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Fight for survival continued after Great War

Lest we forget: tomorrow, Bermuda remembers those who made the ultimate sacrifice in wars of the past

Armistice Day, tomorrow, November 11, 2018, marks the 100th year anniversary of the end of the Great War, the First World War. I write to honour and remember Bermuda’s men and women who served in Great War and thoughts on the lives of those who survived to return home.

More than 60 million men (and women) served in the Great War, some for more than five years by the time peace was agreed. The conditions were horrific, not that any war could ever be considered mentally, physically, or environmentally comfortable. The defenders of democracy were subject to severe weather conditions, exposure in unfamiliar foreign territory, inadequate supplies, equipment, brutal poison gas attacks, grim losses of fellow soldiers, fear, physical and emotional exhaustion and more.

Millions and millions, both soldiers and civilians, perished.

In August 1914, as the war began, Bermudians enlisted for service overseas in significant numbers. Our history tells us that more than 500 volunteers, both black and white individuals from the Bermuda Militia Artillery and Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps from all walks of life left our island for service in Europe.

By the war’s end, both contingents, and related members, had suffered greatly. We lost more than 80 individuals from our island community, killed in action. A proud but bitterly sad fact — Bermuda contributed more service members and lost far more than our fair share, given our small population size.

The Bermudian men and women who survived, in general, must have returned to their families, quite possibly carrying physically embedded, or mentally unforgettable scars as tragic memories of this war.

What did they face when they came home to a new world, their prime years of life already gone?

How did they cope? The struggle to regain a sense of “normal living” and the adjustments to regroup back into ongoing civilian life must have been overwhelming. We cannot begin to imagine the personal strain to manage such tremendous physical, emotional, spiritual burdens, along with everyday financial challenges. Who could but wonder what such loss of lives was ultimately worth?

War is an indiscriminate destructive force for every individual and family, directly or indirectly involved. What does war teach anyone? Certainly, not anything positive: how to get an education, interview for a job, learn marketable skills, re-establish relationships, contribute to a community, raise a family, an enjoyable retirement and so much else.

What support system was in place for them? It appears that few social service-type organisations existed such as we are offered today: compulsory health insurance, financial assistance, old age and occupational pensions, workman compensation protection and the like, while counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder was not even on the horizon of an acknowledged illness.

• Health insurance on a compulsory basis, first proposed in the 1949 Public Health Act, finally promulgated in 1970.

• Old age contributory pension relief programme was formalised between 1967 and 1970 with the employer and the employee contributing six shillings each per assessment.

• Workers’ compensation insurance was initiated in 1965.

• Formalised financial assistance programme enacted in 2001.

• Bermuda Occupational Pension Act enacted 1998.

Families had to do for themselves; it could not have been easy. In fact, it must have been terribly difficult, and challenging to reintegrate our brave servicemen and women back into our community.

Yet, they did; they survived — with many going on to rebuild successful and personally rewarding lives.

In our current sophisticated countries, most of us have never known (and hopefully, will never ever know) what it means to be in constant war, under random attacks, virtually penniless, no access to basic resources, homes, careers, futures, and families destroyed.

Yet, even as Moneywise goes to press, we are well aware there are tragic areas in the world still in states of suffering, paralysis after years of constant assault of in the never-ending wars of oppression and aggression.

Be thankful, be grateful for where we are, what we have, and what we can still become.

Be grateful for these men and women, now gone from us. They did the right thing, taking a stand against tyranny. They paid the price for our freedom; so many paid with their lives.

Because of these brave Bermudian individuals, and those that followed in the war that followed, we have the right to choose our destiny.

We have a future, provided for us by them. It is our duty to repay our debt to them by continuing to work for the success of, and protection of our people under the Bermuda Constitution.

Protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual

“Whereas every person in Bermuda is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, has the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following, namely:

• Life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law;

• Freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association; and

• Protection for the privacy of his home and other property and from deprivation of property without compensation

• Protect our rights to free choice, freedom of press and the individual.

We would be terribly remiss if we did not honour their sacrifices for us.

Remember them all tomorrow. Their names are inscribed into perpetuity on the Memorial Wall, Front Street, Hamilton.

Finally, readers, send me your family narratives! Share how your family managed through the first half of the 20th century — 1918 to 1960. What are your remembrances of your returning war heroes?

Sources and references

Bermuda Online by esteemed columnist, Keith Forbes, Bermuda’s History 1900 to 1939 pre-Second World War, http://www.bermuda-online.org/history1900-1939prewar.htm

The Bermuda Constitution at www.bermudalaws.bm

The British Library — World War One, https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/how-did-soldiers-cope-with-war

The National Museum of Bermuda Defence Heritage, Ground Floor, https://nmb.bm/explore/exhibits/

Written in memory of our grandfather, William Sydney Harris, of 4th Battalion Welsh Royal Fusiliers, served 1898-1926 (five years at the Front), seriously wounded in final WWI campaign in 1918, honourably discharged 1926, returned to Bermuda where he passed on from war injuries in 1928. Awarded the 1914 Star, the British War and Victoria Medals.

Martha Harris Myron, CPA, CFP, JSM: Masters of Law — international tax and financial services. Dual citizen: Bermudian/US. Pondstraddler Life, financial perspectives for Bermuda islanders and their globally mobile connections on the Great Atlantic Pond. Finance columnist to The Royal Gazette. All proceeds earned from this column go to The Reading Clinic. Contact: martha.myron@gmail.com