The importance of Barbados Independence Day
In 1966, 300 years after the first English settlers arrived, Barbados became an independent sovereign state. This was a massive moment for the country and its people. Every year since, on the 30th November, Barbados celebrates Independence Day.
Independence Day on Barbados is celebrated with much fanfare, pomp and ceremony. The main event is a big parade, held on the Garrison Savannah, with the Barbados Defence Force, Barbados Regiment, the police force, police band, cadets, Scouts, Girl Guides and the Barbados Landship, to name a few, taking part. There’s often a military parade for visiting dignitaries, while blue and yellow lights adorn public buildings and roundabouts across the island, signifying the colours of the national flag.
A brief history of Barbados independence
In 1627, the British landed in Holetown and established a colony. From this came sugar plantations and with them, slaves from Africa. This was a long and dreadful period for the island, and it continued right up until 1834 when slavery was abolished. By 1937 poor economic conditions on the island led to rioting, and recognising the need for social change, politician and lawyer Grantley Adams founded the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
In 1955, Errol Walton Barrow — disillusioned with the BLP and the island’s growing unemployment — formed the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and began the push for independence. This was achieved on the 30th November 1966 when Barbados ended 361 years of British rule and became an independent sovereign state. Errol Barrow became the first prime minister. During his time in power, the party expanded the tourist industry to reduce the island’s economic dependence on sugar, introduced national health insurance and social security, and extended free education to all levels. It was thanks to these two national heroes that Barbados is the prosperous and proud nation we know today.
Our Caribbean Captains
For a better understanding of what independence means to Barbados, we talked to two of our pilots, Captain Derek Haynes and Captain Ricky Ellcock, both of whom grew up on the island. But before we get to that, it’s worth mentioning their careers. Both went to the same school in Barbados, they both started commercial flying with LIAT, the regional Caribbean airline, and they both currently fly Boeing 787s for Virgin Atlantic. But if their career paths look similar, there are significant differences too.
Born in the UK to Bajan parents, Derek is a military man, having joined the Army Cadets at school before enlisting in the Barbados Defence Force. He later went to the 3rd Canadian Forces Flying Training School near Winnipeg, where he learnt to fly fixed and rotary-winged aircraft. There were no flying jobs in the Barbados Defence Force on his return, so he came back to England to try his hand at computer science, before heading back to Canada to gain his commercial pilot’s licence.
Ricky, on the other hand, was a sportsman. Born in Barbados, he was sent to boarding school in the UK and then went on to play first-class professional cricket. He played for Middlesex and Worcester before being called up for England and the 1990 tour of the West Indies (as one of England’s famous ‘fast four’ bowlers). Unfortunately for Ricky (and England), the tour, and his career, were cut short by injury. That’s when he decided to become a pilot and went to Scotland to get his wings.
Both pilots attended Combermere, one of the oldest schools in the Commonwealth. “Ricky was a couple of years behind me at school, and even though he was a bit better than me at cricket, I was also on a team with Combermerian and England Cricketer Gladstone Small pictured above with Ricky – an Under 15 team” – Derek Haynes. This photo shows the two pilots at a school reunion where they had been invited to discuss aviation.
What does independence of Barbados mean to you?
Derek: “We mustn’t forget that the prosperity Barbados enjoys today was built on the backs of African slaves, followed by the tenacity and sacrifice of several generations of their descendants. While Barbados is not the land of my birth, I certainly consider it my home! It is where I feel most comfortable, it is my safe haven and the place in which I feel secure in the knowledge that solace is genuinely available when times are rough and a genuine feeling of joy when times are good!”
Ricky: “What people don’t realise is that Barbados has a really dreadful history and it took a long time for people to start talking about the stuff that went on. It was an apartheid system. Independence meant a considerable amount, especially to my parents’ generation. They saw it as a time when Barbados set out to be on our own, and it made them very proud.”
Errol Walton Barrow - the father of independence
When asked to name a local hero, both pilots, like many Bajans, name their former Prime Minister the Rt. Hon Errol Walton Barrow.
“Before leading us to independence, he was a Combermere alumnus like Ricky and myself,” explains Derek. “He was an air navigator in WWII when he flew 53 operational missions over the European Theatre and rose to the rank of Flying Officer. He served as Premier of Barbados from 1961 to 1966, proudly led his country to independence and became the island’s first Prime Minister.”
Derek was lucky enough to meet the Rt. Hon Errol Walton Barrow in 1975 at the Marine Hotel following the independence celebration. “It was a great honour! He was also noted for his culinary skills! The following Sunday, we went to his official residence, Culloden Farm, where he cooked for me, my mom and two brothers.”
Looking forward to a prosperous future
“Barbados is a country that welcomes the world to its shores. The warmth and hospitality of its people are legendary,” says Derek. “Many British nationals can attest that there is a direct correlation between the warmth of the climate and the spirit, generosity and grace of its people. That is the Bajan way, and those are core values of our proud and diverse family of Bajans.” The excellent news for Derek and Ricky is that the Boeing 787 aircraft they both command are now scheduled onto our Barbados flights out of Heathrow.
"It will be a signal honour to operate as captain on the B787 to Bimshire. ‘Woah, we're going to Barbados!’ With a scenic arrival down the west coast, I’ll alert my school mates and family; they will be watching. I hope to do so soon if rostering is willing.”
A statement of confidence
Perhaps the most poignant story, though, is told by Ricky, whose fascination with flying began when an American aircraft carrier visited Barbados. Shortly afterwards, when his dad asked him what he wanted to do with his life his swift response was “be a pilot”. Dad’s answer? “Black people don’t fly planes.” Ricky went on to become our first black captain. Then on the 24th September 1998, he was at the controls of the giant Boeing 747 when our first ever flight to Barbados touched down.
The Barbadian journey continues next year when on the 55th anniversary of independence, Bajans plan to replace Queen Elizabeth as head of state and become a republic. Announcing the change, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said that Barbadians wanted a Barbadian head of state, adding: “This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.”
For all the progress that’s been made, earlier this year the needless death of George Floyd and the growing Black Lives Matter movement laid bare the work that still needs to be done. At Virgin Atlantic, we stand for inclusion regardless of gender, race or sexuality. We will not tolerate prejudice of any kind.
`We also understand that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation in aviation needs to improve. We’re committed to using the power and influence of our brand and incredible people to drive real change. In a small but meaningful gesture, we’ve recently introduced BAME flying icons as nose art on some of our aircraft. We also have a newly formed and flourishing internal network that celebrates, champions and supports our BAME employees.
Just because there’s no parade this year doesn’t mean there’s no celebration. On Saturday there was a virtual celebration to reconnect Bajans with their loved ones ALL over the world! The recording of the event is seven inspirational hours of pure Barbados sunshine.