Apr 03, 2016 News
“I am not the sort of person who insinuate myself in anything…I get my satisfaction by seeing what is happening and knowing that I am responsible for something that helped to develop my country.”
By Sharmain Grainger
Spectacular may be one of the many adjectives that quickly come to mind when one sees a military
parade in procession; the immaculate uniforms, the precision march, bring along a sense of nationalism. But have you ever really wondered about our military attire?
By 1965 when Guyana was on the verge of attaining independence from British rule, it was also necessary for efforts to be made to design nationalized military apparel, complete with symbols.
Guyana understandably had to take total responsibility for this task, even deriving its own designs and military colours. But what many people may not know is that one man was identified to single-handedly carry out this very auspicious undertaking. And although he is currently 78, he remembers, like it was yesterday, how it all went down.
Today he isn’t the proud holder of a medal of honour nor has his work been nationally recognized, but Thomas Wellington Prince is yet elated and very contented that he has made a significant enough contribution to his country. And even today he keeps on contributing.
CAREER PATH WAS NOT THRUST UPON HIM
Born to parents Thomas and Doris Prince (both deceased) at 59 Robb Street, Georgetown, on November 24, 1937, he was the third of eight siblings. And Mr. Prince during a recent interview recalled that because his father was such a sought after engineer, this saw the family essentially living like nomads.
“I barely remember growing up in Robb Street, but I do remember going to school at Mackenzie (Linden); I remember going to school in Berbice and then we came back to Georgetown at some point,” he recounted.
It was in Georgetown that he eventually graduated from the Tutorial High School. He went on to attend the Government Technical Institute, and was in fact among the first batch of students to attend that institution.
Since he already had a passion for his father’s profession, it came naturally for him to embrace engineering as his preferred area of study. He insisted this career path was not thrust upon him. “For me I could only see two workable professions – engineering and soldiering – and I have been privileged to do both,” said Mr. Prince who disclosed that he had the desire to be involved in these fields ever since he was a boy scout.
He, moreover, enrolled in the British Guiana Volunteer Force (the military reserve force). By 1965 he was a Corporal in the Volunteer Force. However, Mr. Prince had by then tied the knot with his sweetheart, Bridget Genevieve, and that union had started to bear children, thus the need for an income to provide for a family.
As a result he sought employment at the British Guiana Credit Corporation, the forerunner to the now defunct Guyana Mortgage Finance Bank as a draughtsman and technical field officer. It was while working there that he was summoned to do what would turn out to be the most stupendous task of his life.
In reminiscing mode, he related how “in October of 1965 I was doing field work at Garden of Eden (and) that took me away from the office for a period of time. On returning to my office at the Corporation, at 41 Boyle Place,
Brickdam – the said building now enhanced architecturally that the Ministry of Housing is using – my supervisor, the late Gaston De Cambra, told me that I was urgently required at the Volunteer Force’s Headquarters, Eve Leary.”
There was no hesitation on Mr. Prince’s part to comply. He disclosed that on arrival at the location he first reported to an officer who, according to him, “informed me that I must report, as a matter of urgency, to the British Army Headquarters, in the building that is now the CID headquarters of the Guyana Police Force.”
And he recalled, with a sheepish grin, being ushered in to see a British Officer by a Major who introduced himself as Raymond Sattaur. He remembers so vividly hearing the Major mutter “Bill, the illusive Corporal has arrived.”
“I gazed up at this immaculately dressed British Officer…” recounted Mr. Prince as he added “I was standing up there nonplussed. I wasn’t at the time able to fathom the reason for my being there.”
Before long, though, his curiosity was appeased.
“I was offered a seat and Major Williams (the British Officer) soon put me at ease by saying that he was in British Guiana to help establish the Army (the Guyana Defence Force), and that having made inquiries of the Volunteer Force Headquarters for a competent person to undertake designing of the uniforms and Impedimenta (accessories) of the Army, my name was given as the one qualified to do so.”
It was there and then that the specifics of an impending task were shared with Mr. Prince. It was explained to him that since British Guiana was about to gain its independence from Britain, it would therefore need to have its own army for which the designs for its uniform, paraphernalia and badges of rank had to be done. Designing these within a two-week timeframe was essentially the task given to Thomas Prince.
Although unaware of what would be his first move, he was ready to prove that he was the man for the job, and would therefore be able to meet the stipulated deadline. The deadline was imperative, since it had to be approved before being sent to England to be manufactured and returned in time for the grand inaugural May 26, 1966 Independence Day celebration.
A vehicle and driver were provided to Mr. Prince to do whatever he needed to get the task done. And according to him, “for four days, I spent researching the project, visiting the archives, the Zoo, the Botanical Gardens, the Promenade Gardens, the Guyana Museum…the mornings and the afternoons – well into the nights I was on my drawing board.”
He started off doodling a seven-point star for the Force’s Crest or Cap Badge with a buckler holding them together in unity. In his mind he saw this as a representation of the six distinct ethnic groups while the seventh point represented the mixed people of the nation.
“I tried to balance it using several heads at the top to try and balance the design, but it all seemed out of place with no harmony,” he recalled.
