The 11th of November is known as Remembrance/Memorial Day in Trinidad and Tobago. It is observed annually throughout the British Commonwealth as well as in other countries such as France (Armistice Day) and the United States of America (Veterans Day). This is a day to remember those members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty. Inaugurated by King George V in 1919, it honours those who died during World War I. This date was chosen to recognise the date hostilities ended in 1918 since this occurred at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month as the Armistice which was signed between Germany and the Entente Powers took effect. To honour the sacrifice made by the men and women of Trinidad and Tobago who served in World War I it was decided that a monument was to be erected. Let us now explore the history behind Trinidad’s War Memorial.
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914 there was a call to arms throughout the British Empire. Trinidad and Tobago answered this call as seventeen contingents of volunteers were sent to England to fight for Britain from 1915 – 1917. In 1916 the Port of Spain Gazette reported that a resolution was moved in the City Council by Dr. E Prada, Mayor of Port of Spain which read, “That in the opinion of this Council it is desirable that a memorial recording the part taken by the Colony in the Great War be erected in the City of Port of Spain…” This resolution was passed but it was unanimously agreed that this should be shelved until further notice.
At the end of the war this topic was once more brought to the City Council. On 19th December 1918 there was once more reaffirmation for the construction of a Memorial. It was directed that the Mayor should convene a public representative meeting of all citizens from all parts of the colony. The first public meeting to be held regarding the construction of the Memorial took place on 27th January 1919. It was at this meeting that it was decided that the Memorial was to take the form of a monument and that it should be erected in Marine Square now Independence Square in the centre of the open space at the head of Broadway. However, this site was unsuitable for the erection of a Memorial due to the tram lines but by April of 1919 this site was confirmed.
In order to raise funds for the construction of this memorial various sub committees were appointed by the Governor. This turned into an island wide endeavour as each district contributed in some way. This was evident as the wardens who were instructed to collect funds in their respective districts reported figures ranging from $852.00 collected from Cedros and Erin to $257.00 collected in Port of Spain. Other contributors to this fund included the Governor Sir John Chancellor who contributed $100.00, the Port of Spain Gazette which contributed $254.54, Messrs, Middleton and Company out of New York contributed $120.00, Mrs. H. McLelland who collected $408.87 and Mrs. J.A Perez who contributed $500.00 from the proceeds of an evening of entertainment which was organised by herself and others.
Yet there was a need for more funding and on the 14th November 1919, during a meeting of the Legislative Council it was suggested by Dr. E Prada that a vote be taken to grant the surplus credit of the war stamp tax account to the Trinidad Memorial. He argued that this sum represents contributions made in the truest sense by all classes and sections of the community. The Governor approved of this suggestion and by 19th December 1919, it was adopted by the Legislative Council and the money from this totalled to $31,933. 91.
Even though it was agreed upon that the Memorial will be placed at the top of Broadway, by the 24th January 1921, the issue of the redirecting the tram lines took precedence in the Legislative Council. It was estimated that it would cost up to $25,000 to redirect the tram lines and therefore a new site had to be chosen. The Legislative Council decided that they would shift the site to the eastern side of the same central space at the top of Broadway but this was met with many objections. Relatives of the fallen soldiers, representatives of the returned soldiers and the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association were vociferous in their objections to this site and urged the government to select a new site for the Memorial. This led to the matter being discussed in a meeting of the Executive Committee on the 28th November 1922 where it was decided that they would have public consultations. On the 30th November 1922 at this meeting it was decided that the new spot for the Memorial would be the “Little Savannah” directly opposite the Royal Victoria Institute. The Governor assented to granting this land to the City Municipality under the condition that it would be a Memorial Park forever.
The artist commissioned to create this monument was Mr. L.F. Roslyn R.S.B.S a well-known British sculptor. The first shipment of the monument to Trinidad took place in February 1924 and it was erected by City Engineer, Mr. T. Harris Scott. Mr. Roslyn designed a monument which was described in the Port of Spain Gazette on the day of its official opening on the 28th June 1924 as,
“Made of Portland stone and bronze, with a set of four granite steps around the base, constructed on a solid circular concrete foundation about eighteen feet across. Standing squarely on the granite steps is the massive base of the column, let into which are the bronze panels engraved with the names of the fallen, some 168 in number. Rising immediately above this are three emblematic groups of statutory – one in the front and on either side. The front represents Courage – the figure of a soldier armed with a rifle, standing guard over and defending a dying comrade who lies on the ground at his feet. The side groups are the prows of ships, emblematic of the part taken in the war by the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine, and on each is seated a female figure, the one on the South in a pensive attitude reading the scroll of Fame, the other on the North, a Red Cross Nurse, bearing a laurel wreath emblematic of the tender care of the sick and fallen, To the rear of the base is a group of trophies massed together and surmounted by arms of the colony and the royal Crown supported by the flags of the Empire with a trident in the rear. Rising clear out f its base is the beautiful tall column of pure white Portland stone, to a height of nearly forty two feet, surmounted by a curved stone frieze, with lions head at the four corners. The whole is surmounted by a winged figure of Victory, cast in bronze, standing on a globe, commemorative of the world wide conflict and bearing in one outstretched hand the wreath of sacrifice and in the other the victor’s palm.”(Port of Spain Gazette: pg. 14.)
At the end of World War II, 180 more names were added to the Memorial in honour of those soldiers who lost their lives during this conflict. Since then there have been no structural changes to this monument which serves to remind us all, that these men and women made the ultimate sacrifice for God, King and Country.
Besson, Gérard, and Bridget Brereton. The Book of Trinidad. Port of Spain, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies: Paria Pub., 1992. Print.
Howe, Glenford D. Race, War and Nationalism: A Social History of West Indians in the First World War. Kingston: Ian Randle, 2002. Print.
Metzgen, Humphrey, and John Graham. Caribbean Wars Untold: A Salute to the British West Indies. Kingston, Jamaica: U of the West Indies, 2007. Print.
“Memorial of the War.” Port of Spain Gazette 1 Sept. 1916: n. pag. Print.
“The Colony’s War Memorial.” Port of Spain Gazette 10 Sept. 1916: n. pag. Print.
“Trinidad’s War Memorial.” Port of Spain Gazette 28 June 1924: n. pag. Print.
“Trinidad’s War Memorial: Soldier Governor Unveils Monument to Fallen Heroes.” Port of Spain Gazette 29th June 1924: n. pag. Print.