Celebrating the Centenary of the Ex-servicemen Riots
22 July 2019
Hi everybody, on this day, 22nd July one hundred years ago, we saw the beginning of the Nationalist Movement here in Belize.
The events of the July 22 riots called the ex-servicemen riots was a historic milestone and one we should never forget. See, during World War I which started in 1914, more than 500 Belizeans were recruited by the British to go to war, and dutifully our men went. Of course, our loyal British Honduran Volunteers would later be sent to the Middle East and would find out that because they were not white, they were not allowed to kill Europeans. To make matters worse, the men they were supposed to be fighting for called them “niggers” and told them they could not sing British fighting songs.
After suffering all this humiliation, they returned home only to find out that their salaries had not arrived. So, the men, led by Sergeant Hubert Vernon, who by then had had enough, took to the streets, only this time they were not alone. Side by side with our soldiers were the women who joined in and before you knew, over 3,000 nationalists were smashing the glass panes on Brodies and the businesses in Belize Town. The local police and residents of Belize Town decided they would stand with our soldiers, so much so, that the British Governor was forced to send for troops which included a British war ship named the HMS Constance.
The success of the 1919 riots is one of the greatest examples of how our people, in times of need, have stood strong together and stood up for what is right. The Ex-servicemen riots were more than just about racism and about the men who were not getting paid, the historians tell us it was also about poverty and the rising cost of living.
We should celebrate this centennial with great pride. Let us all be grateful to our national heroes by remembering their names and how they decided to stand up for Belize. Remember Clifford Betson and Hubert Vernon and let us remember our formidable women, who have always been on the front lines of these events. There are other heroes too, like Samuel Haynes, Herbert Cain and Luke Kemp who were actively involved in the formation of a Universal Negro Improvement Association influenced by the great Marcos Garvey. What an effect Garvey had on it all, for his words, which were being distributed in the local newspaper, was what inspired and motivated people in then Belize Town to believe in themselves.
As we celebrate the Centennial of the Ex-Servicemen’s riot, let us remember who we are, a people who when pushed to the brink will resist. A people, when faced with hardships, will persevere, and when tested will stand up.
One hundred years after the seeds were planted for our Nationalist Movement, we must reflect on some of the modern-day problems that plague us like obscene government corruption, crippling poverty, out of control crime and violence and a government that needs to be put in check.
Our time is fast approaching, when like the angry protesters in 1919, we will need to take back our country for only when we do so will we be able to fulfill their dreams to build a Belize that works for everyone.
Long may the memory of our heroes live on.
Thanks, God bless and have a safe week.