by Arley Salimbi Gill
Grand Roi or is it Grand Roy? The name has its roots in colonialism when Grenada changed hands between the different European countries vying for colonial power.
The French called it Grand Roi and the British renamed it Grand Roy. Regardless of the language — the name means Great King. The village, it seems, lives up to its name. Grand Roy is a wonderful village!
Nestled at the foot of Pleasure Mountain or Mount Plaisir, the French name for the mountain, which looks down majestically on this small fishing village — a village whose shoreline is washed by the calm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. The French knew that the village would produce great kings and queens. And it did!
Grand Roy is the birthplace of Slinger Francisco, The Mighty Sparrow — the Calypso King of the World! Lewis Hamilton, the king of race car driving, is a grandson of a son of Grand Roy’s soil — Uncle Dave, as he was affectionately called by villagers, was born and raised on Pleasure Mountain.
Grand Roy villagers can boast of producing notable community leaders. For example, outstanding civil servants, trade unionists, regional public servants and medical personnel were nurtured and raised by capable elders in this community. Community leaders who went on to make significant contributions to the growth and development of an independent Grenada.
The main road, stretching from Sauteurs in the north to St George’s in the south, constitutes the principal vein of the village. Like other coastal villages in Grenada, it is also the hub of activities. From the police station that stands as WatchGuard welcoming people to the village; the cluster of churches where on any given Sunday you can hear churchgoers belching out church songs, as if they are competing souls; to the legendary “bloc” that is the unofficial community centre — a kind of “church” if you will, a place where villagers congregate regardless of age, gender or profession to discuss, debate and socialise together, before retreating to their respective homes. Ask villagers where they are from, and they will proudly tell you, without hesitation, that they are from “Grand Town”.
Then, there is the hill. Up Grand Roy’s hill. The pre-primary and primary schools sit studiously on top of the hill. Every morning and evening, you can find villagers making the daily trek, up the hill and back. On the top of the hill there is a monument dedicated to The Mighty Sparrow. A community initiative to honour their world-famous son-of-the-soil. Also, on that hill sits the Grand Roy Medical Station, perched on a hill overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Its location allows it to stare at every passing vessel, keeping a watchful eye as they go by.
In the year 1983, behind the said medical station, stood a large wooden house that was home to the Grand Roy Militia Camp; indeed, the medical station in those days was itself constructed of timber. The house was located within 100 yards of the primary school. As a child, I walked past the militia camp every day to and from school. Moreover, the only playing field in the village is located next to the primary schools
The playing field was the venue for sporting activities in the village, from football to cricket, to track and field, and any other recreational activity. It was hard to miss the military camp. Also, as a young boy, and a primary school student, I soon realised that some of the young men at the camp were my elder schoolmates — students who were in Standard 6 or Standard 7. They were teenagers. I later learned that the teenagers went to school during the day, and left at night, sometimes without their parents’ consent, to train at the Grand Roy Police Station as members of the People’s Militia.
As a curious boy, I sometimes wondered if they lived at the militia camp. I would see the boys at camp in the morning, and again in the evening, but they would be at school during the day. At the camp, they would be chatting, laughing, and cleaning and shining their People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) boots, posing in their uniforms; holding their guns — proudly and carefully cleaning and shining their guns — as if they were toys for grown boys and men.
It is here in this large wooden house next to the Grand Roy Government School where the story of the Grand Roy warriors — defenders of Grenada and the Grenadian Revolution — begins in earnest.
Their names are not household names but worthy of being memorialised: Cleveland Phillip, Godwin McEwen, Daniel Lawrence and Stephen Mc Ewen. However, if you ask any Grand Roy villager over the age of 60 to recall the names of the Grand Roy heroes who died defending Grenada and the Grenadian Revolution, they would easily and effortlessly blurt out the names of the aforementioned men, but referring to them by their sobriquets: Papa, Buss You Belly, Colours and Blackie.
