Remembering marching season & Dominica’s National Day

Dominica Grammar School students on parade

In the middle of my busy day on the last day of October 2023, I got a call from electrical engineer Adenauer “Washway” Douglas. Washway, as he is fondly known, is a member of www.rebuildddominica.org and former Mayor of Portsmouth. The younger brother of the late Prime Minister Rosie Douglas, said:

Gabe, where are the cadets? It is the school parade in Portsmouth and the cadets have been there for the past decade or more? People are excited running from street to street at the students marching by. 

See here – NORTHERN YOUTH RALLY MARCH PASS 2023 – BrBpTV – YouTube

Douglas spoke with an encouraging pride at a time when too many of our young people go wayward and have departed from the patriotic seasoning we once knew. He was well aware that his older brother, Prime Minister Rosie Douglas had given a letter to former cadet lieutenant Francis Richards to revive the Dominica Cadet Corps on or about March 12, 2000. Rosie, a former cadet sergeant from his time at the Dominica Grammar School (DGS) in the 1950s, felt that the cadet program could inspire our young in patriotic endeavor and create a positive civic leadership that could later govern a more integrity driven, organized and disciplined country. I explained that they were maybe tired from their exertions assisting at the Creole Festival a day or two before.

 

The Marching Season

The call from Douglas caused me to remember marching season that accompanied National Day time on Dominica.  Dominica was a former garrison island steeped in martial tradition of Kalinago warriors and Maroon freedom fighters. Our island was one with rusting cannons from the 18th and 19th centuries in various areas of our forests. We had Fort Young at Roseau and Fort Shirley at Portsmouth – giving proof to that heritage of things military. And on many occasions in my tender years visiting Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines would march through Roseau, invite students to visit the warships on which they came, or play friendly football matches with the national side.

It was in that ferment of marching soldiers, sailors, policemen, boy scouts, cub scouts, girl guides, Red Cross volunteers, Brownies, cadets, and students that we had grown up. As a result, almost every Dominican child knew how to drill, and it was a thrill to represent your school on that big marching day – National Day.

The flag party of the Dominica Cadet Corps (circa, 2005). The cadet program started at the Dominica Grammar School in 1910 and imparted the tradition of drill to generations of our students.

In the 1960s and 1970s,marching season came in the last two weeks of October as we got ready, with feverish activity, for the big parade on November 3rd – what we called National Day.  In the weeks before the big day , there would be two big rehearsals. Students  from the various schools around Roseau would march to the majestic Dominica Botanic Gardens  with the fragrance of the freshly cut grass bringing  a pungent freshness to the air.

Major Francis Richards, first commandant of the revived Dominica Cadet Corps and the former Commandant of the Dominica Cadet Corps of the 1970s – Major Earle Johnson (circa, 2005)

 

I started marching from my days at the Roseau Mixed Infant School. Our parents had marched on Empire Day when they sang lustily “Brittania! Britannia! Brittania rules the waves.” But my generation was born  of the period of profound pride in our beautiful Dominica and its people, and a greater West Indian nationalism.

Our song was “Isle of Beauty” with music by L.M. Christian and lyrics by W.O.M. Pond. The presiding Premier was the avid Dominican nationalist, agriculturist/poet, and nation builder Edward Oliver LeBlanc. After only five years in office, he had commissioned a book called Aspects of Dominican History  and the booklet on Dominica called “Dies Dominica” or Dominica Day. That book was edited by Dr. Edward Scobie and included an outstanding short story by renown local author Alick Lazare who –  as of this writing – has edited an excellent anthology of Dominican literature.

Scobie was a Caribbean patriot and Pan Africanist who had served as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force in World War II. While in the United Kingdom he had authored “Black Brittania,” the seminal work on the role of Blacks in the making of Britain. He later taught at Princeton University and City College of New York. That booklet (see attached) spoke to the commissioning of the Padua Hydropower electric station, the development of the Government Stock Farm and featured the new DGS building and the amenities it offered to an increased high school population.

 

Pride in Local Culture

Premier of Dominica Edward Oliver LeBlanc – Nation Builder & the architect of Dominican nationalism

Under LeBlanc, local creole culture thrived with the help of people like Mabel “Cissie” Caudeiron, the Siffleur Montagne Chorale, Raymond Lawrence and his Waitukubuli dance troupe, Rose Caines (LaRoque) who led La Belle Theatre, and a young up and coming cultural icon – Alwin Bully. In that cultural effervescence that accompanied marching season, the circular stage would be erected in the Botanic Gardens to allow the population to savor the bèlè, and quadrille dancers accompanied by the lapeau cabrit (goat skin) drums, mouth organs, bamboo horns, shak-shak (maracas) and accordions, along with songs, and poems in creole language. The Monsieur Crick-Crack” story telling competition would take place on the afternoon of National Day – following the early morning marching or parade of schools and uniformed groups.

