I was most touched to read the memories of Independence recalled by Mr Laurie Greenidge, (‘Independence Day at the Palms, SN, May 13), in particular his playing of Guyana’s national anthem on the piano during the visit of the Duchess of Kent to the Palms during the celebrations in May 1966.
Please allow me to make a small correction to this, however, simply for the record: the Duchess visited the Palms on the 25th of May, and not the 26th, Independence Day, if Mr Greenidge may forgive my saying so.
Some readers might recall that I provided some of my family’s photographs for a commemorative feature that was carried in the Stabroek News in late May 2015, one of which showed my parents escorting the Duchess of Kent in the compound of the Palms and approaching the stairs up to the first floor of the building, where no doubt, Mr Greenidge, Dr Sylvia Talbot, and the many other officials mentioned in his letter, were waiting.
Dr Talbot may have been, I believe, a senior administrator or medical consultant at the Georgetown Hospital, when my father had first met her, in his capacity as Minister of Health and Housing, his first portfolio from December 1964 to some time in early 1966, and he had always had a high opinion, as did my mother, of Dr Talbot as a most gracious, charming, and competent person. In a cabinet reshuffle in early ’66, however, my father became Minister of Housing and Reconstruction, and it was in this capacity, as well as that of Deputy Prime Minister, that he and my mother greeted the Duchess of Kent at the Palms. I am now reminded, however, in my copy of the Guyana Year Book 1966, subtitled ‘Independence Year’, that Mr Deoroop Mahraj is included in an updated list of government ministers, with photographs, as Minister of Health. It is very possible therefore that Dr Talbot was present at the Palms in her capacity as medical administrator or consultant, though she most certainly was later appointed Health Minister.
I am otherwise very certain of the dates and details of this and many other events of the time because my mother, with her usual care, had preserved her copy of the official Programme of Events of the celebrations. When the Stabroek News therefore asked me for photographs, in preparation for an Independence feature (and further to seeing the two photographs that I had initially sent for the ‘Memory Lane’ feature), I felt an obligation to provide captions with as many concise details as possible, given that many, if not most, SN readers might not recognize the persons, places or events captured in these photographs of nearly fifty years ago. This official programme was therefore my guide and authority.
Incidentally, the later events on May 25th 1966 were a State Banquet at Queen’s College at 8pm, followed by the high point of the flag-raising ceremony at the National Park, preceded by displays and performances participated in by many sections of the Guyanese community, as mentioned recently by letter-writer Major (rtd) CS Vaughn. This ended, after prayers offered by the three main religious faiths, with the poignancy and high drama of the Guards of Honour saluting the Union flag as it was lowered and the British anthem played, followed by, at one minute to midnight, the Guards of Honour saluting the National flag of Guyana as it was raised for the first time, followed by the playing of our national anthem.
The fireworks display that followed at the Park was also enjoyed in other parts of the country, with flag-raising events and celebrations taking place in major towns and many villages across Guyana, as well as the symbolic flag-raisings at Mount Ayanganna, in the Pakaraimas, Fort Island in the Essequibo, and Fort Nassau in Berbice.
On Independence Day itself, the major event was the State Opening of Parliament, culminating in the symbolic handing over of the Constitutional Instruments by the Duke of Kent, as the Queen’s representative, to the Prime Minister of Guyana. This had been preceded earlier that morning by the swearing-in of the new Governor-General of Guyana, Sir Richard Luyt, and ministers of government, at Government House. That evening a reception was hosted by the Prime Minister, and later, a state ball was held at Queen’s College. In other parts of the country, celebrations continued, including masquerades and street dancing, costume, steel band and float parades, an Independence Ball at the New Amsterdam Town Hall and one at the Lethem Community Centre, and numerous sports events.
I do hope that this mixture of recollection and documented information is of some interest to your readers, shared in the spirit of Mr Greenidge and Mr Vaughn’s letters of reminiscence, and as we contemplate, as a nation of citizens, the path we have taken, and must still take, fifty years on from our shared beginnings in 1966.