It was a perfect day for a parade, as the sun shone brilliantly from azure skies. Seemed, heaven and nature were in one accord with the Remembrance Day service taking place at the cenotaph on Independence Avenue. And what a service it proved to be, especially since it was the first full-fledged service in two years. All the uniformed bodies were crisp and upbeat, never mind that the four soldiers standing at the four corners of the cenotaph looked appropriately somber – their heads bowed, as they stood sentry for the fallen.
This Remembrance Day service seemed to be one of hope – a hope that out of the dust and death of war there will be a brighter tomorrow. As always, the Antigua Barbuda Defence Force Band, wafted our spirits heavenward with stirring renditions of a number of beautiful hymns, and they led us in an inspired singing of O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST. Again, the theme of hope. It is just a shame that more Antiguan and Barbudan spectators were not on hand to pay honour to those who made the supreme sacrifice. Hopefully, there will be a bigger showing next year.
After the arrival of the Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, and the Governor General’s Deputy, Sir Clare Roberts, prayers were offered by the very Reverend Dwane Cassius, the Dean of the St John’s Cathedral, followed by a poignant recitation of that beautiful stanza from Laurence Binyon’s FOR THE FALLEN, by Ex-Serviceman, Peter Gordon, he of that extraordinary quality of voice and enunciation, “They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old; age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we WILL remember them.” Indeed!
After the last post, a two-minute silence, and the reveille, there was a moving wreath-laying ceremony, a rendering of the National Anthem, and a lovely interlude where Sir Clare Roberts personally greeted all the members of the Antigua and Barbuda Ex-Servicemen Association.
Of course, the Ex-Servicemen are all retired, but the battle is not done. True, it may not be a military conflict with artillery and ordnance, but it is a war nonetheless. A war for the hearts and minds of our young people. May they never stray from the paths of our Fathers. It is a war for the soul of our nation – may we ever fight that good fight for God and Country, seeking always to uplift those who are struggling. (See DULCE ET DECORUM EST, “It is sweet, and fitting and proper to die for one’s country,” by Wilfred Owen) (See also the closing paragraph from President John F Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. . . . With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”
Ours is a war against the forces of evil that wouldst fain divide and ultimately destroy us. A war in which we are called to “Gird up our loins, ever vigilant be, to curb injustice, graft and vagrancy . . .” [King Short Shirt, OUR PLEDGE]. Ours is a war against greed and malice and hate. It is a war against corruption. May we never concede, and may we never be so foolhardy as to “declare victory and go home.” After all, the struggle continues. . . .
King Short Shirt reminds us of that in one of his greatest songs, ILLUSION. Sings the King, “If you think the battle is done, my brother then you are riding an illusion, all illusion . . . We have no hold on this our native island / Our hands are tied, we don’t control our actions / So leh we forward together in a social endeavour / Our goal, social control / Only then we’ll slave no more / We’ll slave no more, we’ll stoop no more . . .” May we be inspired!
In his touching war poem, IN FLANDERS FIELDS, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae declares, “We are the Dead. Short days ago / We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow / Loved and were loved, and now we lie / In Flanders fields / Take up our quarrel with the foe: / To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high / If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.” It is a call for us to seize the torch, the baton, that has been passed to us. Those who fought for a betterment here in Antigua and Barbuda are depending on us to continue the fight. We ought not to let them down. We ought not to fail this generation or generations to come. Our ancestors call on us to “ . . . Pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe,” [President John Kennedy, INAUGURAL ADDRESS, January 20,196] to assure that Antigua and Barbuda will forever be that fair land where, “each will endeavour, and all will achieve.” [NATIONAL ANTHEM]
We wish to thank all those Antiguans and Barbudans who, in whatever field, have served our dear Antigua and Barbuda with distinction and honour. You have “fought the fight, kept the faith, and finished your course.” [2 Timothy 4: 7–8]. We shall forever utter your names with reverence and respect. We shall hold you dear in memoriam. And yes, we are now inspired to man the ramparts and secure the battlements.
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