A parade means so much to me. It was at a parade that I knew that I wanted to be a cadet. Cadets were the youngest uniformed group that carried arms on parades. I was a starry-eyed lad, just nine years old, in the company of my mother watching an Independence Day parade at Chancery Lane in San Fernando, when I saw a contingent of cadets all in green carrying Lee Enfield .303 rifles at their sides.
I was fascinated. From where I stood at the top of the hill next to the General Hospital the straight lines of uniformed unflinching bodies beckoned to me, seemingly saying “come on down and take your place”. As just one of hundreds watching the parade I felt the energy and passion of the men in uniform.
We Trinidadians just love military parades. And not because they present more opportunities for bacchanal, even though parades do inspire that Carnivalesque impulse anyhow. During an Independence Day parade in the early 1980s the Police band led by the indomitable Superintendent Prospect (immortalized in calypso by the phrase “wave your baton like Mr. Prospect”) swung into Green Corner in the heart of Port of Spain en route to the Police Barracks. The crowd was thick and teeming, nationalistic spirit soaring. The Police band was the first marching band in Trinidad and Tobago to blend the infectious soca rhythms into its repertoire of marching tunes.
Military marching music had evolved from the traditional precisely structured drumbeats (as handed down by the British) to a more quickly paced, catchy rhythmic beat, influenced by the calypso music of the Caribbean. The primary difference in the rhythm was the non-stop strumming of the kettle drums in a two-four timing that made people chip (shuffle their feet and sway their hips in a whole body groove all in time to the music as they moved forward) instead of march.
The strumming of the band became more amplified in the narrow confines of Green Corner with Globe Cinema on the corner of Park and St. Vincent streets, and two-storey high buildings opposite. The hundreds making up the crowd went wild and surged forward into the parade!
I vividly remember jumping next to a corporal with a handlebar moustache playing a xylophone while other red-clad civilians were cavorting with gay abandon. The straight ranks of the Police band immersed in languid happy bodies became another J’Ouvert band in full flight, making merry as though society was again in pre-Lenten mode and was about to bid farewell to the flesh again on 1 September.
Did the corporal complain? I am certain I saw him smiling widely as were his fellow tunesmiths from the tenor bass to the saxophone, as if to say “we here to make allyuh glad!” Bacchanalia and revelry were the ultimate form of customer satisfaction.
Most military people do look forward to parades. A parade is a public affair where hordes of people line streets and even follow parades to the dismissal points. That is the time for everyone to be seen and to be loved. Like the time in San Fernando in front of the Town Hall. The Fire Services contingent was approaching the saluting dais. People just loved the Fire Services.
Maybe it was the uniform – white tunics and black slacks with a red piping down each leg. Or maybe it was the colonial era cork hats that seemed to glow under the smile of the sun. Or maybe it was the ever glossy black boots with the puss-in-boots buckles. For whatever reason, crowds loved them. There were “oohs” and “aahs” and loud ecstatic applause when they marched the streets extracting the approval of excited, expectant onlookers.
So just as the officer commanding the contingent was about to give his command for his smartly dressed, arm pumping subordinates to look to their right to salute the Mayor, there was a shrill cry “Mammy, look Ezekiel!” Ezekiel was a young fireman on parade who was seen by his sweetheart from his village. This initial exclamation was followed by screams from the same swooning female “Ah love you Ezekiel! Oh God yuh looking nice!”
Under his cork hat and in full view of the mayor, resplendent in his ceremonial chain of office, Ezekiel’s face shone like a new cork ball before the toss to start a cricket match. That instantaneous feedback makes parading in the midday sun worth the effort.
Military parades help keep the populace happy. They give ordinary people something to cheer about, especially the women. People assemble and wait under the magnificence of God’s sun or in the pitter patter of his happy tears for their sons, husbands, boyfriends, cousins, or uncles to pass by.
In the tropics where it is too hot or too wet for most events to start at the scheduled time, Trinidadians contradict their innate nature by arriving early and waiting for parades to form up. Mothers and wives, and fathers and sons, pack baskets with cheese sandwiches and macaroni pies, containers of peas and rice, (with fried chicken wrapped separately), and bottles of juice (wrapped in foil to keep them cool), and throng the popular parade venues – the Queen’s Park Savannah, Chancery Lane, Arima Velodrome – in anticipation of a grand show by the country’s armed and unarmed forces. Everyone wears new clothes to watch a parade. Shoppers will clutch at anything red on the eve of Independence Day in an effort to wear their pride visibly.
The men (and lately the women) of the uniformed forces hardly disappoint. They take their parade duties seriously. I grew up in that tradition. A tradition of respect, precision, glamour and starch!
I suppose parades give our people a chance to cheer and shout as a collective family. The fact that this tradition is alive and well each year as seen by the sea of red in the Queen’s Park Savannah, speaks volumes for a society that is quick to shed so many aspects of times past. For that love and respect Trinidad and Tobago I love you!
About the Author
This short story was contributed by Major Lance Dowrich, Battalion Commander of the Fifth Battalion. Major Dowrich is an avid writer, and was the Regional Winner for the Caribbean in the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
The featured photo in this article depicts “The Drill Team”, a demonstration drill squad created in 2004 and commanded by Capt. Vincent James