The annual Remembrance Day observance held Sunday took on a special significance for the few surviving members of the Cayman Islands division of the Jamaican Home Guard.
Although many of the younger members of the territory’s population might not know the history of the Home Guard or what they did during the latter years of World War II in the 1940’s, a Caymanite and limestone plaque in their honor was unveiled Sunday outside the Elmslie Memorial Church, placed on the church’s cenotaph that will memorialize the guard’s efforts. It reads: “In honour and gratitude to those who served our country in the Cayman Islands Home Guard 1942-1945.”
During the 1940’s, the Cayman Islands were considered part of Jamaica, which remained a British territory until it gained independence in 1962.
A similar remembrance ceremony took place Sunday in Cayman Brac at the Memorial Cenotaph on the district administration building lawn in Stake Bay.
“They are owed the thanks of a grateful nation,” said Premier Alden McLaughlin, who attended the Grand Cayman remembrance ceremony. “I assure you, we will never forget.”
Corporal Bob Soto was one of approximately 70 men who registered for service with the guard, which maintained a 24-hour watch on Cayman’s coastline between 1942 and 1945, the latter half of the war. The guard members used outposts – small huts – located in Barkers and Northwest Point in West Bay, near Pedro Castle in Bodden Town, locations in East End and North Side, and at Fort George in George Town.
“Cayman was a checkpoint for marine traffic coming out of the Gulf [of Mexico],” Mr. Soto recalled, noting that the U.S. thought it important enough to place a naval base here in 1942 to guard allied shipping lanes.
The original guardsmen were trained by a Canadian military instructor, a Sgt. Highfield, who was later killed in the D-Day invasion of France in 1944.
“There was no shortage of men willing to come forward [for guard service],” Mr. Soto said. “I was 16 years old, but I told them I was 18. I was a big boy for my age.
“Now, there are only about seven of us left alive. It is heartwarming today to have the recognition.”
Premier McLaughlin, whose recently-deceased uncle Carlyle was a member of the Home Guard, noted members had to endure serious training in a Grand Cayman that most people living here now would not recognize.
“Their training included hand-to-hand combat, the use of combat equipment, long route marches and crawling through rocky terrain … and hordes of mosquitos,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “God spared these blessed islands from war, but there were some close calls, the most memorable being the torpedoing of … a freighter that was in sight of George Town. The men and women of Grand Cayman rescued the survivors.”
Other surviving veterans of the Home Guard include: Edison Yates, Norlan Smith, Clifton Bodden, Harry Carter and Arlie Pars. In the Cayman Islands, Remembrance Day is held in honor of Caymanians who fought in World Wars I and II, including the home guard members, and those sailors who died at sea and in the Trinidadian war.