But it was while he was visiting the Museum for the umpteenth time that he got the ultimate epiphany. “I saw at the top of the stairs a Papier-mâché statute of an Amerindian warrior chief with his bow, arrows and spears…it was only fitting that the head dress of the first people, the cacique crown, as it were, replace the imperial crown of England on the crest and on placing it on the seven-pointed star…it fit perfectly, giving it the balance and harmony that until then seemed illusive,” Mr. Prince remembered.
He explained that the colour red was chosen for the centre of the crest, to keep in mind the sacrifice of the forebears who through blood, sweat and tears built this country.
Added to this, he disclosed that it was after placing a labaria and arapaima with items representing the national flora and fauna in the centre with none of the desired effects, that he recalled seeing the Canje Pheasant or Hoatzin also known as the ‘stinking Hanna’ in his young days. The bird, according to him, is supposed to be the linkage between bird and reptile since its head is almost reptilian in shape and is very unique, in the sense that it has appendages on the end of its wings that enable it to climb when young and without feathers. The appendages, according to Mr. Prince, wither and drop off as the bird matures. The Canje Pheasant is rather unique to this part of the world; hence it has been named the national bird.
And Mr. Prince revealed that “on placing the Canje Pheasant superimposed on the red background of the crest, it fit perfectly, in complete harmony with the other features of the crest.”
Satisfied with what he’d completed, he moved on to the ceremonial uniform design. For this garment he toyed with several colours until his wife, who he described as his toughest critic, reminded him that the nation was gearing to embrace a new era and therefore a colour that signified purity would be most appropriate. Of course, he immediately agreed that white was the ideal colour. And then it was on to designing the patrol pants.
This again was not without intervention from his beloved wife who reminded him that Guyana is a tropical and agricultural country with vast natural resources. As such, he opted to use green pants with a scarlet seam running down the entire length. This, according to him, was intended “to balance out the scarlet centre of the crest with the same fortitude, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears of our forefathers through slavery and indentureship.”
A scarlet beret was chosen to complement all the other aspects that comprised the uniform.
A TASK WELL DONE
It was six days before the deadline that Prince was able to complete the project he was tasked with. “We have a bloody genius,” was the compliment forthcoming from Major Williams (the British Officer) Mr. Prince recalled, as he added that “Major Williams and Major Sattaur both shook my hand and congratulated me on a job well done.”
The designs were unanimously approved by the then Council of Ministers and were sent abroad to be manufactured and by extension, brought to life. In fact, Mr. Prince recalled that he was told that he would be invited to eventually meet the Council of Ministers at Parliament.
Although the invitation never came, he was so in tuned with things military, that he decided to resign from the Credit Corporation and enlisted in the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). This was a mere two weeks before the GDF was officially created by an Act of Parliament. And, according to Mr. Prince, what was gratifying to him was the fact that the National Coat of Arms, shortly before Independence, was declared with major components of his designs – the Cacique Crown and the Canje Pheasant.
He was also the key player behind the regimental colours design that was chosen after an open competition – for members of the GDF to replace the Queen’s standard. Mr. Prince’s design was unanimously selected. The design, he recalled, embraced the scarlet and green diagonal field with crossed implements denoting agriculture and natural resources with a rifle superimposed down the centre of the crossed implements – the agricultural form and the machete – denoting national defence with golden fringe along with golden cords and tassels.
For this, he was awarded a certificate of commendation from Mrs. Price, the wife of the then Chief of Staff, Brigadier Clarence Price. “I reciprocated by presenting Mrs. Price with a miniature version of the colours. I was proud and privileged to be selected as one of the escorts to the colours on its inaugural parade,” Mr. Prince recalled.
He narrated with pride how on the night of May 26, 1966 he was one of the men of the first battalion who stood proudly on Parade Square in the National Park as thousands of Guyanese from all walks of life erupted in deafening roars as that night’s historical and unforgettable events unfolded. That night saw Mr. Prince and Ronald King, the Colour Sergeants, accompanying Lieutenant Isaacs, the Ensign Bearer of the colours. According to a smiling Mr. Prince, “I dare say that it was the only time that the GDF in its history would have had a King and Prince escort the colours.”
“To this day I feel the nostalgia of that moment, almost 50 years ago…and whenever I witness a member of the GDF so dressed, individually or on parade, I feel a sense of pride that I played a part in the reality of it all.”
It is certainly his desire that present and future officers and even members of the public know the history of the Force’s proud tradition, which must be handed down so that they themselves can add to and maintain it.
Thomas Prince resigned from the army in 1973 and a few years later moved to the North West District where he still resides. He has again embraced his engineering skill and has for a number of years been working with the Public Works Ministry and now the Ministry of Public Infrastructure. He is tasked with supervising Government contracted projects throughout the country.
And he still has no desire to seek reward for his contribution. In fact, in a most humble tone, he intimated to me “I am not the sort of person who insinuate myself in anything…I get my satisfaction by seeing what is happening and knowing that I am responsible for something that helped to develop my country.”
It is for such a reason that it was a pleasure to feature him as our Special Person today.
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