Column: Recalling Militia & Rifles Amalgamation

September 1, 2015

[Opinion column written by Larry Burchall]

On September 1st 1965, when the Bermuda Militia Artillery and the Bermuda Rifles amalgamated, I was there. Well, not actually in Warwick camp in uniform. But on that day, I was – or had been – a Corporal in the all-black Bermuda Militia Artillery.

The actual passing of daylight hours meant little as I was then a part-time soldier with a civilian job and life. I only put on my uniform one night a week. So the amalgamation meant nothing until I put on my uniform. This happened around 1800hrs on that Wednesday evening as I went through my normal drill of getting home from work, showering, and putting on my pre-prepared uniform complete with BMA badge.

Over the July through August summer break, I’d heard loose talk of something called ‘amalgamation’ but, with the normal insouciance of a twenty-three year-old male with other things on my mind, I’d paid little attention to that stuff.

I was a ‘BMA” Corporal. I had lots of comrades in the BMA and good relationships with the men that I commanded and the SNCO’s who worked above me; many of whom I’d known first when I was a thirteen year-old ‘B’ Coy Army Cadet at Berkeley. I was happy and carefree.

In February 1965, at the time of the “Belco Riots” I, along with all the other men in the BMA and the all-white Bermuda Rifles, had been embodied as part of the establishment’s response to the men of the fledgling BIU who had challenged the authority of the businessmen who had had a free rein in running Bermuda since 1620.

During that embodiment, I and a few other BMA had been put together with a few guys from the Bermuda Rifles. This mixed group was charged with the great responsibility of guarding and ensuring the safety of the corpulent Lord Martonmere who resided, as Governor, at Government House.

At Government House, as a Corporal, I was a section commander and therefore commanded men who were junior to me. Some were white, some were black, but all wore a military uniform and obeyed a common set of military rules. Nothing unusual in that, except that this was the first time in my life that I had actual live real authority over white men.

Until 1960, Bermuda was a deeply segregated society. Between 1960 and 1965, segregation died hard. In 1965, it was still extremely rare for any black man or woman to have any kind of direct, obvious, and highly visible authority over any white man or woman.

But in February 1965, at Government House, that, for me changed in a trice. I was given a set of orders and a section of men of both colours. I then took control and command and gave my own orders. My orders were obeyed and I expected them to be.

At my individual level, centuries of change occurred in the few seconds that it took for me to say: “Yes Sir” to the white officer who gave me my instructions and then turn and give orders to the mixed group who replied: “Yes, Corporal.”

From that moment on, change – deep change – was in place.

Military life and civilian life returned to normal after that embodiment. However, in the uppermost regions of Government, change was accelerated. Under a pre-1968 BCO, the corpulent man from Langton Hill undoubtedly pushed hard for change – and he got it.

So on the evening of Wednesday September 1st 1965, I arrived at the South Gate to Warwick Camp. I was properly dressed in my BMA outfit and, as I was early, I paid the taxi-driver and commenced strolling across the road.

I strolled until some screaming beast of a uniformed man shouted and screamed at me – at me! A corporal! – to “Move my feet and double.” As an experienced soldier, I knew that it’s always best to respond first and then try to figure out: “What the hell’s going on!?”

I did that. I ended up running past that shaven headed beast and observing that he had a pacestick under his arm, wore an RSM’s badge of rank, and was in knife-edged trousers with gleaming boots protruding from the bottoms. He also had a wide-open screaming mouth that was attached to a mustachioed face, that fronted a white haired head.

He was the ‘new RSM’ and he was there to blend or jam us former black BMA and white BR into the new – as from tonight – Bermuda Regiment.

Within ten minutes, I had a new cap badge and a new Regimental number – 2053.

The Bermuda Regiment existed

- Larry Burchall

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Comments (2)

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  1. Terry says:

    “within ten minutes”.

    Irony.

  2. Mumbojumbo says:

    well written….well written….impressive….yeah!…I like dat ship!