Lest we forget

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Lest we forget our brave men and women who went off to fight for God and country, we wear the poppies as a solemn reminder. And every year, we hold a Remembrance Day Service to honour their supreme sacrifice. They were fighting for the freedoms that we now enjoy, and sadly, they paid for those freedoms with their lives.

Their sainted names are inscribed on the cenotaph on Independence Avenue, and those who were yet boys, their names are also inscribed on the cenotaph at the Antigua Grammar School. Laurence Binyon sums up our resolve to always remember them when he declares in his great poem, FOR THE FALLEN, “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.” Those moving words were recited beautifully by Ex-Serviceman Peter Gordon at this past Sunday’s Remembrance Day Service.

The day dawned bright and fair, not a cloud in the sky. It was perfect for a memorial service and parade. After the arrival of the Governor General, His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams, followed by the Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, the Dean of the St John’s Cathedral, the Very Reverend Dwayne Cassius, delivered solemn sentences and a prayer that will long resonate with the gathering, as will the beautiful rendering of O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST.

The military band was outstanding, superb, as were the four sentries at the four corners of the cenotaph – so very crisp and sharp with the execution of their drills. And don’t talk about the Defense Force soldiers, the Royal Antigua Barbuda Police Force, the fire fighters, and all the other service men and women on parade. They were crisp, sharp, and we are ever so proud of them.

This writer, a member of the Antigua and Barbuda Ex-Servicemen Association, got goosebumps at the sounding of the last post, the reveille and the somber two-minute silence. It was a tender moment of reflection and introspection. What are we doing, in our little corners, to make this world a better place? What are we doing to lift those who have fallen, and can no longer lift themselves? What are we doing to honour those upon whose shoulders we now stand? It was certainly a call to arms, a call for us to “gird our loins and join the battle.” [NATIONAL ANTHEM]

After the laying of the wreaths by the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition (Senator Jonathan Joseph stood-in for the Honourable Jamale Pringle), the British High Commission representative, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Chief of Defence Staff – Colonel Telbert Benjamin, the Commissioner of Police – Mr Atlee Rodney, the President of the Antigua and Barbuda Ex-Servicemen Association, Johnson Browne, the National Cadet Corp, the Nurses Association, and the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross, Sir Rodney Williams greeted the Ex Servicemen, and a number of other service groups, thanking us all for our service. That too was a tender and special moment.

What was quite heartening to see was that everyone in attendance, parade participants, as well as onlookers, was wearing a poppy. What a sight – a symbol of remembrance as well as hope – hope that the world will never again be consumed by the sorts of conflicts (World War I: 1914 – 1918, and World War II: 1939 – 1945), that left the battle-scarred fields of Europe drenched with blood. The poppies, springing up in Flanders Field, and the scorched earth of Belgium and Northern France, after World War I, were supposed to be a symbol of hope that mankind would never again engage in such wilfull and reckless blood-letting. Alas! Seems, we are not learning the lessons of history. The Russia-Ukraine conflict, as well as the orgy of killings in the Middle East, are sure signs that we still have a way to go when it comes to resolving our differences.

Of course, we here in Antigua and Barbuda are not engaged in a military confrontation, heaven forfend, but we still have a fight on our hands. Ours is a fight for justice and equity, a fight for a fairer and brighter Antigua and Barbuda, a fight where ‘each can endeavour, and all can achieve.’ [NATIONAL ANTHEM]. The baton has been passed to us, as John McCrae so eloquently shares in his classic war poem, 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 . . .” May we take up the quarrel with the foe – “fear, hate and poverty.” [NATIONAL ANTHEM]

May this Remembrance Day 2023 be one that we shall not soon forget. May we be inspired.

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