Lots of people visit Barbados to relax on the beach, eat great food, play golf, go fishing or scuba diving in the Caribbean blue, catch a few waves at the famous Soup Bowl or go an island adventure. So spending a day exploring historical sites might be the last thing on your mind, but trust us, this is definitely worth it.
Every Thursday morning at 11:45am at the 1804 Main Guard (Clock Tower) at the Garrison, The Barbados Garrison Historical Consortium Inc., a non-profit organization whose main purpose is to preserve and publicize the Garrison and its surrounding area, puts on the time honoured tradition of the Changing of the Sentry. This spectacle shines a spotlight on another aspect of our rich and colourful culture, and thanks to the Consortium’s volunteers James Blades and Peter Stevens, we’re very grateful that this ceremony continues today so that locals and visitors alike can better appreciate the significance of the Garrison and the important role it has played in our history.
The ceremony dates back to the late 1700s, when Britain declared war on France. There was a shortage of troops, and to make up the lack of manpower, slaves were recruited. Two regiments, each comprising of a thousand men were formed, and they were called the West India Regiments. The men were given an incentive when they enlisted – each slave was given his freedom and paid as soldiers in the British Army. For 132 years, these regiments served the British Army.
Now, the Changing of the Sentry is an authentic staging of a military exercise which takes place in front of the 1804 Main Guard or Clock Tower, still known today as The Main Guard. This activity would have been performed numerous times a day across the entire site where the Main Guard administered five other guard rooms and eight sentry posts. The Sentry features members of the Barbados Legion and retired personnel from various military units, who were all trained by the Barbados Defense Force, marching past the sentry post at the Clock Tower with a drum corps, all dressed in colonial attire.
The colourful Zouave uniform worn in the exercise was originally sanctioned for the famous West India Regiments by Queen Victoria in 1858, after she had admired it on the Zouave Algerian Tribe which had been incorporated into the French Army at the time. The uniform was retained by the Band of the Barbados Volunteer Force – now the Barbados Defence Force Band – when the West India Regiments were disbanded. The only other Commonwealth military unit to wear this uniform is the Jamaica Military Band; which is directly descended from the last of the former West India Regiments.
The Changing of the Sentry is quite similar to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, but while on a smaller scale, the Sentry still has all the pomp and pageantry that marks the finer remnants of British rule.