Thursday, April 25, 2024

Unforgettable experience


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IT WAS NOVEMBER 30, 1966, and the atmosphere at the Garrison Savannah for the pivotal flag-raising ceremony was lively and loud.

A young and sprightly Guye Wiltshire had joined the police force only a month before, on October 15. As an officer in training, he was still in khaki shorts and was overwhelmed by the number of Barbadians who had turned out that night.

Trying to seem like a force of authority, the new recruit stood tall before a barricade that was the only obstacle separating him from the boisterous crowd.

“I was there to help restore law and order. The crowd was very rowdy and excited so we had to keep them under control and behind the barricades.”

Guye laughs as he recounts, “But when the Union Jack flag came down, the crowd became more excited than before and when the Barbados flag went up, the crowd went absolutely crazy! Spectators screamed, ‘Out with England! Out with England! Our flag! Our flag!’”

Guye chuckles as he recalls the events of that momentous night. Although it was 48 years ago, he remembers everything down to the smallest details of that historical occasion.

“It had rained the day before and earlier that day too. I remember because there was a parade and the horses didn’t perform very well because the ground was so muddy. The horses kept sliding all over the place because they couldn’t keep their balance properly. Yes, I remember everything!”

He even remembers the exact words of a particularly enthusiastic spectator who stood near him.

“The woman was at the front of the crowd screaming, ‘Look the Union Jack coming down! Look the Barbados flag going up! Look! Look!’ And she started to jump and bawl!” Guye recalls, laughing at the memory.

At 19 years old, the St Philip native did not understand the great significance of the momentous event at the time.

“I was focused on following orders. I saw the flag go up, too, but at that age I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to really understand what it meant. I was just trying to restrain the crowd because the Sergeant warned us the crowd would be very excited. The older folks were going crazy, but the children there didn’t seem to know to know what was going on. But, of course, in hindsight I understand it was a very big deal.”

When he moved to New York City in 1981 to seek better opportunities, he came to appreciate all the experiences and opportunities he had once taken for granted while growing up in Barbados. He especially learned that having an education was an advantage in the United States although he had to start over in a new country.

“I was a cop for more than 14 years in Barbados, but in New York I was a chef at first, rose through the ranks, and later became a security guard. What hurt me was that some of the black people I met along the way could not read nor write. At work they used to bring their cheques to me to verify that they got paid right. Some of them could write but barely write, just write their name and that was it. So what was and still is positive about Barbados is the education system. The rate of literacy is extremely high and the people are very highly educated.”

He also emphasises the role Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow played in Barbados’ progress from Independence till the present day.

He enthuses, “Of course, the architect behind Independence was Errol Barrow, who accomplished so much for Barbados. He not only did a lot in education but he had a hand in the National Insurance Scheme in 1967 too.”

Guye also notes the important role the Father of Independence played in fighting social injustice and prejudice.

He continues, “I also remember at one point all of the bank clerks were fair-skinned or had a high colour, or knew someone high up in Government but when Barrow got into power he worked hard to make it more equal for everyone.”

Despite Barbadians’ faith in their leader and general excitement leading up to the flag-raising ceremony, Guye recalls there were a few naysayers who were fearful of the idea of an independent Barbados.

“I remember someone wrote in the newspaper and said we couldn’t handle independence. People said things like, ‘If we become independent a lot of people will suffer’. But most people were excited and felt certain that Barbadians could come together and support each other instead of depending on England so much. And, of course, that was true.”

Guye is satisfied with the developments of Barbados since Independence but he feels dismay at the recent economic hardships.

“Barbados has progressed a lot since then but over the past few years it’s clearly been very tough for the country. Back in the day politicians like Errol Barrow looked after the masses of the nation. They put the people first. I think Barbados needs a strong leader like that again.”


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