That cultural ascendancy of all things, by, for and about Dominica and Dominicans gave us great pride and brought us joy in appreciating our people and unique island. Though we were of modest means, we had pride and self-respect second to none and we were surging forward as a new nation.

 

The local forces on parade on Statehood Day March 1st, 1967 – The day Dominica became an associated state with Britain.

 

The Pride of the Parade on National Day

When National Day came, we would wake up early – at about 6 a.m., grab a quick bush or cocoa tea, and some bakes, ackra or penny bread with cheese, sardines, corned beef, or fried balaw (a thin local fish about 6 inches in length with a long beak). Quickly, we donned our freshly pressed uniforms and made for the door. Later, in my days  as a member of the Dominica Cadet band, I would shine my boots, polish my bugle, and straighten my beret. Either our Mom, Dad or siblings would carry out inspections to make sure we were dressed right for the parade.

Dominica Cadet Corps Band member (bugler) Gabriel J. Christian (circa, 1974)

 In those early days refreshments were served after the parade. In the time before plastic cups and the like we brought our own cups from home. We would stow the cups (mostly made of enamel, others of tin) on our desks – some of us bringing big cups in the hope that we got more to drink. The drinks would be lime squash or grapefruit juice prepared by our teachers in big buckets, or soft drinks from the Coca Cola or Ju-C company. To eat we would have rough cake, milk buns or coconut turnovers from Eric’s Bakery. Eric’s Bakery had been started by the enterprising mechanical/automotive engineer Eric Shillingford who had perished from injuries sustained in the 1963 Carnival fire. His company had four depots scattered around Roseau and  an automated cake, bread, and crackers factory at Fond Cole.

The time we had been eagerly awaiting to show our prowess in drill was  now upon us, as we fell into formation in the school yard.

Attention!

We jumped into our lines.

Mark time!

Up with our knees. The marching beat was on, as called out by our teachers.

Quick march!

Off we would go. Arms swinging briskly under the early morning sun, people would rush out of their homes to cheer us on as we made our way through the streets of Roseau. Some local street characters such as Harold, V-8, Suzie-Muzie the tin cup maker, Maco and Cyrille would sometimes march alongside us, causing us to break into smiles. All the while the peanut and chewing-gum vendor “always in-a-short pants” Charlie-Moe would be following along, a basket with treats in hand, doing a brisk trade.

As we went marching along,  the city was abuzz with excitement and chattering voices. We could see other detachments of school children converging on the Botanic Gardens where the parade would be held. Coming down Constitution Hill were the girls of St. Martin’s School (led in those days by a stern Belgian nun called Sister Borgia), resplendent in their blue sleeveless dresses underneath which they wore white short-sleeve shirts.

Going east on Bath Road would be the detachment of the Roseau Girls School in green and white uniforms – with a small detachment of 8–9-year-old boys behind them. Yes, indeed, let history record that there was a class or two of boys at the Roseau Girls School.

Sir Louis Cools Lartigue – The first local governor of Dominica

With long strides and even more strident voices calling time, were the surging boys in blue shirts and khaki shorts of the legendary Roseau Boys School. Up Hillsborough Street they came from the old chateau that was their school home and then they took a right unto Bath Road, all the way to the Gardens.

At the crest of Bath Road, I could see the rear ranks of the Saint Mary’s Academy Cadet Corps in their blue berets with the golden crown as their crest. In there, somewhere was our oldest brother Wellsworth Christian (later Dominica’s first local born Chief Veterinary Officer) , with fellow cadets like Franklin Cuffy (later a Roman Catholic priest), Bobby Alport (later a construction engineer in Canada) and Eddy Charles (later a Brigadier General in the US Army).

 

 

Saint Mary’s Academy Cadet Corps on parade at the Dominica Botanic Gardens (circa, 1969)

In those days the marching event was an all-in-one National Day Parade of schools and uniformed groups. There was no  separate youth parade and military parade then. What were the unfirmed groups? They were Girl Guides, the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Brownies. Then we had the Dominica Fire Service (commonly called fire brigade), Red Cross, nurses, Boys Brigade, Dominica Defence Force, Royal Dominica Police Force, and the cadets as referenced earlier. The police in splendid white tunics and white pith helmets with a silver spike at the top, drilled with Springfield rifles, affixed to which were long silver bayonets that gleamed under the early morning sun.

