Jul 08, 2013 News
– Granger at Son Chapman Memorial
“Forty-nine years ago on 6th July, the Son Chapman embarked on what would be its final voyage. Sixty three passengers and the crew left the Stabroek Market wharf…eagerly looking forward to coming home to Linden…perhaps a new life…all filled with hope. Alas, 43 innocent lives were lost in what is referred to as “the tragedy of Son Chapman”.
“Today, we gather here to memorialize the lives lost on that fateful day. And as we do so, we must reflect on what lessons we learnt as a result of this terrible event,” Chairman of Region 10, Sharma Solomon declared in a moving address at the memorial service for the Son Chapman martyrs, which was held on the lower end of the Burnham Drive river bank. There, the huge white stone with the 43 names of the persons, who were killed that tragic day engraved on it, was prominently displayed for all to see.
The Regional Chairman exhorted that the tragedy should be used as a source of strength- as no matter how painful the experience, “if we lose hope, then that would be our real disaster. Therefore, we must hold fast to the hope expressed by our nation’s motto: ONE People, ONE Nation, ONE Destiny,” Solomon said.
“I am not naïve to think that people…Lindeners…will not feel some fear of events such as the Son Chapman re-occurring, for the events of July 18, 2012 remain fresh in our collective minds. However, we must not…indeed we cannot…allow this fear to overcome our hope…our quest…for a better life,” he added.
Solomon said that reconciliation is necessary for progress to occur, but that no attempt at reconciliation can be complete without forgiveness. “The events of July, 1964 cannot be undone; however, instead of distancing ourselves from our fellow Guyanese, we must seek to embrace each other in unity and understanding. When we forgive evil, we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. Instead, we look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it.”
Solomon declared, “I wish to point out that the scars which the Son Chapman tragedy left on the people of Linden cannot be erased. They are painful reminders that Guyana needs a political solution that would be long lasting and for the benefit of all. As Kazuo Ishiguro once wrote, ‘Perhaps one day, all…conflicts will end, and it won’t be because of great statesmen or churches or organisations…it will be because people have changed.”0
The new memorial site, which replaced the originally one at Horadaia almost 18 miles away, seemed somehow more appropriate as those who perished were from Linden. The nearby, silent, dark and mysterious Demerara River only added to the poignancy of the event. Owner of the ill-fated launch, Mr. Norman Chapman was noticeably absent. However, his son Joseph, stood in for him, and was among the persons who laid wreaths in the river, in tribute to the Martyrs. Also in attendance were Leader of the Opposition, David Granger and Members of Parliament Rennis Morian and Vanessa Kissoon.
Opposition Leader David Granger in his reflections on the tragedy, exhorted Lindeners to let the Demerara River become a ‘channel of commerce and prosperity, and not a river of division and hatred. “Let the pain of the past be used to propel us to peace and prosperity,” he emphasized.
Grainger said that the communities of Mackenzie, Wismar and Christianburg had been targeted for terrorism by ‘the masterminds of terrorism’. “They succeeded”, he said, “As over 176 persons were killed during that dark period and thousands of buildings were burnt; sugar cane fields were burnt”.
“Never before or after were there so many internal refugees in this country,” he declared, adding that all the acts of terrorism were orchestrated by the masterminds, to abort the General Elections of 1964. He conceded, “We come here(today) not with a feeling of revenge, not with a feeling of recrimination or a feeling of retribution- we’ve come here out of leverage, we’ve come here out of remembrance- we’ve not come here to rekindle old hostilities. We’ve come to renew our commitment to this community and to our country, and to our children; and we’ve come to reaffirm the common destiny of all our Guyanese people. As the blood of our Saviour redeemed those who believe, so too the blood of these martyrs will redeem those who seek genuine understanding of what took place”.
He added that enough blood has been shed so that there should now be remission and reconciliation.
“I pray that God may comfort the survivors of this atrocity- this massacre, and I pray that God may rid our nation of hatred and crime- I pray that God would unite us as a people.”
The Son Chapman tragedy has been recorded as one of the worst tragedies to have occurred on the Demerara River. The recollections of the event, even today, remain one of the most gruesome in Guyana’s history.
Among those who perished in the Son Chapman explosion were four children and a pregnant woman, who gave birth spontaneously.
Of those who perished, only 32 bodies were recovered, and nine of those recovered were never positively identified.
The Son Chapman’s crew of six and 26 fortunate passengers would survive the explosion that blew more than 40 others to bits across the water top in the vicinity of Horadai, some eighteen miles from Linden. All the other memorial services, which were initiated a few years ago, had been held at that location. However a decision was made to bring the event to a more central location so that more Lindeners would be afforded the opportunity to participate.
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