In normal times we would all be gathered to lay wreaths at the Cenotaph and then at the Seaman’s Memorial. But as we all know, these are not normal times.
Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin
Published 10th November 2020, 11:34am
Today we celebrate Remembrance Day to honour, recognize and remember those who died in the two World Wars and other military conflicts, as well as those seamen who died at sea. We also celebrate our surviving veterans and seamen who continue to contribute to our community and our nation.
In normal times we would all be gathered to lay wreaths at the Cenotaph and then at the Seaman’s Memorial.
But as we all know, these are not normal times. We are still in the precarious position of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and as such, the Executive Council of the Veterans Association made the wise decision that in lieu of the regular ceremony with throngs of people, they would instead meet in a small group to pause for a minute of silence and then lay wreaths in remembrance of those who gave their lives for our freedoms.
I thank the Veterans Association for taking into consideration the safety of not only themselves and their families but of all who normally take this solemn and important event to heart and attend this ceremony in George Town each year.
But I thank them too for finding a safe way to carry on this time-honoured tradition.
World War I began on 28 July, 1914, and officially ended on what was called Armistice Day on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, leaving a death toll of some 20 million people. A mere 21 years later in September 1939 the world was again at war with Britain being drawn into one of the fiercest battles of all times and indeed fighting for its very existence.
Cayman had many men of valor who did not hesitate to defend the Mother Country and fight against tyranny and so Caymanians entered into the fray wherever they were able – the British Armed Forces, United States Military, Trinidad Regiment and Reserves, and the Home Guard here at home.
During this conflict the harbours of the Western Atlantic and the Caribbean provided valuable bases for the allied navies, while Trinidad held strategically valuable oil resources. Because Trinidad’s oil provided the fuel and lubricants necessary for the allied war machinery, guarding this location in the southern Caribbean was of vital importance.
The Trinidad Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve was strengthened with more than 200 Caymanians in its own force and it is believed that at least 1,000 Caymanian men – two-thirds of the adult population at the time – saw service world-wide during World War II, including in the Merchant Marines. Many did not return home.
It was during the war that our own Home Guard was established on Grand Cayman in June 1942 to protect our shores. Many men were commissioned, but there were also others who served duty as civilians behind the scenes.
While we were never a target for enemy attack, the US realized our strategic position near Allied shipping lanes. Some of the older ones will remember the establishment of a US base on Grand Cayman in 1942.
My Uncles Norman Rudolph McLaughlin and Carlyle Burton McLaughlin, both of precious memory, served during the war with Uncle Rudolph serving in the Trinidad Royal Navy Reserves while Uncle Carlyle served on Grand Cayman in the Home Guard.
I remember their stories of those times and of the fine men who maintained a 24-hour coastal watch during World War II.
While the Home Guard dissolved decades ago, it was those stories that came flooding back to me a few months ago as I watched the military “passing out ceremony” of the newly established Cayman Islands Regiment.
I look forward to future Remembrance Day ceremonies and the participation of the Cayman Islands Regiment in uniform as part of the customary parade.
As for today, we are adjusting to the new needs of the times with social distancing and keeping everyone in these beloved Islands safe and healthy. While this Remembrance Day isn’t filled with the usual pomp and circumstance, it is fitting that we remember and salute those who have passed on to greater rewards defending liberty and those who we still have the pleasure and privilege of listening to tell their stories and share their lives.
I appreciate each of them and their families who made sacrifices and served the Cayman Islands well. They will live on forever in our hearts.