REMEMBRANCE Day, also known informally as Poppy Day, has special significance this year because it marks the centenary of the end of the First World War. After four long years of what became known as The Great War, the Armistice took effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. In November each year events are held to remember and honour those in the armed forces of Commonwealth countries who died in the line of duty. They also serve as a reminder of the horrors of warfare and the degradation and waste of human life.
In Britain, elaborate ceremonies are underway this month. In addition to the national wreath laying at the Cenotaph in central London, the march past by veterans, the two-minute silence and the playing of the Last Post, there is a separate tribute, among others, to the fallen and wounded at a special Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey.
Here in The Bahamas this year, as well as the traditional Remembrance Day service in Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday followed by a wreath laying ceremony in the Garden of Remembrance, other special events have been organised by the Royal British Legion – Bahamas Branch in partnership with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to mark the centenary.
As this newspaper’s own tribute in commemoration of such an important milestone, we publish today a supplement about the contribution in World War I of volunteers from British colonies in the West Indies who joined the British West Indies Regiment, specially formed in 1915, and served in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. These included Sir Etienne Dupuch amongssome 700 volunteers from The Bahamas. Newly colourised images of the original black and white photographs show, in particular, the stark reality of the terrible conditions of life in the trenches in France during the largely static war of attrition on the Western Front.
There is a continuing debate in Europe about how long succeeding generations should continue to mourn the casualties of a war that took place so long ago. Some people argue that what has been termed an act of communal melancholy during the dark and doleful days of autumnal falling leaves and oncoming winter is no longer appropriate as survivors of the so-called war to end all wars are long since dead themselves and memories have faded in the modern world.
Conversely, we believe that such commemorations have become increasingly important – not only because they apply to subsequent warfare so that we now remember as well those who lost their lives or were wounded during the Second World War and numerous other conflicts, but also that unless new generations are reminded of the mistakes and misjudgments of the past they and their leaders are doomed to repeat them.
To the young, in an era when the teaching of history tends to be neglected so that they are all too often ignorant of the past, it must be almost beyond comprehension that during the first half of the last century two world wars precipitated wholesale destruction on a practically global scale and resulted in unimaginable cruelty and suffering and the deaths and maiming of untold millions.
It is admirable in our small nation that the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies are organised so well with suitable solemnity and dignity as a national commemoration of those who became casualties.
The government plays its role, and we commend the work of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force under the effective leadership of Commodore Tellis Bethel. Bahamians should also be especially grateful to the Royal British Legion – Bahamas Branch and its long-serving administrator, Adina Munroe, for her dedication, commitment and efficiency during so many years.
The British Legion was founded in 1921 as a charity to provide financial, social and emotional support to the surviving veterans of the Armed Forces and their dependants in Britain and the countries of the Commonwealth; and the Bahamas Branch has played an important role and been notably effective over a long period in helping and supporting our own veterans in various different ways.
It should also be noted that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, established by Royal Charter in 1917 to commemorate in perpetuity the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died during both world wars, is active in The Bahamas. It owns and administers the Nassau War Cemetery, previously known as the Royal Air Force Cemetery, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1944 by the then colonial Governor, the Duke of Windsor.
In addition to today’s supplement and our tribute to the fallen and to the volunteers who chose to go to war, we take this opportunity to salute all those who play a role in continuing here at home the annual remembrance of the brave souls – most importantly our fellow Bahamians - who were wounded or gave their lives for their countries as the ultimate sacrifice.