Bermuda Militia Artillery
The Bermuda Militia Artillery was a unit of part-time soldiers organised in 1895cite web |url=http://www.geocities.com/gpvillain/bma.html |title=bma |accessdate=2007-02-22 |format= |work=] as a reserve for the
Royal Garrison Artillerydetachment of the Regular Army garrison in Bermuda.
The unit was embodied during both world wars, fulfilling its role within the garrison, and also sending contingents overseas to more active theatres of the wars. Another voluntary unit raised at the same time, the
Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, restricted it's recruitment to whites, and the BMA was made up almost entirely of blacks, although its officers were white. Recruits enlisted for six years. After 27 days of basic training, they were liable only to attend annual camp. While in camp, they were subject to the Army Act, and military law. The BMA wore the standard Royal Artillery uniform, and cap badge. Soldiers were originally recruited on a voluntary basis, though conscription was introduced during the Second World War, and re-introduced during the 1950s. Small contingents were sent to England in 1897, to take part in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, and in 1902, for the coronation of King Edward VII. At the first camp, in 1896, the unit had a single company with a strength of 10 men and three officers. A second company was added as its strength grew to more than 200 over the next decade, but, as recruitment fell, its numbers dropped below 100 men again by 1914. The unit was at annual camp when war was declared in 1914.
The Great War
Great War, two contingents served as part of the larger Royal Garrison Artillery detachment to the Western Front. The first, 201 officers and men, under the command of Major Thomas Melville Dill, left for France on 31 May, 1916. A second, smaller, contingent left Bermuda on 6th May, 1917, and was merged with the first contingent in France. The contingent, titled the "Bermuda Contingent, Royal Garrison Artillery", served primarily in ammunition supply, at dumps, and in delivering ammunition to batteries in the field. The Contingent served at the Somme from June to December 1916. They were then moved away from the Front, serving on docks until April, 1917, when they were attached to the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge, serving in the battle for Vimy Ridge. They were at Ypres from 24th June, until 22nd October, where three men were killed, and several wounded. Two men received the Military Medal. In Bermuda, the BMA was demobilised on 31st December, 1918, and when the overseas contingent returned in July, 1919, it was to no unit. Thirty men who chose to remain on temporarily re-enlisted in the RGA, and the rest were demobilised.
Between The Wars
This was not the end for the BMA, however, as it was re-constituted for the annual camp of 1920, when fifty new recruits joined six officers and 154 other ranks who had enlisted before the war. in 1921, one company was tasked with providing mobile detachments, and the other for serving at fixed batteries.
In 1928, the BMA was reorganised along the lines of the
Territorial Army.cite web |url=http://www.geocities.com/gpvillain/bma-b.html |title=bma-b |accessdate=2007-02-22 |format= |work= ] Training requirements became a weekly drill night, plus an annual two week camp. All of its enlisted men were discharged, and the unit slowly began to rebuild its strength through new recruitment. By 1930 it had been decided to remove the last of the regular RGA detachments, and to close all of the batteries except the examination battery at Saint David's Head, which the BMA assumed complete responsibility for operating. In 1932, a new voluntary unit, the Bermuda Volunteer Engineers, was raised. This absorbed the BVRC signals element, and was also responsible for manning the search light detachments at Saint David's Head. That year, the War Office also ceased funding annual camps outside of the British Isles, citing a lack of funds, and the Bermuda government began funding training.In 1936, on the occasion of the death of King George V, the BMA was involved in what could have been a severe international incident. The BMA had been instructed to fire a memorial salute from one of the two 4.7" guns at Saint David's Battery. This salute was to consist of seventy blank rounds, one for each year of the King's life, fired at one minute intervals. Because of the difficulty of storing ammunition in Bermuda's humid climate, there proved to be only twenty-three rounds of blank ammunition in stock, and the remainder used were all headed ammunition. As the firing was to commence at 8am (on the 21st January), and it was thought unlikely any vessels would be in the danger area, it was decided to proceed with the salute, ensuring the guns were elevated for maximum range (8,000 yards), out to sea. The firing began at 08:00, and was over seventy minutes later. What the BMA gunners were unaware of, however, was that a Colombian Navydestroyer, the Antioquia, was at the receiving end of their barrage. The British-built destroyer was under the command of a retired Royal Naval officer (part of the British Naval Mission to Colombia), and was arriving at Bermuda to undergo repairs at the HM Dockyard. Although the ship's crewmembers were alarmed to find themselves on the receiving end of an artillery barrage, the ship fortunately was not hit.
