Wings that were never clipped
I trust that the strategic position of Bermuda will be fully recognised early in this war. It is believed that Bermuda is of as great importance in the Atlantic as Pearl Harbor is in the Pacific. — Captain Jules James, USN, June 30, 1943
During the Second World War, the US Marines, the Pictou Highlanders and the Bermuda Militia Infantry and Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, shared the Land Defence Task Group of Bermuda. The Harrington Sound Sector was thought vital to the defence of Kindley Field and was assigned to the General Reserve of the Land Defence.
The General Reserve (Mobile) comprised the 3rd Battalion 89th Infantry and Battery A, 214th Field Artillery Battalion (formed from the 110th FA Bn). The Infantry would be assembled near Harrington Sound in an emergency and would be supported by Battery A from its station at Fort Langton in Devonshire, which commanded four 105mm howitzers. Its 110 men occupied that site from June, 1942 until April, 1943. Among their more peaceful pursuits was the unearthing in the moat of the three 10-inch Rifled Muzzle Loaders, which comprised the seaward emplacements of the Fort in the 1880s, historic guns later moved to Fort Hamilton.
Had an enemy landed on the South Shore beaches, Battery A, as a part of the Infantry Battalion Combat Team, would have furnished direct support for the infantry by their ability to shoot, move and communicate: it was the only mobile artillery in Bermuda at the time and was vital to the Land Defence. A howitzer could fire a 33-pound projectile up to 12,400 yards and its high trajectory was its main advantage over coast artillery for local defence.
Battery A was mustered into Federal Service at its home armoury of the 110th Field Artillery at Pikeville, Maryland in late summer, 1941. They sailed from the Norfolk Navy Yard to Bermuda with the 693rd Signal Aircraft Warning Company in June 1942, on the USS Joseph T. Dickman in the company of two destroyer escorts (I hasten to add to my military credentials that she was a Harris-class attack transport).
When they returned to the mainland the following year, several took their Bermudian brides. Frederick Clipper, executive officer of Battery A, stayed with his Bermudian wife taking to pleasant extremes a decision A Battery was going to be liked by the Bermudians and that we were going to do everything possible to accomplish that (personal reminiscences of John Stewart Morton, Jr.). That determination was in response to a belief that Bermudians did not like the American forces personnel.
So here we have on parade two of the longest standing actors of that American incursion into Bermuda in 1942: John Morton sadly died on August 3, 2011, at 91, having held on through July, as he wanted to celebrate the 100th birthday of his last surviving comrade-in-arms, Captain Frederick Walter (Clip) Clipper. Now that good skipper has surpassed his 101st and is the last living member of Battery, despite being a decade older than the wartime draftees, as he had joined the Maryland National Guard a decade before the War. As the Joseph T. Dickman sailed up the South Channel to Hamilton, the commander of the Battery was heard to declare: This is Bermuda and I hope we get off here, because this is where I had my honeymoon!
Unlike the cozy conditions endured by the regular US Army, ensconced in the splendour of the Castle Harbour Hotel (including my American mother-to-be), Morton and the men of Battery A were sent to the less salubrious parade ground of Fort Langton, the northernmost of the three positions of the Prospect Hill Position built in the 1870s. Their swimming pool and tennis courts consisted of a single water pipe and grass lawns within the great ditch of the Fort. Eventually, the Battery managed to obtain a jeep, but some horse transport was used, as the Americans had access to feed, which was difficult for Bermudian owners to get. At one time, the camp at Langton stank to high heaven, as men collected conch shells ejected by the dredgers in Castle Harbour and hung them to remove the conch, to take the shells as souvenirs.
When the Battery returned to the United States in the middle of 1943, Clip stayed on for several years, eventually being demobbed in May 1946, by which time he had married Rosemary Champness, the granddaughter of Samuel Saltus Ingham, once the owner of the home that is now the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club.
Three girls and a boy would later comprise the Clipper household in Baileys Bay. Due to an administrative arrangement at demobbing, Clipper was transferred to the Air Force and thus his uniform at the last bears the insignia of an airplane propeller, rather than the crossed cannon of the Field Artillery.
After a fruitful career in various trades, Clip retired at 65, but still volunteers at the Red Cross, a contribution to the Bermuda community, among many others, that he has made for the last 34 years. Short of sight, but as buoyant in spirit as the day he alighted from the Joseph T. Dickman, it is fair to say that his were wings of life that were never clipped and that we were fortunate, through the travails of war, to be able to add Capt. F. W. (Clip) Clipper to the family of Bermuda.
Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-5480