Remembering Our War Veterans
Hello Again, St. Lucia,
After a reflective week of shared pain about the untimely death of Janny and the
unfortunate loss of the little ones of Lady Spice, we must turn our attention to
the challenges of daily living.
It is that time of the year when, once more, we have to participate in an
activity that is sixty years old, but whose significance is lost to our younger
generation. I speak of the activities on Remembrance Day, next Sunday, November
Some must wonder why, every year around this time, war veterans display their
medals and participate in the commemorative parades; or, why this particular day
in the month of November every year is called Remembrance Day; or, why the Red
Poppy goes on sale at this time every year; or, why the veterans gather around
that white structure on the Square called the Cenotaph, on which several names
and dates are inscribed.
For King and Country…
The veterans of whom I speak participated in the two World Wars of the last
century, a few in the First World War of 1914-1918 and others in the Second
World War of 1939-45. They left these shores, served in different countries and
fought different battles, but against a common enemy.
Britain was at war, and as St. Lucia was a British colony inhabited by British
subjects, St. Lucia was also at war. Our veterans made sacrifices in the name of
King and Country.
Remembering Those Who Didn’t Return
When these survivors of World War II get together on the Derek Walcott Square
after attending mass on Remembrance Day, they do so not only to meet and greet
each other, but also to recall valour and sacrifice on the altar of death. They
also get together to remember those who did not survive, those who served with
them and did not return. And they are not alone. As we also see each year at
this time on TV, throughout the world, on both sides of the Atlantic, similar
activities are held to remember those who fought and died in the two World Wars.
Humble and Committed Service
The veterans in St. Lucia belong to the British Ex-Services League. Every year,
they are brought together, largely through the efforts of their humble and
committed Secretary, Mrs. Dorothy Pilgrim, who enlisted in the Auxiliary
Services during World War II.
Year after year, Mrs. Pilgrim and her fellow veterans work tirelessly to
encourage the society to remember their efforts and their contributions to the
cause of freedom. Every year they toil, unfazed by the fact that many others
turn their backs and even ridicule them. Mrs. Pilgrim perseveres in the cause of
these men and women, though, with each passing year, it becomes harder and
harder. Her commitment, though weakened, endures. She deserves our admiration,
respect and most important of all, our SUPPORT.
The Red Poppy and “Flanders Field”
Remembrance Day is celebrated in the month of November for historical reasons.
That is the month when red poppies go on sale at various locations. These red
poppies symbolize the eternal strength of the spirit of those who died during
the wars. It has its origins in a poem called “In Flanders Field”, which was
written by Dr John Mc Crae in May 1915, during the First World War.
The story of the Red Poppy is interesting. Poppies are resilient. They only grow
in uprooted soil. Their seeds can lie in the ground for years, only to sprout
when that soil is disturbed or ploughed. Dr Mc Crae, who fought on the Western
Front, was in a field of flowering poppies in Flanders when he wrote this poem,
which has basically become one of the anthems of the veterans of both World
Wars. Since then, the Poppy has been adopted as the symbol for Remembrance Day.
Unfortunately, as the memories of the World Wars fade so too has the symbolism
of the poppy lost its appeal.
Once upon a time children were encouraged to go out and see the parades on
Remembrance Day. Together with their parents, they gathered around the Square.
Others followed the uniformed police, members of the Cadet Corps, visiting
regiments from other countries, unarmed contingents like the St. Lucia Fire
Service, the St. Lucia Red Cross, the Boys Scout Association and the Ex-Services
League, through the streets of Castries.
Today, however, the numbers are dwindling and interest in Remembrance Day seems
to be waning. Poppy sales are not like they used to be. As a result, the income
from public donations, on which our veterans depend, has declined significantly.
But Not All Are Forgotten…
Just a few days ago I heard Mrs. Pilgrim appealing to the public, as usual, to
remember the veterans. This year, she made a special case for one destitute old
soldier who has become homeless and who, she said, “now lives in a basket.” He
is not alone. Many of the old veterans today feel forgotten, rejected and
neglected. Many walk the streets in penury; and many die after a life in misery.
We must remember them.
I was quite pleased earlier this year when Mr. Martin Thompson, a member of the
Royal British Legion who is resident in Germany, visited St. Lucia to join us in
paying special tribute to four St. Lucian war veterans whose bodies never made
it home. The location of their remains had been a mystery for quite some time.
Mr. Thompson and the members of the local British Ex-Services League, led by
Mrs. Pilgrim, organized a Memorial Service for the four young men, aged between
19 and 34, whose names are inscribed on the Cenotaph on Derek Walcott Square.
The four men honoured were: Flying Officer Hugh Terrence Etienne, a Royal Air
Force volunteer who has no known grave, but in whose name a plaque exists at a
War Grave in Surrey; David Shingleton-Smith, also of the Royal Air Force
Reserve, who died at age 19 and is buried at the Cheltenham Cemetery in the UK;
Flight Sergeant Henry Eugene Middleton Dulieu, a Flight Navigator with the Royal
Air Force Reserve who died at age 34; and Denis Claude Desmond DuBoulay, a Pilot
Officer and Air Gunner with the Royal Canadian Air Force, who died at age 20.
Mr Thompson, who researches and traces the history of fallen soldiers from the
wars, confirmed that both Flight Sergeant Dulieu and Pilot Officer DuBoulay are
buried at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Berlin in Germany. His research has
helped to solve several family puzzles and restore restless minds to peace.
“Sixty years of Tomorrows…”
The veterans remind us that those who died “left without seeing tomorrow”; and
that they did so “to give us 60 years of tomorrows.” The veterans everywhere
pledge, every year, that those who never made it “will not be forgotten, because
there will always be more tomorrows.”
Guarding Our Freedom Jealously…
But there’s also a more powerful message from their gathering: it is, that we
must guard our freedom jealously and fearlessly because it is precious.
These elderly men and women, who wear their medals with pride every year, were
moved to put their lives on the line because they felt their freedom was at
stake, even though they lived under a colonial yoke. Some of them remind us,
with wagging fingers, that if Hitler had taken over Britain, France and the rest
of Europe, the course of world history would have changed -- and our history
too, would have been different. Indeed, I am often reminded of a late veteran
who used to say that “had it not been for the Russians, we would have been
speaking German in these islands today.”
Nazism: A Common Threat
Some may argue that the two World Wars were wars between Colonial and Imperial
powers of the day. That may have been so, but the undisputable fact is that
Hitler wanted to impose on the world a virulent theology of racism that
threatened every Black man, woman and child on every continent. The Jews were
the first; the Black race was next!
Remembering the Forgotten!
So, buying a poppy is not just an act of remembrance. The proceeds go to the
Ex-Services League to assist its members. By wearing a poppy during this period,
we are demonstrating our appreciation for those who died and for those who have
survived. By contributing to the Ex-Services League, we are helping desperate
old soldiers like the one who Mrs. Pilgrim so graphically described as “living
in a basket.”
So, let us all join them and pay tribute to those alive and those who did not
survive. Let us turn out at the Remembrance Day parades this coming Sunday and
talk to the “old soldiers”. Ask them to recount their stories and give them a
listening ear. Spend a few minutes with them. Listen to their stories. Do not
wound their pride.
Mrs. Dorothy Pilgrim and the Ex-Services League need your help, our help. So,
buy a poppy and give a helping hand.
Until next week, may God Bless our Veterans of the two World Wars and the souls
of those who have since departed.