It was May 25, 1966. It was the last day our country will be a colony. Before the dawning of another new day, the indigenous peoples, the descendants of slaves, and the descendants of indentured laborers of this country will redeem the anguish of history by taking sovereign ownership of their country and of their country’s destiny.
The transfer of power to be symbolically enacted by the hoisting of the Golden Arrowhead was done at the Queen Elizabeth Park in Georgetown. Thousands of Guyanese from all walks of life including 900 school children representing all the schools of Guyana and not to mention the thousands of Guyanese who had come from overseas had assembled at the Queen Elizabeth Park, formerly a golf course, that afternoon. They were entertained to a well-planned cultural pageantry which included lively performances by the Silvertones, Quo Vadis, and the Invaders steel bands and the Majorettes. Among the crowd that night was a group of little boys from La Penitence, one of whom was Henry Muttoo who will later blossom as a dramatist, actor, playwright, and director.
By about 10:15pm the major dignitaries began arriving. First to arrive was Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Dr. CR Jabobs. They were followed by their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Kent as representatives of Queen Elizabeth. It is an established principle that the Queen is never present when power is transferred and when the Union Jack is lowered. Then came Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, who in an unscripted move but befitting the grandeur of the moment, headed straight to Dr. Jagan and the two men embraced to a tumultuous roar and applause of approval from the throng. It is noteworthy that among the VIPs were former Colonial Secretary Duncan Sandys, former Governor Sir Ralph Grey, and former Governor Sir Charles Woolley.
At 11:53pm the combined bands of the Middlesex Regiment, the Guyana Defence Force along with soldiers from the various regiment and the Guyana Volunteer Force (their last appearance) marched on and arranged themselves around the Guyana flag. The massed band formed up in the rear of the Parade Ground. The Guyana Defence Force First Battalion and elements of the British Guiana Volunteer Force, 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own), the Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force formed the three sides of a square. The fourth side was open except for the flag pole in the center.
The Queen’s College Cadet Corp, founded in 1889, was also present but their role that night was to provide comic relief by way of the Toy Soldiers Parade. They were dressed as Buckingham Palace guards. One of the cadets was Ian C. Fraser who will later become an officer in the GDF.
At five minutes to midnight there was a total hush at the Queen Elizabeth Park, and indeed all of Guyana, as the first order rang out from the parade commander. All formations came to attention as Second Lieutenant Jimmy Jonklass of the Middlesex and Lieutenant Desmond Roberts of the GDF marched to the flagpole and stood at attention. As the lights dimmed, the order to present arms rang out and as the band played the British national anthem, Lieutenant Jonkloss began lowering the Union Jack, while at the same time Lieutenant Roberts began hoisting the Golden Arrowhead. Upon the stroke of midnight the lights brightened again and the Golden Arrowhead was fluttering at the top of the masthead as the Guyana national anthem was played for the very first time in independent Guyana.
Archbishop Allan John Knight of the Anglican Church, Dharma Acharya Pujya Pandit Ramsahoye Doobay of Annandale, Haji Sahib Maulvi Hukumdar of Stewarville, and an Elder of the Jordanites were all there to invoke sacred Christian, Hindu, Islamic and African spiritual blessings for peace, harmony and the well-being of Guyana and of Guyanese in this young nation. At the very same moment the Golden Arrowhead was being raised by Adrian Thomson and his team on Mount Ayanganna.
Cheers rang out as Sir Richard Luyt and Prime Minister Forbes Burnham shook hands. The fireworks which then followed featured a portrait of Forbes Burnham, a map of Guyana, the Kaieteur Falls, and the National Flag among other displays and were done by Brooks Fireworks Ltd. of London. After 163 years of British dominion and tutelage the nation of Guyana was born.
After the fireworks display young Henry Muttoo (later bestowed an MBE from the Queen for his contribution to Drama) and his friends from La Penitence headed to the Kitty seawall for a swim in the Atlantic. These youngsters have swum in the Atlantic so many times before but this morning was special. For the first time they were swimming in sovereign Guyana's territorial waters. And 49 years later, oil will be found in vast quantities beneath these very waters. Guyana is now literally "floating in oil." We hope and pray the politicians do not turn our blessing into a curse.
~ Rishi Singh
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