Where's Viola Burnham Guyana

By Francis Quamina Farrier

CHRISTMAS activities remain very popular with the Guyana Defense Force. In this article, we will take a look at the Christmas celebrations in the early years of the Guyana Defense Force (GDF). To do that, I contacted a few retired top brasses of the Guyana Defense Force, including Lt. Col. Carl Morgan, who graciously shared some of his own activities as a senior officer in the GDF during Christmas seasons in the past. “Christmas in the GDF followed British military traditions,” he pointed out. "In the days preceding Christmas, the Chief-of-Staff and / or commanding officers would visit coastal and interior locations and serve the troops with Christmas lunch." In some instances, that included residents of neighboring communities to GDF camps. “In the interior, the local residents were invited. In the main camps, we started serving in ware plates with glasses and metal cutlery, "Morgan pointed out. “The invited included prominent citizens of those communities who were served like the troops. If the GDF location was near a small village, the entire village may be invited, ”said Morgan, who added that“ sweets, chocolates, nuts and soft drinks were shared out to the children. ”

Lt. Col. Carl Morgan was an officer in the GDF from its inception. Back in that early period, the GDF was known nationally as "The People’s Army" and many retired members now look back with pride to a time when the men in uniform were highly regarded. Carl Morgan revealed that "Over the years as the social and economic environment changed, the old traditions were, as expected, adjusted, but the spirit remains basically the same." On retirement, Lt. Col. Carl Morgan served Guyana as Ambassador to Suriname from 1990 to 1992.

Reminiscing about her travels to hinterland locations and being the Personal Assistant to Commander Ulric Pilgrim, Capt. Cheryl Moore reflected specifically on the Christmas 1973 celebration at the GDF Base at Lethem, Region Nine, where she also sang for the troops. It would be recalled that Capt. Moore and Capt. Beverley Drake were two women aviators who were honored with their images being placed on Guyana postage stamps a few years ago.

There is "Soldiers Day" during the festive season. It is a day when the junior ranks lord it over their senior officers, so to speak. On that day, the junior ranks are permitted to do anything within reason to their senior officers. That included calling them by their first names and even by their false names - something they dare not do during ordinary times. Putting it all in perspective, Lt. Col. Carl Morgan explained, “Soldiers would remove badges of rank from some of their superior officers and would walk around wearing them. Music was loud and there was singing and dancing. All clean healthy fun. I do not recall any gross ill-discipline or any serious damage to person or property, "Morgan related. He also spoke of being involved in a wrestling match one year, which he undertook with Warrant Officer (WO) Garth Angoy who was one of the toughest WOs of the day. It was a battle to which Carl Morgan had to give his all, so as not to be buried in the muddy ditch which was a portion of the wrestling ‘ring’ within the camp. At the end of the match in which Morgan proved a worthy challenger, the tough GDF ‘warriors’ hugged each other, then departed bruised, muddy and groggy. On the more official side of the Christmas activities, the senior officers would also serve lunch to the junior ranks - a reflection of Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples; the Master showing humility to His disciples.

Clairmonte Griffith was a career military officer. He was among the very first batch of recruits to join the Guyana Defense Force. "My tenure in the GDF was from March 1967 to September 1969." As a member of the Reconnaissance Platoon, Clairmonte Griffith traveled to many hinterland locations. “Christmas 1967 was spent in the hinterland and that holiday period was observed as a regular workday,” he said. However, it was different the next year. "Christmas 1968 Reconnaissance Reece Platoon received its first Georgetown assignment." That took the young officer to the residence on Vlissingen Road where Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and his wife Viola Burnham resided. With his usual military-style sense of humor, Griffith related what he and his fellow comrades were charged to do during the Christmas of 1968: "Protect the Kabaka (Prime Minister Forbes Burnham) and his family and their lazy Great Dane dog." Clairmonte Griffith migrated and continued his military career at West Point in the United States.

To all retired GDF officers and troops, wherever you may be at this festive season, best wishes to you and your loved ones. Enjoy Good Health and Happiness for Christmas 2020. It is a year which was extremely challenging. You can certainly reminisce on the years gone by of your active service to the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.