As I started writing this article eleven minutes after the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I waxed warmly, as it’s a day dear to my family.
Growing-up as a child under the Union Jack, on November 11 every year my father, Charles V.E. Bousquet, would remind me of his days ‘during the war’ laying cables on the sea bed in the Caribbean Sea on the ‘cable ships’ owned by Cable & Wireless, the British company present in all Britain’s ‘West Indian’ colonial territories worldwide.
He’d remind me that ‘World War II ended at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1945…’ and every year I’d hear a different ‘war story’, not about Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Remembrance Day or Memorial Day (all of which it was called), but about the ‘suspense’ of ‘sailing and laying cables with no guns or bombs in an ocean full of invisible submarines…’
On the nearest Sunday to November 11, a Memorial Mass would be held at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Castries, attended by living ex-soldiers who served in the two World Wars and/or their relatives and ending with a parade of all the island’s uniformed units (from police and fire officers to scouts and guides) on Columbus Square and a street procession, led by the police band.
The processions also included special units representing British and French governments and were followed along the streets by primary school ‘children’ (including Yours Truly) chanting ‘Boom, Boom, Boom…’ in rhythm with the Big Drum beat of the band.
Having been conscripted by my dad into the Boys Brigade (at the Methodist Infant school, the Boy Scouts (at the RC Boys Primary and Sea Scouts (at St Mary’s College), I would each year accompany our dad to the Memorial Day mass and parade, after which he’d head home and leave me to join my peers following the parade from ‘The Square’ to ‘The Gardens’ (George V Park).
I’ve always been proud that our dad was honoured for surviving a war that didn’t require him firing a single bullet.
He would always tell me ‘The war wasn’t easy’ and ‘While some fought to be chosen to go to England to fight for Britannia to continue ruling the waves, some took very painful steps to avoid being selected.’
As he put it, ‘Since the rules required recruits to be totally physically fit, some men would actually jump from a balcony to break a leg, or slice a deep cut in their arms with a very-sharp cutlass, just to disqualify themselves…’
A certified Member of the British Empire (MBE) though also being awarded a medal of the same name, Charles called them ‘Cowards unwilling to serve the Crown’, but he’d also add (in invisible parentheses) ‘They probably knew too that ordinary West Indians sent to Britain during the war were not sent to the Front to fight, but most were kept at base to cook, clean toilets, mow lawns and engage in other non-combatant duties considered too low for the English.’
Before he died, Charles and I did get several amusing chances to exchange from different political and ideological perspectives, but all his sons were shaped by him having shipped all-but-one (Charles Jr) out to sea, insisting it was to help us make-up our minds about ‘What you want to be in life…’
Charles (we called our dad by his name) knew the value of education, but he didn’t think careers should be made based only on what one learned at school – and saw degrees as nothing but ‘A piece of paper that says in the dark how bright you are…’
Dispatching us on our maiden voyages as scouting seamen as he piloted the ship out of the harbor he’d also told us, in respective turns: ‘You have to go to sea to see where to go.’
So-adamant he was, that if any of us dared to sound like we didn’t agree when he instructed us to ‘Pack your things, you’re going out on a ship tomorrow…’ (meaning he’d landed our first sailing job), he’d simply and quietly inform us: ‘You have two choices: You go, or You go…’
My brothers (Pilot Guy Bousquet and the multi-talented Alex) shared my earlier experiences learning life at sea, between ports and continents; and while their historical perspectives were greatly-shaped by age, our father’s personal and nautical influence (on each of us) was singularly overwhelming.
Take our decisions to be buried at sea (including Guy and I).
Most Saint Lucians never heard of or saw ‘a sea burial’ until Alex’s on November 4, but it’s been a tradition among seafarers for as long as sailing has existed.
Our father and our deceased brother Kimber (a Royal Navy seaman who also sailed the Seven Seas) were both buried at sea right here, their bodies returned — after life on earth — to the origins of the saltwater in our veins, from whence we all cometh.
This tradition has existed for so long that every ‘funeral home’ everywhere provides the service – also available online in the UK and USA — which requires the entire body be wrapped in a special canvas on a 200-pound piece of lead, placed in a special coffin and sunk according to set ceremonial means, at determined distances from shore.
The cardinal points marking the point of burial then becomes the location of that seaman’s grave, where family and friends return every year to lay floating wreaths.
Alex won’t have the luxury of annual returns by family and friends to his watery grave, the health authorities here having assumed responsibility (from the Port Authority) and setting new conditions for sea burials demanding the body be cremated — burned to dust — and his ashes thrown to the wind in an unmarked ocean-wide grave.
The poetic, humorous and comedic strain in the family have collided and colluded to place my brother’s death in the context of him departing on the 10th day of the 10th month and me writing this article on the 11th day of the 11th month – and all between: his October 17 birthday coinciding with La Marguerite Day and the 1917 Russian Revolution; and his funeral service on November 4 coinciding with the 13th anniversary of the election of America’s first Black president, Barack Obama.
I am the proud recipient of a national honor – the Saint Lucia Medal of Honor (Gold) for my ‘Contribution to journalism and organization of media workers’ in the CARICOM region.
But, as I recall saying in my unscripted eulogy at Alex’s funeral, not even my 45 years non-stop in the news business will bring me the overwhelming level of kindred love and genuinely-honest appreciation for Alex still being expressed by Saint Lucians every day, everywhere.
He fought a valiant and easy battle for the minds of people and won so well as to become the envy of every politician seeking election.
Alex might not have been honored by officialdom for his everyday in-your-face contributions, but he’s been more-than-just-honored by those everywhere who still grieve for one of Saint Lucia’s TV personalities they loved the most.
So-much-so, that when people offer me ‘Condolences for your brother Alex’, I heartily reply ‘Same to you…’
Why? Because Alex Bousquet wasn’t just my brother.
Instead, in the eyes of the many, he was a national figure and folk hero, wrapped-in-one, heralded by those who truly honour achievers in their hearts and minds, not just for the names they carry or the company they keep, but for what they do and how.
People of all walks of life simply loved Alex for always being himself and doing his best at whatever he did.
As seen in the support from all quarters – from retired Customs Officer John Daniel to former President of the Saint Lucia Senate Calixte George to Monsignor Dr Patrick Anthony – for the corner of Coral and St. Louis Streets in Castries (‘Street Vibes Corner’ or ‘Aquarius Crossing’) where he recorded his daily Vox Pop show, to be designated in Alex’s memory.
He got what some have glowingly described as ‘A funeral for kings’ and others as ‘a burial like no other’ and in the month since he left, I’ve heard nary a breath of a bad word about Alex, some who attended his funeral service and/or saw his burial live-and-direct, still somehow refusing to accept that he’s really gone.
If Folk Heroes are fomented and forged, framed, famed and feathered by the folk, Alex stood out.
On Remembrance Day 2021, therefore, I added Alex alongside our dad on the family’s growing list of landed sailors and soldiers to be remembered – and still see his five medals as worth more than just their weight in gold, if only for what they meant to him when given – and by whom.
Here’s to Charles and Alex.
They’ll live forever!