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ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: AN ART, HISTORY, CULTURE TOUR 1 - CREATIVE SPACE #13 OF 2018
Thursday 8th November 2018

Written by Joanne C. Hillhouse/Sponsored by Barbara Arrindell & Associates

War: The Exhibition is on at Government House. That was my first stop. The well-presented exhibition is small, taking up relatively little room in the historic building, but informative.  On display are helmets worn in World Wars 1 and ll, images of the young Antiguan and Barbuda servicemen, news copy reflecting the tensions of the times, paraphernalia like wartime cigarette and chocolate boxes, literature and letters; all combining to make you feel the spark of history you’ve probably not felt as you passed by the war memorial at East Bus Station but which might make you want to visit that symbol to pay your own tributes. That is because the exhibition does make you look in to the face of the eager young men, then subjects of Britain, eager to fight and distinguishing themselves in battle, whether in the 1st British West India Regiment  (side note: there actually is a British West India regiment going back to 1795 but this is what these 20th century servicemen were called) or the Royal Air Force or some other division, and in to the cost of that war – the ones who never made it home, the mother laying a wreath. And with a poem like In Flanders Field posted and poppies on sale, there’s a pointed reminder. Do you know that story? How the poppies were the first things to bloom on a field in Belgium where soldiers had been buried during World War l, and how they have been used ever since in Remembrance.  Seeing the sons and daughters (men like Sylvester Edwards who transported prisoners of war across Egypt in 1944 and Leah Nanton whose unpublished manuscript Bassie WWll Memories of an Island Girl in the British Army is also on display) – yes, there were women in service as well – of the West Indies in the pictures and on the video does bring it home in a truly poignant way.

Sixteen thousand enlisted in 1915, no conscription needed. The distinct bravery of those who made it to the front – some didn’t, for instance losing limbs to frostbite en route – was commented on. A sad footnote is that they didn’t get to participate in the victory parade after World War 1 due to what’s referred to as the Taranto Mutiny of 1918 where at Camp Cimino in Italy they encountered discriminatory behaviour and were made to perform demeaning tasks (not the only racialized aspect of their service that the exhibition will have you reflecting on). They refused. Things got violent. The mutiny lasted four days and at the end six men were tried, 47 found guilty, and one sentenced to death – later commuted to 20 years. They were not permitted to participate in the Victory Day Parade in London in 1919. Rather, they were escorted back to the Caribbean under armed guard. They did receive a warm welcome at home but their reputation had been damaged. Of course, this footnote notwithstanding our men and women went on to distinguished service in WWll.

If you’re reading this in early November, please note, that the Exhibition will run to November 15th, 9 am to 3 pm, Monday to Friday. It’s free but you can buy a poppy and/or make a contribution to the Ex-Serviceman’s Association of Antigua and Barbuda. There will also be two lectures by the executive officer of the British West India Committee on November 14th – the first, 9 am – 10 am.; and the second, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm If you’re reading this at any time after those dates and times, keep it in mind next time you pass by the Cenotaph i.e. the war memorial adjacent to the East Bus Station (don’t litter or damage it in any way) and remember our men and women who served.

This post, sponsored by Barbara Arrindell & Associates which offers human resources training, originally appeared on Jhohadli as a sponsored post; contact Jhohadli/Joanne C. Hillhouse if you wish to sponsor a future post in support of coverage of Antiguan and Barbudan arts and culture. All Rights Reserved.


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