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West India Regiment gathers for sixth biennial reunion

West India Regiment gathers for sixth biennial reunion

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“Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

Some of those old soldiers, who were members of the disbanded West India Regiment, are gathered here in St Vincent and the Grenadines for the sixth biennial reunion.{{more}}

The men, accompanied by relatives and friends, having been making the most of their time here.

Chairman of the reunion’s organizing committee Lieutenant Colonel Wendell Salanday said that so far, the visitors have been enjoying the hospitality of their hosts, since their arrival on June 6.

“We were met by the Acting Commissioner of Police; we had a meet and greet at the cruise ship complex and we were well entertained there; all the members enjoyed themselves,” he told SEARCHLIGHT last Friday evening, during a cocktail reception at the Prime Minister’s residence at Largo Heights.

The itinerary for the reunion includes shopping and sightseeing tours, a reunion dinner and presentation of plaques, a church service at the St George’s Cathedral, visits to Mount Wynne, Montreal Gardens, Black Point, Dark View Falls and Bequia.

The reunion will culminate with a farewell reception at the Palmyra Restaurant in Pembroke tomorrow, after which, the men will leave on Thursday.

Salanday, who joined the revived regiment in 1959, when the West Indies Federation was formed, said that the reunion gives the men, who enlisted from member countries of the federation, an opportunity to reunite with their brothers-in-arms, most of whom they had not seen in years.

When the Federation fell through in 1962, the soldiers were given the options of staying on in Jamaica where the regiment was based, and being a part of the Jamaica Regiment; moving to Trinidad and Tobago, where they would form the core of that country’s defence force; joining the British Army; or leaving the military.

For most of the men, option number four was not considered.

The Trinidadian born soldier said that of the approximately 100 remaining members of the regiment, more than 60 were at the reunion.

One of the attendees is Vincentian Robert Durrant, the man who was adjudged best recruit, best shooter, best dressed soldier, best squad leader and best instructor in his years with the short-lived regiment.

Durrant told SEARCHLIGHT that he decided to stay on in Jamaica, then moved to Toronto, Canada, after leaving the military.

“It was wonderful, because the members are your members, they are from your country, and they felt that I knew it all, but I didn’t know it all, but I tried to,” said the 74-year-old, who enlisted at age 17.

Durrant, who resides in Canada, said that he is happy to be back home, and this was the second of six reunions that he has attended.

Some of the men who also spoke to SEARCHLIGHT included Grenadian Basil Keens-Douglas, cousin of comedian Paul Keens-Douglas, who also decided to stay on in Jamaica, before returning home. He subsequently migrated to the United Kingdom.

“I’m happy to be around friends, and I am enjoying the warmth of the Vincentians here. I always got along with the ‘Vincies,’” Keens-Douglas said.

He, like most of the men, regarded Durrant as a hero.

Barbadians Adrian Gill and Campbell Alleyne say that they have been to all six reunions, and would continue to come as long as it is possible.

Gill moved to Trinidad, while Alleyne joined the British Army. Both men say the West India Regiment experience was one that they would always remember favourably.

“It was a fantastic experience. I don’t think anyone could explain it; you had to be there,” said Gill.

“I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Alleyne said. “Discipline was nothing you could imagine.”

Salanday said that although the Federation was disbanded 51 years ago, the reunions bring the men together, giving them the opportunity to take a nostalgic journey down memory lane together, which means a lot to the men.

“The West India Regiment maintains the federation, because we still meet, and we will continue to meet to the last man.”

The next reunion will be held in 2015 at a venue to be announced. The chairman of the local organizing committee is former parliamentarian John Horne.

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