Saturday, June 20, 2009

They fought for a freedom which we now enjoy

By Thomson Fontaine

“They fought for a freedom, which we now enjoy.” This according to Baroness Patricia Scotland, Attorney General of the United Kingdom as she addressed participants at an event honoring the brave men and women of the Caribbean who fought alongside the British during the two world wars.
Caribbean glory
Honorees including Thompson, Cross, and Christian along with the authors of caribbean Glory, Baroness Scotland, and other military personel.

Caribbean Glory as the event was called brought together diplomats, soldiers, government leaders, and ordinary people as they celebrated the sacrifice of the thousands of Caribbean nationals who fought and died in the pursuit of freedom.

The brain child of Dominicans Gabriel Christian and Justice Irving Andre, with co-sponsorship from the Institute of Caribbean Syudies (ICS), Caribbean Glory will long be remembered for bringing together the aging heroes of World War II together with the young and old in a once in a lifetime celebration at Andrews Airforce Base just outside Washington DC.

Participants were moved with the stirrings of patriotic fervor and relished in the company of three of the remaining soldiers and airmen who were able to make it to the ceremony.

Ninety-two year old Justice Ulrich Cross, who led a spitfire squadron over the skies of Europe, flying over eighty sorties, recounted the surprise of the British people when they heard them speaking English.

Cross, who was personally pinned with the Distinguished Flying Order (DFC) by King George at Buckingham Palace, also received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFO) for his bravery and performance during the war. Of the two hundred and fifty airmen who joined from Trinidad and Tobago, fifty-two were killed in action.

During the evening, a film made by the British War Office in 1942 highlighting the role of the West Indian soldier was screened. It showed Cross and hundreds of West Indians engaged in the war effort. This included flying planes, cutting timber, caring for the wounded, radio operators, machinists, and a range of other professions where they served with honor and distinction.

Another honoree at the evening’s event was ninety-two year old Dudley Thompson of Jamaica, himself an airman during the campaign. He spoke of the pride, dignity and discipline, displayed by the Caribbean soldier as they fought during the dark days of the campaign.

Eighty-eight year-old Wendell Christian, who enlisted in the Caribbean forces and was garrisoned in St Lucia and Grenada, as they prepared for shipment overseas, vividly described the pride with which Caribbean people united around the British cause.

Although not present at the event, the daring and heroic story of Cy Grant was told. Shot down over Holland, interrogated by the dreaded Gestapo, this son of Guyana was able to survive prisoner of war camp and was liberated by the advancing Red Army in 1945. When caught, the unbelieving Germans took a look at his dark complexion and publicized his photo in a national Nazi paper with the caption: “A Captured RAF Officer of Indeterminable Race.”

Baroness Scotland, who was born in Dominica, told the honorees: “I needed to come to say thank you, thank you on behalf of my country, the United Kingdom. They (the soldiers) did not ask to go, they chose to go to fight for people they did not know, for people who might not acknowledge their equality or their humanity.”

The story of the Caribbean soldier and his sacrifice is well chronicled in the book “For King and Country” co-authored by Gabriel Christian and Justice Irving Andre. Already, many are hailing the book as a fascinating account of a story that has not before been told, but needs to be told.

The book, in addition to revealing the exploits of the brave men and women details how, coming out of the campaign, a new breed of leadership was born, which would go on to serve the Caribbean with distinction.

Those who served in World War I, such as Norman Washington Manley (Jamaica), Captain Arthur Cipriani (Trinidad), and Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler (Grenada/Trinidad) went on to become leaders for beneficial social change which enhanced freedom and democracy in the British West Indies.

Cy Grant would go on to become a lawyer and brilliant actor. Grant was the first person of color to have a show on BBC. He acted alongside notables of the stage such as Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton. Ulrich Cross also practiced law and served as Attorney General in the Cameroon, and Chief Justice in Tanzania, Ghana and Trinidad and Tobago.

Dudley Thompson, also a lawyer and Rhodes Scholar famously defended Jomo Kenyata of Kenya and served for many years as a minister of government in Jamaica. Wendell Christian, the father of Gabriel Christian returned to Dominica rising to the most senior position in the country’s fire service.

According to Baroness Scotland, “In fighting for our freedom they lit a flame, they brought the flame home, a flame that has never been extinguished.”

Now, the bearers of this flame including the organizers of Caribbean Glory, if last night’s event is any gauge, will continue to shine the light forth as we celebrate and pay tribute to the indomitable spirit, determination and accomplishments of the Caribbean person.

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I agree that this tribute was long overdue. Thanks to the brave men and women who fought and to gabe and Andre for pulling together a world class tribute!
I agree a wonderful thing to honour those who shaped our future, in some cases they gave their life for our tomorrow, let us hope the sacrifices made in their heroic and brave service for our future is not eroded further by Skerrit and his bobol, sorry but it had to be said.

in a small village in the UK I saw the follwing whilst on holiday there many years ago, it was a small senotaph to fallen heroes, it said "is it nothing to you all ye that pass by, for our tomorrow they gave their yesterday"

Dominca can be proud of the sacrifices made by these courageaous men.
We are thankful for the call to action from Mr Gabriel Christian and Justice Irving Andre to honor the sacrifice of these courageous men.

We are indebted to all those who had the courage to "stand tall" for "courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to act while facing fear."

Thank you, Nuf Respect

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