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Blacks in defence of Bermuda

It may appear to be unseemly to write in terms of black and white in these times when so much is being said about ‘one Bermuda’’ and in face of the proud record of the integrated Bermuda Regiment. However, as this is Black History Month, the facts fall into sharp and worthy perspective to reflect on progress, no matter how slowly, that has been made when it was a law on our statute books making it an offence punishable by death for Negroes to be caught with firearms. And during one of the darkest periods of slavery, when there was a fear of a slave uprising, parliament proclaimed harsh martial laws in the late 1720s that led to the execution of six slaves including the woman Sally Bassett who was publicly burned at a state at the Foot-of-the Lane. The laws were enforced by penalties of floggings on naked backs, summary executions or banishment from the island for blacks caught with sticks or other dangerous weapon. Any Negro man seen out after nightfall had to immediately fall to his knees when confronted by guards or take 100 lashes, whether armed or not. In any case, blacks have more than played their part in defence of the country they helped to build with their unpaid labour, blood, sweat and tears. Their patriotism has been exemplary, in fact most extraordinary, considering their unflinching service during the dark days of slavery and after Emancipation. They played their part through the years of legalised racial segregation and blatant discrimination leading up to and following both the First and Second World Wars and up to the amalgamation of the local forces into the Bermuda Regiment in 1965. The centuries-old record of Blacks becomes all the more glorious and worthy of documentation considering the lengths their imperial overlords and deceitful colonial cohorts and underlings went to beguile that majority segment of the two-Bermudas, one predominantly Black and the other White, separate and grossly unequal. The Act of 1892 authorised creation of a force of 300 men for local defence. The black BMA with its white English officers and the white-only BVRC was formed. The BMA was the first of the two units to be up and running. Not until the Bermuda Regiment came into being were blacks able to become commissioned officers. More specifically to be noted are the exploits of the men of the BMA and BMI (Bermuda Infantry) who served at home, and those who volunteered for duty on the overseas battlefields during the first war as members of the Bermuda Contingent of the Royal Garrison Artillery (BCRGAs). Bermudian servicemen of both races were killed and wounded through enemy action in the Great Wars. In fact the BVRC casualties were enormous. Bermudians fought gallantly and many were decorated for bravery. Part Two of this Black history piece will appear next week.

Two unidentified members of the 214-strong Bermuda Militia Artillery unit that went to France in the First World War.