Ex-soldier 'Poppy Man' Williams living his dream

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, November 10, 2019

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HE stands tall, walks upright and a simple conversation will bring you through the annals of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).

To some he is the 'history man' and he is also regarded as the 'poppy man', but on official records he is Peter Xavier Williams, a retired sergeant of the JDF.

When the Jamaica Observer sat with Williams last week to speak about his life of service in honour of Remembrance Day, celebrated today, he shared stories of his boyhood, experiencing the ripple effects of World War II and his ultimate decision to join the JDF.

“Growing up I heard my grandmother say 'war start we affi plant more food'. There were tensions. At 10:00 pm we had lights out and sirens would go off. We had to turn off all the lights otherwise the Germans would have possibly seen Jamaica and bombed the whole place. The fear was Germany. The Germans are coming. So with that we survived right through,” said Williams, who was born six years prior to the war.

As Williams grew older, he ran away from home in search of a better life and had the dream of becoming a priest. However, following his experience with the war as a child, he eventually shelved that dream to bear arms for his country.

“It was Kingston or 'kill some'. I came to Kingston and after hearing the bugle at Alpha Boys' School and seeing military men in a parade I said I am going to join the army. It was 180 of us and only 80 of us were taken. By the grace of God I did everything and conditioned my mind, went through the training and enlisted in 1952,” he said.

At the time of his enlisting, he became a member of the Royal Course of Signals (British Army), which eventually became the West India Regiment and then the Jamaica Defence Force, from which he retired in 1978 after a serving as post master and chief photographer before being seconded to the Jamaica Telephone Company to be trained as an operator for the JDF.

After leaving the JDF, Williams did a 12-year stint as chief security officer at the Jamaica Telephone Company before moving on to the newly developed St Mary Banana Estates as chief security officer for another 12 years. During that time, Williams became involved in social work and eventually semi-military organisations.

“While at St Mary Banana Estates I became involved in semi-military organisations. I picked up the pieces and together with a prisoner of war — Walter Bailey — we both formed the Jamaica Legion's Annotto Bay branch to which I am still chairman for the parish of Portland, St Mary and St Ann, under the umbrella of North East District of the Jamaica Legion,” he said.

The Jamaica Legion is an affiliate of the British Commonwealth Ex-Services League and was established in 1949. It recognises Jamaicans, who lost their lives during the World Wars I and II and raises funds to support ex-servicemen through its annual poppy appeal which runs from October to November each year.

Williams, who prides himself in working for the legion and helping to raise funds through the Poppy Appeal, said: “I continue to enjoy the bliss of the Jamaica Legion. I work for the Jamaica Legion by soliciting contributions for the Poppy Appeal and through my work, retired soldiers and veterans who are at Curphey Home in Mandeville are able to enjoy the end of their years.”

Williams, who also boasts a string of awards to include the Independence Medal, Badge of Honour for long and faithful service, also represents the Jamaica Legion in the House of Parliament — an act which represents recognition of the lives lost during both wars and pays respects to those still alive. He has also raised over $200,000 each year in contributions for the maintenance of ex-soldiers and veterans at Curphey Home.

With that, Williams also appealed to Jamaicans to support the Poppy Appeal in order to show appreciation to retired soldiers who have served the country.

“Support the Poppy Appeal. That's the essence of the thing to serve those who have done us well. With all this I am very proud of the service I have given. My name is Peter and everything relies on me living the life of St Peter so I try not to do anything or get off the path but stay on the path of righteousness,” he emphasised.

Williams, who plays the piano, accordion, keyboard and flute, is guided by the the life of St Peter and believes that self-discipline is the ultimate character trait.

“The most noblest invisible uniform is self-discipline. I also stick to Ecclesiastes 12, which says to remember the creator in the days of thy youth,” he said.

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