Today was Remembrance Day and the British High Commission marked the event with their annual service at Fajara War Cemetery not far from my home in Bakau. The invitation said the ceremony would start at 10.45 prompt so on the assumption that despite Gambian timekeeping we would begin on time I duly arrived about 15 minutes before the appointed time to find traffic being diverted round the back streets away from the cemetery where we were greeted by the sight of two large tents in front of the memorial, and another one by the entrance arch. The seats were filling up rapidly and by the time we began (11.00) there must have been about 300 people there. The front rows were occupied by Gambian ex-service men and a large number of police and military personnel all spick and span in their best uniform, with a good quantity of gold braid on view. Behind them sat the general public, a mixture of Gambian nationals and ex-pats, the latter mostly British, gently fanning themselves with their programmes while the camera men snapped away from the sidelines. Some of the ex-pats were dressed as if for church while others looked ready for the beach and I wondered what my old friend Fred would have thought of them. I suspect he would have shaken his head and tut tutted a little at the gentleman in his 50’s with a pony tale and the lady with the tattoos!
The service was short and sweet – I had expected an hour or so but by about twenty past eleven we had observed two minutes silence and watched the laying of two huge wreaths by the Commissioner General of Police and the Head of the Gambian Armed Forces which each rather dwarfed the one laid by a representative of the British High Commission on behalf of the Queen, and those subsequently laid by the Sierra Leoneans, (if that is the right term), the Canadians, Gambian ex service men, and the Scouts. We had listened to The Last Post and Reveille, received a blessing and short homily from the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Banjul and another from the Chief Imam, and were now being invited to make our way to the refreshment tent! The atmosphere as the guests headed for tea and biscuits reminded me of a church garden party without the stalls and I wondered as I slipped away how many of the ex-pats viewed it principally as a social occasion rather than a solemn remembrance of those who had given their all.
- They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
- Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
- At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
- We will remember them.