Veteran reflects as Bermuda honours those who served
Soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty were honoured this morning at a Remembrance Day ceremony where the observance had special meaning for Vernon Clarke.
Wounded in Northern Ireland during his seven years of service with the Royal Engineers, he still walks with a limp from a sniper’s bullet in 1972.
The veteran said he “absolutely” honoured the commemoration before the Cenotaph on Saturday at the grounds of the Cabinet office. “Guys died out there,” Mr Clarke, 74, told The Royal Gazette.
The well-known artist signed up for an engineering apprenticeship through the Royal Engineers from 1966 to 1973, hoping to better himself and get a break from a desultory life in London.
He joined the Engineers at age 17, with his mother signing his forms, and after six months’ training was sent to what was then West Germany, guarding the Berlin Wall at the height of the Cold War.
As a corporal, he witnessed a man at the border waving a white flag, desperate to escape East Germany, and even approached the fortified fence to check if it was electrified — which it was not.
Mr Clarke said he enjoyed his time in West Germany, adding: “We made it what it was. We did not call the Germans ‘Nazis’, and we got along with them.”
Serving in Northern Ireland took Mr Clarke into a different type of war.
The country was roiled by violence between Catholic and Protestant communities known as the Troubles — and British soldiers were targets of paramilitary groups such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
“They needed soldiers to back up the Royal Ulster Constabulary,” Mr Clarke recalled.
Some of the Royal Engineers specialised in dismantling bombs, others patrolled with the RUC to help maintain order at a time when the Troubles raged in full force.
Mr Clarke was out on the street in Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second-largest city, when he was shot in the thigh by an IRA sniper.
The bullet glanced upwards, hitting Mr Clarke in the hip and leaving him with a permanent limp.
“I thought, ‘this is crazy’,” he recalled. “You’re walking down the road, there are kids, mothers with prams, and this man was shooting people.”
Mr Clarke woke up in a hospital and saw the sniper attack on the TV news.
“I don’t chat about it,” he said. “People don’t understand it. It was a strange time. It isn’t something I sit around thinking about.”
He added: “Now and then it comes back up. Some of what is happening now in the Middle East sounds very similar.”
Remembrance Day, however, is a sacred occasion that gives Mr Clarke — who came to Bermuda in 1973 — a chance to reflect on the past and honour those who gave their lives.
The ceremony and parade, attended by veterans and their families, started at 10.30am as a crowd looked on along Front Street and on the Cabinet grounds.
Rena Lalgie, the Governor, led the laying of memorial poppy wreaths at the monument after a two-minute silence was held.
She was followed by Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier; Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton; Jarion Richardson, the Leader of the Opposition; Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker of the House, and other dignitaries.
Along with veterans, the solemn ceremony was joined by the Royal Bermuda Regiment, including its junior leaders, with the Bermuda Police Service and Bermuda Sea Cadets. It was marked with a canon salute.
Hundreds observing the hourlong ceremony were also treated to music from the RBR Band and Corps of Drums, with the Somerset Brigade Band, the Salvation Army Band, and the Bermuda Islands Pipe Band.
Captain Travis Stevens, who has been in the Regiment for 12 years, took the role of Parade Commander for the first time.
He said: “I thought it was important to start the parade by reminding the soldiers why they serve, whether it’s for self-improvement, whether it’s to develop and maintain a sense of discipline or whether it’s to give back to others.
“More importantly, the reason we are here today is to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“From the time we are marching down Front Street to the time we get off parade, I wanted that to be in the back of the soldiers’ minds.”
The 35-year-old from St David’s is an underwriter in his civilian life.
The parade was a first for Private Cierra Holdipp, 35, from Devonshire, who joined the Regiment earlier this year.
She said: “Many people have passed away and sacrificed for us during both world wars, so you definitely want to make sure that you’re here and you’re present.
“You enjoy the moment, but give them their respect as well.”
Private Donavon Burgess, from Warwick, highlighted that Remembrance Day was an opportunity to pay respect to people who fought for others to have freedom.
He wanted to join the Regiment to continue a family tradition of people who served.
Dennis and Lisa Figureido, from Devonshire, looked on as their 13-year-old son Liam — named after a great-grandfather who fought in the Second World War — marched as one of the Junior Leaders.
Mrs Figureido said: “He wanted to join, this was one of his motivating factors — the parade.
“He was told about his great-grandfather and to think about him in the moment of silence.”
The Right Reverend Nicholas Dill, Anglican Bishop of Bermuda, led the gathering in prayer after wreaths were laid.
He said: “Brothers and sisters, on this day of remembrance we meet to pay our tribute to those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom in two World Wars — especially those who served in defence of this land of ours.”
The date marks the formal end of battle at the close of the First World War, with the first Remembrance Day, then known as Armistice Day, held on November 11 in 1919.
• UPDATE: this story has been updated with additional photographs