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Soldier and patriot

'From a Waiter to a Server - A War Story and a Tribute to a Bermudian Soldier'

The Second World War began on September 3, 1939, with Great Britain and Germany headed by Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler respectively.

At the outbreak of war, Bermuda’s military manpower was seen to be insufficient to perform all the war operations that were required. The Bermuda Militia Artillery consisted of two batteries of black gunners under white officers and the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps (BVRC) and the Bermuda Volunteer Engineers (BVE) were made up of some 450 white soldiers.

Conscription was an option which was debated in the House, but was not agreed to. The Colonial Government decided instead to have a recruitment drive to increase the numbers of servicemen available.

Great Britain and the Allied Forces needed to strengthen their forces against Germany and Bermuda needed to increase its military Home Guard and to assist in overseas operations if required.

A decision was made to form an Infantry Company of Black soldiers; The Bermuda Militia Infantry. They would come under the command of the BMA and the enlarged force would be referred to simply as the Bermuda Militia.

On October 16, 1939, an advertisement posted in The Royal Gazette titled “Recruits Wanted” for men to join the BMA and the BMI.

This was a time of racial segregation, when even during a war, to help to save lives and country, some people did not come together, at any cost. The Bermuda Militia was formed because of colour power, not manpower.

The BVRC and BVE would remain white and the BMA and BMI would remain black.

To have two units instead of one must have cost a lot of money, however, words uttered by an MCP during discussions on increasing the numbers in the military were: “We can’t put them together, they will not get along”.

So, the white BVRC was barracked at Prospect Garrison and Warwick Camp and the black BMI was barracked at St David’s Battery and St George’s Garrison.

On October 16, 1939, the same day of the advert for recruits appeared, Wentworth Eugene “Blacky” Bean, of Wellington Hill, St George’s, a waiter at the St George Hotel and the husband of Winifred Evelyn Myrtle Talbot (married for nine years and having no children), enlisted in the Bermuda Militia Infantry and was stationed at St George’s Garrison.

All hotels had closed or were closing because the war had brought tourism to a halt and Bermuda was shutting down. Many were out of work and jobs were scarce.

At 32, Army # L/BDA/M6 Private Bean W.E. was possibly the oldest recruit at that time, most of the newly enlisted soldiers being in their late teens and twenties. Some men applied at age 17, knowing that the official age to enlist was from 18 years to 45.

Perhaps, because of his age, maturity and performance shown as a good soldier and leader, Bean W.E. was promoted to Lance Corporal on October 29, 1939, and on July 22, 1940, was further promoted to War Substantive Corporal.

This was a very hard and serious time for this newly formed Infantry, they had to hit the ground running. They were doing battle drills and many war related things. Everything was moving at a fast pace and so was Corporal Bean.

On February 12, 1944, three officers and 100 soldiers including the now Sergeant Bean, were attached to the 1st Battalion Caribbean Regiment (Overseas Contingent). They were headed for the battlefields of Europe via the USA.

The Bermudians joined with other soldiers from across the West Indies at an Army Camp in North Carolina, where they formed the training cadre of the new Caribbean Regiment. They also trained at Fort Euston near Williamsburg, Virginia.

Growing in strength and growing in numbers, Sergeant Bean found himself in charge of many men.

Once deemed ready for overseas service, the new unit was assigned to the Central Mediterranean Forces and sent to Italy, where they served a brief time in the field. From Italy, the Regiment was attached to Britain’s Middle Eastern Forces and were then embarked on the troopships Queen of Bermuda and Osbond as escort to a large number of Axis prisoners of war (POW) who were being sent to Cairo, Egypt.

At this time, Sergeant Bean was promoted to Company Sergeant Major (CSM) or Warrant Officer Second Class (W. O. 2). His unit remained in the desert guarding as many as 3000 to 4000 prisoners of war until the war ended on September 2, 1945.

