Thousands of citizens invaded the Queen’s Park Savannah yesterday morning to witness T&T’s 50th Independence Day parade. Hundreds of spectators arrived from as early as 5.30 am, braving traffic and early-morning sun to secure the best vantage point to view the show. Some were disappointed when they could not be accommodated at the packed Grand Stand. Instead, hundreds of people dressed in the national colours—red, white and black—lined the streets of Port-of-Spain to participate in the festivities. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who was dressed in a white ensemble accented with red accessories, arrived at the Savannah to a rousing round of applause around 8 am. President George Maxwell Richards arrived shortly after on the back of a customised SUV and was also met with a hearty greeting. Several Caricom heads of state, who were specially invited to witness the Golden Jubilee, were also in attendance. Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and St Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonzales were seen with their spouses in the VIP enclosure at the Grand Stand. Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley was noticeably absent for a second year running, along with several other key Opposition figures.
The parade began with the march past that included detachments from the Regiment, Coast Guard, Air Guard, Police, Fire and Prisons’ Services. The participants, as well as the huge crowd of spectators, swayed merrily to the sweet soca renditions that were being played by the bands of the various protective services. Even as temperatures soared, the participants, dressed in formal wear, stood proudly in military formation to allow Richards, their commander-in-chief, to inspect the parade. As a special addition to the traditional show, the Defence Force Rhythm Team treated the public to a thrilling performance that blended synchronised marching moves with high-tempo soca music. The highlight of the show for many was the fly-past, in which seven helicopters flew past the Grand Stand, saluting Richards in the process. A mobile drive past, which utilised numerous vehicles and specialist equipment used by the protective services, was also met with positive reviews.
The show ended with a 21-gun salute and the marching bands played Happy Birthday to You, which was lustly sung by the large crowd who substituted the original lyrics to reflect T&T’s 50th birthday as an independent nation. Most attendees said they were pleased by the patriotic show but complained of some organisational problems that plagued the spectacle. The PA system in the stands malfunctioned frequently, preventing military commentators from guiding viewers through the two-hour-long show. In a new tradition, which was started by Persad-Bissessar last year, she stopped at the Paddock area of the Savannah and exited her vehicle to greet the large crowd of spectators that waited eagerly to welcome her. After the initial programme at the Savannah, the show took to the streets of Port-of-Spain passing along Frederick Street, before ending at King George V Park in St Clair. Immediately after the official parade ended, scores of people, dressed in red and carrying large flags, gathered along Tragarete Road for further celebrations.
Even as midday showers and corresponding flash flooding threatened to put the parties on hold, revellers remained steadfast and continued to dance and sing in on the sidewalks and roadways.