Recalling My Experience On February 2nd, 1965

February 2, 2015

larry burchall[Opinion column written by Larry Burchall]

As a twenty-three year old, I lived through the ‘BELCO Riot’ day of 2nd February 1965.

In the days before small cheap radios, I had knocked off from my job on Darrell’s Island. Around 5:30pm on that Tuesday [Feb 2], I stepped ashore from the ‘special request’ ferry at the Ferry Terminal, in Hamilton. That was when I first learned that something had happened.

Someone who knew me told me that ‘the army’ had been called up. Quick questioning confirmed that something had happened at Belco and that the Bermuda Militia Artillery [all black unit] and the Bermuda Rifles [all white unit] had, indeed, been ‘called up’ earlier that day.

From that, I figured that I was already probably marked as absent, so I figured I’d better get to Warwick Camp as fast I could.

I went home, got my kit, called a taxi, and arrived in Warwick Camp just before 7:00pm.

I reported to the Company Office and some Senior NCO sent me off, unarmed, to do sentry duty at the east gate.

Once there, I found a Royal Marine sentry already in place. The Marine was armed but, like me, had no real idea of what was happening. All he knew was that he mustn’t let anybody in through that gate. And he possessed all he needed to stop anyone. He had instructions, a weapon, and ammunition.

Around 11:00pm I broke the rules, left the post, and went down into the camp. There I found that there was no other officer or Senior NCO around. I was, in fact, the most senior person in Warwick Camp.

So with the authority vested in me as a BMA Corporal, I got a clipboard and proceeded to take control of Warwick Camp. I dug out all the soldiers who were there and mustered them. By midnight, I had set a guard roster and established myself in a command post.

Sometime around mid-morning on Wednesday 3rd February 1965, a Senior NCO appeared. He confirmed what I had done, told me to keep doing it, and reported the matter up the command chain.

That was my involvement on that day.

Looking back on that day, and later getting to know and work with and for Ottiwell Simmons, the events of that day are seared into my memory.

Decades later, after my participation from 1996 to 1998 as co-Chairman of the PLP Campaign Committee, I had developed a healthy admiration and respect for ‘Otti’ and the men and women of the BIU. Especially for those who stood their ground on

2nd February 1965 and accepted the obvious as well as the latent risks of their actions.

Though, technically, they lost that first little battle; they actually won the war.

By 1968, many of the things that they had begun to fight for had cascaded down. Health insurance and benefits; a five day workweek; paid public holidays; paid vacations; and a social insurance program that promised a future pension.

Although the BIU was a heavily black blue-collar organization, and although there was, at that time an anti-BIU sentiment that was particularly virulent amongst white Expats and white Bermudians; when the benefits came down, they came equally to white white-collar and white blue-collar workers as well as all other black workers.

Others may remember Tuesday 2nd February 1965 as the day of the ‘BELCO riot’.

I don’t.

I remember that day and I subconsciously write of it and value it as the day that the BIU fought and won Bermuda’s first real battle for proper worker benefits.

 - Larry Burchall

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Comments (2)

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  1. swing voter says:

    That ‘take control’ attitude is sorely lacking these days….but I wonder if your efforts were noted and served as a precursor to RMA Sandhurst?

  2. Cleancut says:

    Sure.

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