As the heroes of the wars get old die off one by one, our memory of their bravery and merit seems to be dying with them.
The Royal Sussex came smartly to salute as Lieutenant Vivian Maingot, acting as standard bearer, knelt before His Royal Highness, Edward, Prince of Wales, to receive on behalf of the 1st Battalion the King’s colours and also on behalf of the 8th and 12th Battalions of the British West India Regiment. As the colours were presented, deafening cheers burst from the crown of close to 2000, who witnessed the spectacle. They cheered so loudly that they were answered by their own echo, rebounding from the St. Anns Hills. The flags were presented to the colony, furnishing the greatest number of men in any particular battalion.
This presentation of the King’s colours was made in March of 1920, two years after the end of World War I. During this war 17 contingents of volunteers were sent to England to fight for Britain, and 22 military crosses were won by members of those contingents.
Over the years, it has become popular to believe that the “local forces” who served abroad during the two world wars saw no action and acted only as menials. As any military person could tell you, military crosses are not handed out to handymen! In the first world war, Trinidadians served with valour. 55 silver war badges were awarded. In one engagement in the Jordan Valley, one D.S.O., two M.C. and one D.C.M. were won by members of the 1st battalion. One member of the Trinidad Light Infantry Motorcycle Platoon was a “local boy” who became one of the highest ranking officers of the Royal Air Force, Air Vice Marshall Claude Vincent, C.B., C.B.E., D.F.C, A.F.C, K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., commanded the 4th army corps and the 7th Indian division in Burma. He received the surrender of General Seishiro Itagaki and his 100,000 man army. General Itagaki handed over his sword to Frank Messervy in Rangoon in 1945 as a symbol of surrender, and as Messervy remembered, Itagaki’s pupils contracted to the point of vanishing as he gave up this 550 year old heirloom.
Frank Messervy was the son of an English bank manager and Myra de Boissière. Lt. Col. Arnold de Boissière was the most senior serving West Indian officer on the Western Front in World War I. Captain Arthur André Cipriani raised several contingents and served himself at the front in the first world war.
With the paint still fresh on the Memorial Park railing and the call for the remembering of those who served and fell, we publish the list of officers and men of the first Trinidad contingent of the British West Indies Regiment. Even though none of them is alive anymore, may their valour never be forgotten.