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Memories of Independence

A younger Smokey Burke

by William Smokey Burke

My favourite Independence memory would have to be of the very first one! At 16 years of age, I was quite aware of the significance of the event.

I had been prepped intentionally and unintentionally both at school and at home. So when I was chosen to be part of the celebrations by the #1 Harrison College Cadet Corps, I was in Bajan parlance, fussy!

Then came a disappointment: I would not be marching with the cadets, but I would be a lit-baton-swinging, dressed-in-white-down-to-white-aced pumps and-not-in-a-cadet uniform participant. With Keith Ashby in charge of the entire lit baton production at our school, I would eventually get over it as we practised very often for the special night.

To digress a bit: I had been kicked out of the cadets one year prior for fighting, if my memory serves me correctly. I subsequently joined the Barbados Regiment, the precursor of today’s Defence Force; I joined because lots of my Britton’s Hill buddies had. How was I to know that if you attended a school with a cadet corps then you had to be a member of the said unit once you were a member of the aforesaid Regiment?

I was (reluctantly I guess) then re-admitted to the Number 1 Corps and by this time I had become a serious drummer as I was also a member of the Regiment’s band! I eventually became lead drummer (again more reluctance) but I was good at it! Thus I wanted so badly to be playing for the combined Cadet band, especially as lead drummer. It was not to be.

However, I can still remember and feel the excitement as the buildup happened; not just at school but because everyone had their particular concept as to what Independence meant. There was of course the very vocal naysayers, both political and the everyday Bajan, known for his outspokenness!

Jamaica had gone this route and so too had Trinidad & Tobago. When Prime Minister of T&T, Eric Williams, made his eternally famous quote, “One from 10 equals nought”, it only seemed natural that we would follow as we did. Many, both here and abroad, were very vocal in their belief that we were too small to cut it as an independent state.

When the Federation was gloriously started right through to its ignominious end, I was as aware as any young, fairly sensible child of the time could have been. My father was a journalist at the Advocate on Broad Street and my Uncle Walter was already a ranking government employee so there was lots of information that I either was told or overheard.

By the time Independence Day was on its way, my father was now a Hansard reporter in the House of Assembly and my uncle was somewhere between the PM’s office and Ministry of External Affairs. I had no choice but to be caught up!

To add to all this, I had been taught at HC by either British teachers or British-indoctrinated teachers. I was so ready for the Broken Trident!! I am now wondering if it might have stepped on any imperialist toes in my delight at the time!

My entire household was filled with excitement as we all had a part to play in the evening’s proceedings. I cannot remember exactly what my father’s duty was that night, but I do remember my grandmother fussing about what she was wearing to the Garrison. She had only just received her MBE from Her Majesty the Queen herself at Government House a few months prior.

Of course the rain fell most of the week leading up to November 30, 1966; it didn’t fall much during the special day but by late evening/early night, the entire Garrison Savannah was waterlogged. White Ace had been applied in vain! For those who don’t know: White Ace was a liquid which was applied to your sneakers or pumps to make them look brand new. When they were soiled, you actually washed your soft shoes, as they were called back then, and then applied the White Ace (imported from Britain) after they dried.

As the actual moment arrived where the British flag was lowered, there was a very slight tinge of sadness on my part. However, it was quickly replaced by the most amazing sense of freedom I have ever felt even to this day, as Prime Minister Errol Barrow raised the Broken Trident. Here it was that all 166 square miles of Barbados, just as Independent as great big America!

Smokey never got to play his precious snare drum but he was an integral part of the first Independence Celebrations! What a memory!

Would Barbados make it? Some humps and bumps along the way but so far so good!

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