By Raffique Shah
November 14, 2022
He would turn up at one of the three army camps we had in those days—Teteron, Ogden or Union Hall. His kit, such as they could be so considered—sometimes a tunic worn past its expiry date, other times a plain shirt, both items looking as though they were specially laundered for that important day; trousers neat with seams; footwear that he’d somehow acquired that resembled drill boots, likelier “washikongs”; and most importantly, his facial hair and features groomed to perfection.
He would stand close to the sentry post and scout around to see if any of the usually younger “sweats” recognised him. If they didn’t, he’d march towards the first commissioned officer he saw, halt, salute, then state his purpose: he was reporting for the Remembrance Day parade, to pay homage to his comrades who had fallen in the Great War (1914-1918).
If the officer who faced Mickey—the only name we knew him by, looked confused, the veteran would sound off several bugle “calls”, using his vocal chords, which immediately cleared up the issue. The commanding officer then was Colonel Joffre Serrette, and he had ordered that all nationals who were veterans of the two World Wars be accommodated on that special day, meals et al, and allowed to cry when the “Last Post” sounded.
Mickey was described as having suffered “shell-shock” during The Great War—a brutal affair that sucked in almost every country on earth and which mentally scarred or killed tens of millions of people.
Historians and other scholars described it as “the war to end all wars”. I believe they were wrong: it was “the war that ended all peace”. For while before it there were many conflicts from as far back as the dawn of civilisation to the end of the Great War, there was the inevitable Second World War (1939-1945) that followed, and before, during, and after it, wars of the bloodiest, most horrible, brutal nature man could conceive of. Empires disintegrated. Colonies fought for freedom, then slaughtered each other in tribal, religious or racial barbarism.
Today, almost all of Europe is embroiled in a major, nasty inhuman conflict they call “The Ukraine War”. That proves my point that peace is beyond the reach of the savagery that passes for mankind.
Mickey was believed to have seen action in WWI and suffered mental scars from his experiences. As a black man, a good colonial citizen, when Britannia ruled the waves, he was among thousands in the Caribbean who had to wage war to be allowed to fight.
You see, the white combatant-nations, even though they were murdering each other, did not want black men killing white men. The British were worse in that regard. Imagine poor black men from the West Indies willingly and eagerly volunteering to give their lives fighting Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm. To defend “King and Country”; and a few good white men, one of them Captain Arthur Cipriani having to lead a battle to have men like Mickey enter actual combat. And even so, when they did gain entry, they were left doing mostly chores like house cleaning and toilet cleaning.
Their story is best told in a Savant television production, The West Indies at War. Mickey may have been part of that WWI experience when he was very young. He was definitely part of the WWII experience.
Like millions more, he was mentally scarred for life, but when the regiment was formed in 1962, he emerged from wherever he was to proclaim his non-official membership of The T&T regiment. But we always had a place for Mickey and others like him in our camps. Not to sleep, of course, because of the danger of weapons being easily available at those installations.
To this day I don’t know where Mickey lived, what family he had or any such personal information. But what I do know is that at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of every year, Remembrance Day, he will show up for parade, for mixing with the men, for being a soldier for yet another year.
There were others like him, most of them not scarred mentally the way he was, rather physically. They would cry when the “Last Post” sounded—a universal symbol of peace. Only peace never really came, the war continues to this day and some of the more prominent nationals of T&T who starred in some action theatres lived long enough to understand that war solves nothing.
Justice Ulric Cross, who served on the Bench here and who died about 15 years ago, was a highly decorated RAF navigator and bomber. And Sidney Knox, also an air-man, survives to this day with memories that may have haunted him most of his life.
On this Remembrance Sunday, we pay homage to those still alive and we shall remember those who passed…