BVI residents honor its heroes with reenactment of 1949 Great March

Carlton deCastro’s grandson Dirk Walters, at left, Cecil Hodge, and Theodolph “Dolph” Faulkner’s great-nephew Jaden Callwood represent deCastro, Issac “Glanny” Fonseca and Faulkner on Sunday during a commemoration of the 1949 Great March on Tortola. The march, which was marked for the first time Monday with a public holiday, was a key moment leading to direct representation for the territory’s residents.

TORTOLA — The British Virgin Islands on Monday observed its first Heroes’ Day, a day after hundreds took part in a reenactment of the Great March of 1949.

Held once before in 2019, Heroes’ Day is a new annual holiday in the British Virgin Islands. The commemoration of the restoration of the Legislature replaces a holiday dedicated to honoring the heir to the British throne, currently Prince Charles.

To mark the holiday, residents marched Sunday from the Band Stand down Main Street to Sir Olva Georges Plaza, reenacting the march that was led by Anegada’s Theodolph “Dolph” Faulkner, Carlton deCastro and Issac “Glanny” Fonseca and led to the restoration of the Legislative Council, now the House of Assembly.

Faulkner, an Anegada fisherman who brought his pregnant wife to the Cottage Hospital on Tortola, began protesting the conditions including lack of services he faced. Joined by Fonseca and deCastro, the trio addressed a myriad of social issues of the day. Their efforts in educating the people resulted in a massive protest march to then Administrator John A. C. Cruikshank’s office, where the Sir Olva Georges Plaza is now located.

The march resulted in the 1950 reinstatement of the Legislature, which had been suspended in 1901, and the creation of a constitution. For the first time, British Virgin Islanders got to vote directly for four at-large representatives to serve in the Legislature.

Hilda Smith, 85, was 13 at the time of the Great March.

On Sunday, she said that there were a number of issues leading up to the march, beginning with the Leeward Islands Federation, and the BVI being administered from Antigua, which didn’t provide the island with funding.

Until about 10:30 p.m. on that day in 1949, a number of individuals who had left Tortola to work in cane fields abroad to better their families, discussed the conditions they met on their return.

“When Faulkner had the problems with his wife [at the hospital] he called for help from Glanny [Fonseca] and they had a body of people organized already and he [Faulkner] only had to say come, because Tortola people were together,” she told The Daily News. “So when Faulkner asked for help, everybody came to the rescue. And while we were marching, Cruikshank was held up and when they called him, he was gone.”

At Sunday’s observance of the 1949 Great March, keynote speaker Bishop John I. Cline said the BVI must commit to following a path of greater autonomy and independence. Leaders must lead, he said, or get out of the way. They must also be held responsible.

“As it stands now, allegiance to political parties and self-interests have stagnated our growth and retarded our progress,” he said, noting that the BVI has a $399 million annual budget and should be further ahead. “What we need now, are leaders who are loyal to the country and its progress, not their political party. We need leaders who unite us, not divide us.”

Melissa Potter, president of the Virgin Islands Communal Association, praised the event, but said she expected greater participation.

“We have 30,000 people here and it shows me we have a nation that needs to be educated, a nation that needs to figure out how to have more inclusion because anywhere else in the world, people come out to support causes,” she said. “This BVI — I find that we are lacking in this area and as Virgin Islanders, we’re divided.”