Memories of Independence night

A production team was putting things in place for the touted Burna Boy show as Earle Whyte, Copeland Forbes, and Julian Templer strolled into the National Stadium on December 15, 2022. Sixty years ago they were at the same venue for an even more momentous event.

The three men were Boys Scout Association of Jamaica members assigned to participate in the ceremony marking Jamaica’s independence from Great Britain on August 6, 1962. Templer, now 77, was official car-door opener for Princess Margaret, who represented Queen Elizabeth; Forbes, who is now 75 years old, accompanied her to the Royal Box; while Whyte, now 79, flew in from Toronto, Canada, to witness history.

That night, the new National Stadium was jam-packed. Dignitaries included Governor General Sir Kenneth Blackburn; Prime Minister Sir Alexander Bustamante; Norman Manley, leader of the Opposition People’s National Party; and Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret’s husband.

Templer, born in Surrey, England, came to Jamaica at age 10 with his British parents and still has a distinctive lilt from his family’s hometown of Ewell. He joined the Up Park Camp chapter of the scouts in 1956, three years after Whyte, who he has known for more than 60 years.

Forbes, who was born in Jones Town but raised in nearby Trench Town, was a member of the All Saints troupe.

The Burna Boy preparation was the first time Forbes and Templer were seeing each other in more than 50 years. Both have vivid memories of the day Jamaica became a sovereign nation.

“It was raining heavily, it rained throughout the morning, but it did let up. The running track was soaking wet and the cycle track wasn’t better,” Templer recalled.

Although just 15 years old at the time, Forbes had been involved in several national events. Prior to the big day he and his team were drilled by Colonel Eric Hefford, an envoy despatched by Buckingham Palace to oversee the ceremony.

“That day, we all knew our positions. He [Templer] was the official door opener, he [Whyte] was on his way back from overseas and I was given the task, if it was raining, to cover her and walk her up the steps,” said Forbes.

Whyte grew up at Up Park Camp, the Jamaica Defence Force headquarters in St Andrew. His mother was a cook there and he was recruited by the scouts at an early age.

He had been on several overseas assignments, including Trinidad and Tobago. Toronto was his latest venture but because of an unforeseen delay, he was unable to return to Kingston in time for ceremonial preparations.

The lanky Whyte arrived hours before the big occasion and watched history unfold from the grandstand.

“It was amazing, it was explosive, in terms of the crowds that were here and the anticipation that we were going to be independent. I think a lot of us were waiting to see that change; the Jamaican flag going up for the first time. I’m quite sure that moment will remain with them as long as they live,” he said.

Templer was overwhelmed as midnight approached for the symbolic changing of the guard.

“I enjoyed the moment, it’s something you will always remember, always. Sir Kenneth Blackburn and Sir Alexander Bustamante going down to the football field,” he reflected. “They lowered the Union Jack, then all the lights went out, and when they came back on the Jamaican flag was raised and the national anthem was played.”

For Forbes, “It is one of the greatest experiences I ever had. I’m glad that I was a Boy Scout because I don’t think I would have had the chance to be close to a royal family.”

Because of the organisation’s age limit, Whyte left the scouts in 1962. He became a stalwart of the farm work programme with the Ministry of Labour and was awarded the Order of Distinction in 2014.

Templer founded the National Safety Council in 1972. He represented Jamaica in hockey and squash and, like Whyte, maintained ties with the scouts movement after he left in 1963.

Forbes, who was part of the official party that welcomed Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I to Kingston in April 1966, became a force in the music industry. He has been tour manager, manager, and booking agent for top artistes such as Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Marcia Griffiths, and Luciano.

Forbes was awarded the Order of Distinction in 2017.

They have differing views on how much Jamaica has evolved in 60 years, though each agrees that the country’s strong points are sports, music, and tourism.

“We have maintained our democracy, which is key when you think about what has happened in other countries. That’s a great accomplishment,” said Whyte.

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