peebles Park, directly opposite the Cenotaph. From there, I had a good view of the proceedings and could observe the dignitaries and the laying of the wreaths.
As soon as Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and President Charles Savarin and Mrs. Savarin were in their places, two minutes of silence was immediately observed with a single rifle shot. and then another to signal the end of that special time period. Immediately afterwards, a beautiful rendition of `The Last Post“ was sweetly played by a trumpeter in the Government Band. I really thought that I would get through this service without shedding a tear, but that was not to be the case. As I fondly thought of my father and paternal grandfather, both Canadian servicemen, I had to lower my eyes and hold a tissue close to my face. Remembrance Day is an occasion that has always moved me deeply.
Right away, numerous wreaths were laid, commencing with the President and then followed by the Prime Minister. Other members of the House of Assembly, the Chief of Police, Official Dignitaries, Relatives of the Fallen, the Red Cross and various youth organizations each took their turn in paying respects to the sons of Dominica`s soil who had fallen in World Wars 1 and 2. I was thankful to have carried a portable radio with ear buds so that I could listen to the live commentary on DBS Radio by notable Dominican historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch. I really
appreciated his description of the ceremony and the steady stream of anecdotes about the impact of World War 1 and 2 on Dominica. (You can read about these events in his book, The Dominica Story: A History of the Island (MacMillan:1995)). None of the few surviving veterans was able to attend the ceremony, but it was heartwarming to see that they were in fact represented by family members.
It was also a pleasure to listen to the clergy from different faiths speaking at this ecumenical service. I enjoyed the familiar, such as `They shall not grow old…`as well as the unfamiliar: Revelations 21: 1-7. I really liked hearing Joel St. Rose, representative of the Anglican Church recite `The Collects`: …for those who gave their lives in war;…for peace…; …and for the nation.
As always, I sang along with the small gathering to the well-known hymns `The Lord is my Shepherd,“and “O God Our Help in Ages Past,“ which were accompanied by the St. Alphonsus Folk Choir.
By the time the trumpet Reveille rang out and a verse of the Dominica National Anthem was played by the Government Band, I was ready for what I consider to be the most enjoyable part of the program: the March Past. I positioned myself at street level, directly opposite the Prime Minister and President. I really did smile broadly as I admired the various participants of all ages, who represented police and fire officers, the legionnaires, and a number of youth clubs, including Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.
When the assembly had departed, I walked over to the cenotaph and took a few more photos of the lovely wreaths. Then I bowed my head in solitary prayer, giving thanks for all the men and women who gave their lives during previous conflicts, who selflessly served their countries for want of a better world, for those who continue to serve and protect, and most of all, asking for PEACE, everywhere on the planet, please.
*In memory of my family members who unhesitatingly served in the name of peace: my father, RCAF Flying Officer William E. Whitford (1926 – 1991) and my grandfather, Frederick W. Whitford, (1899-1980), British Army (WWI), RCEME (WWII). I miss you and I love you forever. R.I.P.