Another Bermudian, who was with CSM Bean throughout the war, Earl Darrell (rank unknown) of Warwick, said this to me: “I was never so proud of a fellow Bermudian as I was seeing Blackie standing in front of 3000 to 4000 prisoners shouting out orders.

“He was only 5ft, 5in, and could not see the second row of prisoners, but his voice was bigger than him. They all heard him because the desert was quiet and so were the prisoners. He was a no nonsense soldier. I felt so proud to be a Bermudian”.

Finally, the hostilities ceased and on December 22, 1945, the Contingent was put aboard the SS Highland Monarch in Port Said, Egypt, for the journey back home to Bermuda. On Monday, January 7, 1946, the 100 Bermudian soldiers of the Caribbean Regiment disembarked at #1 Shed in Hamilton.

Welcoming committee organisers had planned to have a parade style homecoming, including a welcoming speech by the mayor of Hamilton and the band of the Bermuda Militia Band, lead by Sergeant W.J. Furbert.

These plans were shattered as the thousands of friends and family, who had not seen the soldiers in over 18 months, were overwhelmed with excitement by the sight of their loved ones.

Cheers, clapping, shouts and screams, drowned out every effort to organise the well wishers.

They pushed past the wooden barriers and the ropes held by the police who tried in vain to restrain them. The joy and happiness was uncontrollable. Hugs and kisses were the order of the day.

When the excitement eventually subsided, the soldiers were trucked to Prospect where they were fed, paraded and properly welcomed, medically checked and given a one week home leave.

On January 5, 1946, CSM Bean W.E. was released from full time military service and attached to St David’s Battery.

The comments by his commanding officer noted his military conduct as; “Exemplary and that he was, above average in intelligence, hard working, cheerful and willing. Knows how to handle men and gets results. Has plenty of initiative and enterprise. A good mixer.”

On May 10, 1946, Bean was recalled and reverted to Sergeant and told that he was selected to attend the Victory Parade in London.

He was one of 27 (two officers and 25 other ranks) chosen to be a part of this special event. On May 10, the Victory Parade unit were flown to New York where they spent three days before embarking on the Queen Mary for the UK.

On May 19, the Bermuda Contingent arrived in Southampton, England for the Victory celebrations on June 8.

They were honoured at a civic reception aboard the Queen Mary and congratulated and thanked for volunteering their services and risking their lives for the good of all British citizens.

Shortly after arrival in England, they were taken to Waterloo Station and on to Kensington Gardens, where there were 10,000 tents erected as the London headquarters for 14,000 Colonial representatives.

Leading up to the Victory Parade, the contingent enjoyed a period of sightseeing and hospitality but they soon had to settle down to rehearse marching drills and their part in the parade.

The overall distance the troops had to march was seven miles. There were millions of spectators along the route.

Many of them camping along London’s sidewalks the night before. Although the Bermuda contingent was one of he smallest, there were many cheers, waving of flags and shouts of thanks and appreciation for their participation despite the steady rain.

On his return home from the Victory Parade via BOAC on July 11, 1946, Sergeant Bean was relegated to the Bermuda Militia Reserves after completing the period of voluntary recall.

MILITARY SERVICE: CSM Bean W.E. service with the BMI/ BMA and Caribbean Regiment included: five years in Bermuda, three months in the USA, four months in Italy, and one year in Egypt.

MEDALS: The Italy Star, the Defence Medal, the British War Medal. His deployment in Egypt was sadly too late to qualify for the Africa Star.

On July 1, 1946, the St George Hotel reopened, but it is not known if Mr. Bean returned to his former employment.

Note: Much of the information seen in this article was obtained from The Royal Gazette.

Thanks to Martin Buckley for sharing his military knowledge.

Sergeant Bean was the uncle that I hardly knew, but felt the need to have his name placed on the War Memorial on the Cabinet grounds and to write his story as best I could.

Gerald L. Bean is the nephew of Eugene Bean

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Published November 10, 2021 at 10:44 am (Updated November 10, 2021 at 10:45 am)

Soldier and patriot

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