Region Ten residents want the region’s parliamentarians to take a motion to Parliament for the national budget to include funding to build a monument to commemorate the Son Chapman launch tragedy, which occurred on 6 July 1964.
The resolution was adopted towards the end of a symposium on Sunday 6 July 2014 that was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy in which forty-three people, including children and a pregnant woman died when an explosion occurred on the launch off Hurudaia as the vessel was on the final leg of its journey from Georgetown to Mackenzie.
Regional Chairman, Sharma Solomon, told the symposium that at the Regional Democratic Council’s (RDC) monthly statutory meeting on 3 July 2014, a resolution was adopted for the Son Chapman tragedy to become a commemorative activity of the Region. He also said the RDC proposes to submit $500,000 in its 2015 budget towards that commemorative activity.
However, differences have arisen over the years as to where the monument should be located. Norman Chapman, owner of the ill-fated launch is insisting that the monument should be built at Hurudaia where two victims of the tragedy were buried. He and his family with support from some members of the PNCR and a number of independent agencies had been commemorating the tragedy annually at Hurudaia until 2013 when the PNCR along with the Region Ten RDC, held the annual commemoration at a location at Christianburg.
Solomon says that the Son Chapman tragedy is larger than Chapman and his family since Chapman only lost a launch but forty-three people died and the tragedy resonated throughout the community. Consequently, the ceremony should be held in the main population centre of Linden to make much more people in the community aware of the tragedy.
The 50th anniversary of the Son Chapman tragedy was marked by two events on Sunday 6 July 2014. The first was a pilgrimage to Hurudaia of two bus loads of people, departing Linden from around 10.00am and travelling along the Linden/Soesdyke Highway to Silver Hill on the east bank of the river with the participants being ferried across the river to Hurudaia. The second event was a symposium, which began around 7.00pm at the Egbert Benjamin Centre in Linden.
Both events were chaired by journalist/playwright, Jeff Trotman.
Six children of Carmen Carryl, a Linden entrepreneur, travelled from the United States of America to participate in the 50th anniversary commemorative activities. Carryl was 33 years old and nine months pregnant with her eighth child when she perished in the gruesome explosion. She was among five women, including Winifred McIntosh (Sister Giles) – all self employed – from the Seventh Day Adventist Church, who perished in the tragic incident. The Carryl siblings had returned to Guyana to participate in the 12th biennial gathering of the Linden International Reunion (LIRA) of the Linden Seventh Day Adventist Church members, who reside overseas. The focus of the 2014 reunion was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Son Chapman tragedy and to honour the five members of the denomination, who died in the tragedy.
Speaking at the Hurudaia ceremony, the late Sister Giles’ daughter said that she was glad that she was able to attend such an impressive pilgrimage because in New York whenever she asked people from Linden about the tragedy, they invariably professed little or no knowledge of it. She said she is prepared to contribute towards building a monument.
Veteran lawyer and politician, Llewellyn John speaking at both the pilgrimage and symposium expressed concern that people under the age of thirty five do not know about the tragedy and what is worse, misinformation is being fabricated about the incident.
The veteran lawyer/ politician said he has been associating with the Upper Demerara Area since 1952 after graduating as a solicitor and that he used to travel on the R. H. Carr, which took the whole day. He also said that before the Linden/Soesdyke Highway was built several launches plied between Georgetown and Mackenzie. He added that the Son Chapman was the most modern launch at the time, which caused the other launch owners to be jealous of Chapman.
Opining that the PNC is fortunate to have as its leader Brigadier David Granger, who is an historian and is interested in preserving past activities, John said although the Inquiry that was held after the Son Chapman disaster was inconclusive about any perpetrator, the facts are known and they must be told and recorded for future generations to understand what happened.
“Propaganda is one of the most important things in destroying a people because if propaganda is against you and no one seeks to correct it, it goes on,” John said.
Referring to the Linden electricity protest of 2012 in which three men were killed, the veteran lawyer said: “Those people were shot because of an economic battle. The government had wanted to impose an economic charge in electricity, which the people resisted.” He said incidents such as the Son Chapman tragedy and the Linden electricity protest in which people were killed should be told and retold to the younger generation.
He said that while a monument could be built in Linden, it is important to preserve the Hurudaia site particularly because two persons are buried there. He also suggested that a monument be built at the mass grave of the victims at the Christianburg cemetery.
Opposition Leader David Granger missed the pilgrimage but he attended and spoke at the symposium in which he gave a background of the period of national unrest at the time of the Son Chapman tragedy. The opposition leader emphasized in his address that the PNC are willing to support the construction of a Son Chapman monument wherever it is located in Linden.
Noel Moses, a deputy school principal from New York also spoke at both the pilgrimage and symposium. He said a number of persons from the Seventh Day Adventist denomination came to Linden to celebrate the church’s biennial reunion in Linden and to mark the 50th anniversary of the Son Chapman tragedy. He said the church held a grand service on the previous day at which the owner of the ill fated launch was presented with a plaque.
Recalling that there was much emotional expression and sobbing from the children of one of the victims of the tragedy at Hurudaia earlier in the day, Moses said: “This happens when there is no closure. The Inquiry into the Son Chapman ended by them saying that it was inconclusive – and so there was no closure. The rains came and as I understand it, there seems to be a tradition of rain. But this was an excessive rain and I felt it was really, truly showers of blessing because at that site we have members of this community that are buried at Horidiah – and it’s for this that I would implore the community representatives to have that site declared as an historic relic … because I’m convinced that a people that fail to recognize their heroes and martyrs is a people that is dead and inevitably will be enslaved. And I basically would like to make reference to what I would call a new song – singing a new song ….”
He added: “We have to inform the people of this country what happened fifty years ago. We cannot bury the history of Hurudaia in the waters in the Demerara River. It must be told. I visited the campus of the University of Guyana and asked about the Son Chapman and students asked me what am I talking about? They don’t know….”
Moses reiterated: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you do not cry out and sing a new song, you’ll be worse than today.
Former trade unionist and RDC councillor, Charles Sampson and former PNC activist, Charles Corbin also spoke at both events. Sampson, who was a teenager at the time of the tragedy noted that July seems to be a bad month for the people of Linden. “Son Chapman exploded in July. The guys at the bridge were killed in July (2012) and then there was a crash on the highway and ten people died. So, July seems to be a blight month for us in Linden. And I want to say to all of you … we have to be more serious about incidents like the Son Chapman. We have to commemorate that incident and we have to come out in large numbers. We cannot afford to forget Son Chapman. We must forgive but we must never forget what happened to those people.”
Stating that the Son Chapman disaster was six times worse than that of the World Trade Centre in which twenty nine hundred plus people died out of a US population of 281M, Sampson said “that would have accounted for 0.001% of the US population”. By comparison, Sampson said: “Those forty three people, who died on the Son Chapman, represented 0.006% of our population. It was six times worse than what happened in the United States and this is something we must not take for granted.”