The Second World War
In 1939, a new battery of two 6" guns was constructed at Warwick Camp. Despite this, the manpower requirements of the BMA simply did not make full use of the number of black males available for military service when the war began. Rather than integrate the BVRC or the BVE, it was decided to raise a second infantry unit, the
Bermuda Militia Infantry, to recruit blacks, and this was grouped administratively with the BMA. Forces throughout the Empire were mobilised on 3 September, 1939, in anticipation of the declaration of war. Unlike in the Great War, when the two local units relied entirely on volunteers, conscription was introduced soon after the outbreak of hostilities, with blacks directed into the BMA, and whites into the BVRC. Volunteers and conscripts served full-time for the duration of the War.
In June, 1940, the BVRC sent a small contingent of volunteers to the Lincolnshire Regiment depot in England. A handful of volunteers from the BMA and the BVE travelled with them, separating in England to join the regular artillery or engineers. The BMA contribution to that contingent consisted of a single officer, Lieutenant
Patrick Purcell,who, like most of the BMA's white officers, had begun his service in the ranks of the BVRC. Purcell would serve with the a coastal artillery detachment of the Royal Artillery in Sierra Leone, due to his similar experience with the BMA. He eventually transferred to the Lincolnshire Regiment, serving in North West Europe, and, having reached the rank of Major, being appointed Press Officer of the British Area of Occupation in Germany, following victory in Europe.The 1940 contingent was to be the last from Bermuda for nearly four years. Some members of the Bermuda Militia were selected for pilot training at the Bermuda Flying School, and sent on to the RAF. After the school closed in 1942 (due to a surplus of trained pilots), the organisation overseeing it was converted into a recruiting and selection arm of the Royal Canadian Air Force, sending 200 volunteers, primarily from the various local military units, to that service for aircrew training before the end of the War. Despite that steady outward trickle, however, fears of weakening the garrison meant that a moratorium on further drafts from the island was in force until 1943. By then, the likelihood of a German attack, or sabotage, had greatly diminished, and American forces, including artillery detachments, had been built-up on the island. This meant that local forces could be spared for service overseas, and both the BVRC and the Bermuda Militia detached companies to send across the Atlantic. The Bermuda Militia force, composed of members of the BMA and the BMI, trained with the BVRC contingent as an infantry force at Prospect Camp. The BVRC contingent was sent to the Lincolns in 1944. The Bermuda Militia contingent, however, proceeded to North Carolina, where it formed the training cadre of a new regiment, the Caribbean Regiment, being formed on a US Army base in North Carolina. Contingents, mostly of new recruits, were sent from various West Indian territories. In North Carolina, they were assessed for fitness, then trained as infantry. The unit was then posted to Italy in 1944. After serving briefly in the field, the Regiment escorted a shipment of Axis prisoners to Egypt, then remained there as prisoner-of-war (POW) camp guards until the end of hostilities. The Caribbean Regiment was disbanded after the war, and the Bermuda Militia contingent members returned to their original units in Bermuda. The BMI, along with the BVE, was disbanded in 1946. The BMA and the BVRC were both reduced to a skeleton command structure before recruitment for both units began again in 1951. The two were then grouped together, by the Defence (Local Forces) Act, 1949, under the command of Headquarters, Local Forces.
The military garrison existed primarily to defend the
Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermudalocated on Ireland Island. It was announced in 1950 that the dockyard would be closed, and the military garrison was withdrawn along with it. The last Imperial Defence Plan was produced in 1953, and this was the last year in which the BMA and the BVRC were tasked under it. The Regular Army was withdrawn, ostensibly, on 25th April, 1953, but detachments would be posted on the island until 1955 when a company of the Duke Of Cornwall's Light Infantry (DCLI) was withdrawn.The local territorials might have been disbanded as their role had disappeared, but the Bermuda Government chose to maintain both remaining units, entirely at its own cost. The last coastal artillery pieces were removed from use in 1953, however, and, rather than integrate the BVRC, it was decided to convert the BMA to the infantry role. The unit continued to wear the Royal Artillery uniform and cap badge, but were re-organised, equipped and trained. This also required changes to the rank and command structure as an infantry unit requires more junior NCOs than a comparably-sized artillery unit. Conscription was reintroduced, to the Bermuda Rifles in 1957, and to the BMA in 1960, although both units remained part time. The permanent staff members of the BMA were now provided by Regular Army infantry units, instead of artillery units.
In 1965, with racial segregation rapidly becoming politically inexpedient, it was decided to end the unnecessary duplication of effort and the BMA was amalgamated with the Bermuda Rifles (as the BVRC had been re-named) on 1st September, to create the
Military of Bermuda
Bermuda Volunteer/Territorial Army Units 1895-1965
* [http://www.geocities.com/ocreachmhaoil/bmaessay1.html BMA History by Jennifer Hind]
* [http://www.geocities.com/gpvillain/bma-images.html BMA Images]
* [http://www.geocities.com/mhicgherri/bma-imgages.html BMA Images]
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