July 2023 Volume 19

Eye Witness account of Major Events of the 60s and 70s

Michael O Walters
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As a child of the 60s, two major events that occurred or commenced in that era stands out in my memory. The first was Independence which happened while I was still at KC and the second, metrication, shortly after I left KC.

On Sunday August 5, 1962 at 11:59 pm, the National Stadium went dark for one minute with only the flag staff highlighted. The Union Jack (British Flag) was lowered symbolising the end of the British rule over Jamaica and Jamaica’s new flag of black, green and gold was hoisted to the sound of jubilant cheers and fireworks signaling the birth of a new nation, “Jamaica land we love.” Jamaica Independence, 1962 | The National Library of Jamaica (nlj.gov.jm) .

Although I was not in the stadium to witness the celebrations, I got a bird’s eye view from the top of Beverley Hills where my father had driven the entire family to an open lot adjacent to the main road. From there, with our ears glued to the radio, we listened and watched the scene down the hill. We could see the lighting of the stadium transition from bright lights to darkness in an instant of time. It was a site to behold as the Union Jack was lowered and the Jamaican flag was raised to the roaring noise of people within the stadium. And oh, can you imagine the excitement of a 13-year-old boy who was seeing fireworks for the first time. Recall that in 1962, there was no TV to watch fireworks in far-away places.

At school, we learned the national anthem, the symbolism of the colors of the flag and we received souvenirs, selected from aluminum cups, plates, spoons, and of course a miniature flag all proudly displaying Jamaican Independence Day, August 6, 1962 (see photo 1).

Metrication officially started in the 70s but was not completed until 2000s (metrication in jamaica - Search (bing.com). However, in 1969 Jamaica changed the currency from pound, shilling and pence to the decimal system of using dollars and cents. Now, what units of currency were we using under the pound system? Previously, one pound was equal to 20 shillings, one shilling equivalent to 12 pence, one guinea equivalent to one pound and one shilling. Pence was further classified into coins of three pence (tropence - shown to the left of the plate in the photo), quattie - 1½ pence, farthing – quarter of a pence, and six pence-six pennies. (see photo ). For a shopping comparison at today’s prices, at the KC cafeteria we could purchase tropence or six pence buns. 6 pence sterling (GBX) converts today to J$11.46 . At supermarkets in Jamaica today the cost the HTB 4oz bun that was sold for 6 pence is around J$135-J$150.

The decimal system, of course was an easier system to learn since the dollar was divided into one hundred units of cents. (see photo 3-original dollar bill). However, that did not mean there was no confusion as one changed from a known, to a new unknown system. The new system was appreciated, I am sure as many of you recalled that you did not have to do long divisions in pound, shilling and pence anymore. Although there was a specific official date, decimalization occurred over months as the old currency entered the banking system to be replaced by new currency.

Metrication also involved changing measurement units of weights, length, and volumes. Units of weights change involved issuing scales to vendors all over the island including the markets. Previously, pounds and ounces were used but they transitioned to kilograms and grams. Volumes were changed to liters and all gas stations now sell gas in liters. Yards are no longer used as a measurement for cloth, but they have transitioned to meters and centimeters. However, many stores still use the yard stick measure as their customers, the tailors and dressmakers, still think in terms of yards when they purchase.

I recall that the meteorological office presented their TV weather report in temperatures for both Fahrenheit and Celsius initially but gave up the practice when they found that no one paid attention to Celsius measurements. Eventually, they stopped presenting the temperature in Fahrenheit. In a short while the listening audience did not need to convert as they quickly learned to associate the Celsius measurements with their feelings (e.g., they felt hot today, and the meteorological office reported 35 degrees Celsius so now they knew 35 degrees Celsius was hot and there is no need to convert to Fahrenheit. The Water Resources Authority now measured streamflow rates in liters per second, rather than the old cubic feet per second. The road speed limit signs have been changed from miles per hour to kilometers per hour.

So, it appears that Jamaica has gone fully metric, yet there may be some cultural hold outs. Ask someone their height and you may hear something like 5 feet 11 inches. Ask what size rim is on their car, and you may hear 14-inch. The new generation will eventually change it, you think?

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