 

The March Past

Our Governor was the local aristocrat and former public servant Sir Louis Cools-Lartigue. He wore a full white uniform, a thin sword at his side and a white helmet adorned with peacock feathers. Next to him was our Premier Edward Oliver LeBlanc in a dark suit he would soon exchange for the simple shirt-jack (guayabera).  With the rousing marching songs of the Music Lovers Government Band led by Hesketh Casimir (an outstanding musician and owner of Cee Bee Bookstore) intersperse with speeches, the march past was upon us. We straightened up and readied ourselves for the big test. We were determined to show our skill in drill and have our school be the best!

We strode off at the “quick march!” command and gave a smart “eyes right!” when the time came. The crowds roared as the uniformed groups and students came by the saluting dais with the Governor and next to him the Premier. Police officers would then be struggling to hold back the surging crowd, eager to mob the students with their adulation.

The legendary bandmaster of the Music Lovers Government Band – Hesketh Casimir

As we exited the parade, people would come up and pat us on the back. Some would shout greetings of “Well done!” Or decry the sloppy drill of a contingent and yell “Wash-out!” Wash-out meant that you had been shoddy in your drill.

Today, and always, I will remember the joy and pride we took in marching days. We took pride in our creed, of honor, duty, and country. We sang of noble things and yearned for better to come. Such rigor of discipline and organization set us up for success later in life. It made for a more orderly and law-abiding society in which crime was low and self-respect, and integrity was high.

As we look back, I ask all Dominicans to think of those glory days when we busied ourselves building our country and not selling ourselves cheap. Our quest for independence was born of the desire for liberty, prosperity, and a republic that we owned and could take pride in. Let us recapture that spirit of independence as we enter the marching season of 2023. In so doing we would imbue every proud stride taken with renewed meaning and purposeful living.

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5 Comments

  1. Tambawire
    November 21, 2023

    I really enjoyed reading Remembering marching season & Dominica’s National Day! A wave of nostalgia washed over me thinking of the scent of freshly cut green grass and the excitement caused by the beating 🥁 drums as we got ready to drill. 😄🙌🏾 I also recalled that refreshment time was one of the highlights of the year! 😆

    I remembered jumping in the rope as a Brownie and leading a troupe of Dominica Grammar School girls. Gabriel, your piece is vibrant and rich with history, and the reader is quickly immersed in the world of marching season. Thank you for allowing others to peek into the past and understand what it was like back then. In addition, thank you for helping me retrieve those wonderful memories! ❤️

  2. Harry MAC
    November 5, 2023

    Well written Gabu, it epitomizes the pleasant memories of our recent history, that many of us can testify to.
    What has gone wrong that in broad daylight that a people can be made to negate history that they are of to the whims and fancies of a man who did not participate or is even aware of such glorious times?
    Is it too late? Are our people too far gone that they are prepared to replace the conscious music of that Era with nasty music as encouraged by the head of government?

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  3. AKA Panman
    November 5, 2023

    WOW. Very comprehensive
    “When National Day came, we would wake up early – at about 6 a.m., grab a quick bush or cocoa tea, and some bakes, ackra or penny bread with cheese, sardines, corned beef, or fried balaw (a thin local fish about 6 inches in length with a long beak).”
    Wow bkug all you ate a paché food before the parade. In my house my mother would say “gouvelma ké bah zòh manjé zhòdi” (government will feed you all today) referring to the Ju-C and Eric’s milk bun…

    And you didn’t mention them but weren’t the Prison officers part of the uniform parade or did they start later?

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  4. November 5, 2023

    Excellent article Gabriel.

    Very informative, replete with relevant photographs and subheadings that make it very readable. Although I wasn’t in the corps myself, however, many of my schoolmates and neighbors were.

    I remember at one time, the band used to practice somewhere on Bath Road, and I can remember seeing drummers learning their drumming drills on the seating areas of chairs. Also, I can remember the shooting range in the DGS/ technical wing.

    I have bookmarked it for future reference.

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  5. Gerard Benjamin
    November 3, 2023

    Truly very reminiscent of these times when National Day was a distinctly epic occasion for everyone one but even more so for the schools. As a first former in 1968 at St Mary’s Academy I can fully identify with this somewhat nostalgic and classic article by Gabriel Christian.

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