Every year on the second Monday of November, veterans of the military and armed forces are remembered for their courage and sacrifices. It is known as Remembrance Day and this year it falls on 12 November.
The Cayman Islands Veterans Association was founded in April 1979 and shortly afterwards was admitted as a member of the British Commonwealth Ex-Services League, as it was known at that time. The association’s representative in London throughout has been beloved former Governor Tom Russell. Present Governor Duncan Taylor is the patron and Capt. Dale Banks is the president.
The association is entrusted with the management of the annual Poppy Appeal, which takes place just before Remembrance Day. The Appeal was the veterans’ only source of income until the First Annual Benefit Dinner-Dance, which was held 20 October and very well supported with nearly 200 people in attendance. The Poppy Appeal has always been most generously supported by many corporations, individuals and the public at large.
The association began with approximately 250 members. Today, there are 56 members on the muster roll with the oldest being 96 and the youngest being 30. There were two women as members but unfortunately, both are now deceased. The annual membership fee is $25 and new members who have served in uniform are always being sought to join.
When one thinks of veterans, one might automatically think of seniors, but the fact is that a number of veterans are quite young. Cayman Islands Veterans Association Vice President and former United States Marines Master Sgt. Andrew McLaughlin is a prime example of such a veteran. During his 22 years with the United States Marine Corps he was an avionics technician working on all types of infra-red imaging systems and laser target designation systems. These were used to ensure the bombs were on target.
“Where in the 1950s it took 100 bombs to ensure a building or factory was destroyed, in the 1960s it took 50 bombs to do the same,” said Mr. McLaughin. “In the 1970s it may have taken 25 bombs and starting in the 80s, with laser guided weaponry, it would certainly only take one bomb to get rid of the same building or factory.
The weapons and technology are so accurate, we can drop a laser guided bomb from about 15,000 feet in the air and it can silently glide onto the target from a range of 10 nautical miles and still hit within six circular feet of the intended target. These bombing campaigns are always very effective in wearing down the enemy and their resources long before ground troops go in.
“I have also been a confidential courier transporting classified equipment and materials through different countries. On all assignments I was always the safety representative ensuring the minimal amount of people were hurt.
“Later on, in my last seven years, I transferred to the recruiting service where I helped hundreds of people realise their dream of becoming a Marine and get themselves and their paperwork prepared for recruit training, also known as Boot Camp.”
Larry Rotchell served in the British Army from 1971 to 2008 in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.
“The engineers’ role is to maintain the vast majority of the British Army’s equipment,” says Mr. Rotchell. “My specialty was in aviation engineering. During my service I served in the UK, Germany, Canada and Cyprus. I served on operational tours with the United Nations in Cyprus, the British Army in Northern Ireland and served with the Royal Marines in the Falkland’s War.”
Mr. Rotchell is married to Nurleen, nee Brown, and they have three adult children in the UK. On retiring from the British Army they decided to return to Nurleen’s home of the Cayman Islands. Mr. Rotchell’s late father served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, including service in the southern Caribbean on HMS Black Bear. After the war it was decommissioned, bought by Kirks, and renamed SS Caymania. By an extraordinary coincidence, Mr. Rotchell’s late father-in-law, Lester Brown, sailed on SS Caymania.
Before every Remembrance Day, poppies are sold to benefit veterans. Poppies became a symbol for veterans in the early part of the 20th century. The Flanders Fields of Belgium, ravaged by World War I, sprouted a blanket of wild poppies as the overturned soil had covered the poppy seeds, enabling them to grow.
The red flowers were a reminder of the blood that had been shed on that land, and in 1915 Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian forces wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields”, the first lines of which are: “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row.” The poem became so recognisable and quoted that it inspired the selling of poppies to raise money for veterans.
Replicas of the original poppy began to be sold in some of the allied countries after the armistice on 11 November, 1918.
The tradition has continued ever since.