by Michael Goodman
All Barbadians know that as the clock struck midnight on November 29, 1966, Barbados officially attained nationhood as a sovereign and independent state within the Commonwealth, and that a major ceremony took place at the Garrison Savannah to usher in Barbados’ Independence. But there are many lesser known yet interesting facts which surround this important moment in the country’s history.
In fact, the Official Programme of Events started on November 27, 1966 with a regatta in Carlisle Bay and the opening of the Hilton Hotel. The following day, their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Kent were officially welcomed at the then Seawell Airport and that night there was a reception by His Excellency the Governor and Lady Stowe at Government House.
On the eve of Independence, there was a State Banquet, following which the activities reached their peak at the Garrison Savannah. A series of impressive displays included the Barbados Regiment, the Combined Military Band, the Royal Barbados Police Force Mounted Troop, a “Living Flag” presented by scholars of secondary schools and the “Coat of Arms” presented by the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts.
Following prayers, Governor Sir John Stowe and then Premier Errol Barrow, took their place at the flag-staff just a few minutes before midnight for the historic flag raising ceremony.
The Barbados flag was to be raised for the first time by Lieutenant (now Captain) Hartley Dottin, who recalls that when he was first advised he would be given the honour, he was also warned that there had been problems with similar flag raising ceremonies elsewhere in the Caribbean, and that it would be the same officer who would be organising the event here in Barbados.
However, by ensuring the officer concentrated on the fireworks display and other non-military aspects, they were able to keep a tight control over the arrangements for this key moment.
Major (now Colonel) Leonard Banfield, renown for so successfully producing and directing the Independence Parade, made sure that Lieutenant Dottin would be in the most advantageous position to execute his duty without hindrance, and the historic event passed without a hitch.
Perhaps an equally proud moment for all assembled was the first ever public performance of the Barbados National Anthem, which followed the flag raising. Few people know that there were some changes made to the musical arrangement used on that night and so it is the only time the National Anthem was widely heard played in that particular way, adding to the uniqueness of the occasion.
For those who were not present, there was a live radio broadcast of the ceremony commentated by the late Alfred Pragnall, which was re-broadcast for the first time on Bajan Living’s 45th Anniversary Independence Special in 2011, and again this year.
The Programme of Celebrations continued with the State Opening of Parliament later on Wednesday November 30, and over the following days, events included informal visits by the Duke of Kent to the Barbados Regiment and ships of the Royal Navy, an Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition at Queen’s Park, a Historical Pageant in Independence Square, and finally a State Service of Dedication and Thanksgiving on Sunday, December 4.
Sadly, few are aware of the exact spot at the Garrison Savannah where the flag raising took place. Perhaps before the 50th Anniversary of this historically significant moment, a suitable monument will be designed and erected.
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