With similar ease and effortlessness, they would recall the names of the heroes — people seriously injured on 25 October 1983: Michael Baptiste or Botay; Julien Scott or Clary; and Derrick Benjamin. Given the time of day or the health of their memory, the villager may name other young men and women from Grand Roy who were either in the army or the militia, and took up arms to defend the Grenada Revolution. Men such as David Mc Ewen, also known as Spooner or Boom Boom; Simon Andrew or Jauntie; and Earnest Marshall, displayed extraordinary bravery in the defence of their country.
Moreover, it must be said that these men were never, and could never, be referred to as “Bishopites” or “Coardites” because, to them, sides were not for them to take when there was only one side — and that was the side of Grenada. This selfless and patriotic deed is often overlooked in the seemingly endless quarrel of who supported which faction in the fallout of the Revolution. Most men and women involved in the Revolution just wanted to serve their country; at least, that was the commitment of the warriors from Grand Roy.
What I have learned from speaking to villagers about the Grand Roy boys is that the truism — “memories don’t leave like people do” — is, indeed, true. The sacrifices of the boys from Grand Roy will remain alive in the memories of their loved ones. However, it is time that Grenada remembers their sacrifice and gives them the honour that they rightfully deserve, 40 years later.
I believe that the young men and women from Grand Roy, as well as those from other villages and towns in Grenada who died defending the Revolution, deserve their rightful place in Grenada’s history. As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the fall of the Grenada Revolution and the Yankee Invasion, and as the government has declared 19 October as Heroes’ Day, there cannot be a heroes’ day if we, as a people, haven’t settled on who are these heroes and what qualifies them to be so characterised. It is only fitting that the young men and women who defended and died for Grenada are among the names considered for memorialisation. They, too, are heroes and heroines of Grenada.
The stories of the people from Grand Roy are integral to the story of the Revolution and, subsequently, the United States invasion of Grenada on 25 October 1983.
After 19 October and the fall of the Revolution, the young militia men and women, who were training for years, months and even weeks, became restless. I spoke with former militia officers, a few who were injured during the Yankee invasion, and they all admitted that they were not forced to join the militia but did so proudly to defend their country. One former militia member remarked: “We were fearless.’’ These young men and women were inspired and energised by the spirit of the Grenadian Revolution.
They saw their local commanders as leaders and wanted to belong to something bigger than themselves. The Revolution gave them something to believe in. It gave them purpose!
For the young men who fought and survived the Yankee invasion of Grenada in 1983 — recalling the events of 25 October is harrowing and traumatic. They vividly recount the moments like they were yesterday. For example, listening to Julien Scott retell the story of what led him to join the militia, and the family tension that ensued is a universal story of rebellion, resistance, persistence and triumph.
Two of the young men, with the assistance of an Irish priest who was stationed in Grand Roy at the time, were brought to the United States for medical attention for injuries they sustained during the invasion. The 2 youngsters, not yet 20 years old, gave their limbs and lives for this country. They were casualties of war, and they deserve national recognition.
Sadly, one of the young men who was injured on 25 October 1983, passed away in the United States in 2020. Michael “Botay” Baptiste was never recognised for his service and sacrifice to his country. Michael used a wheelchair for the rest of his life, because of the injuries he sustained during the invasion. Michael’s story is also a story of a young man — inspired and motivated by change — dedicated his life to defending his homeland. Posthumously, Michael deserves recognition.
I am convinced that the story of the Grand Roy men is the story of young men and women across Grenada — young people moved by the spirit of the Revolution. Young people who saw and seized the opportunity to protect the Revolution. They willingly gave their time, energy and ultimately, their lives to defend their homeland.
My advocacy is simple: Let us seize this 40th anniversary and the upcoming 50th anniversary of independence to remember the service and sacrifice of these young men and women, while they are still alive.
I write this piece in memory of Cleveland “Papa” Phillip, Godwin “Buss You Belly” Mc Ewen, Daniel “Colours” Lawrence, Stephen “Blackie” McEwen, and Michael “Botay” Baptiste. May their souls rest in eternal peace and their sacrifice and memory live on — forever!!!!