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Retracing family’s military past

Igniting old memories: Robert Houlton-Hart and wife Jane visit the island to retrace the steps of his grandfather, who was posted in Bermuda between 1953 and 1957 (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Robert Houlton-Hart carries only faint impressions of the Bermuda where he spent part of his childhood nearly 60 years ago.

Accompanied by his wife Jane, he returned this week to retrace the landmarks of a past distinguished by deep military links to the island.

His father, Major Derby Houlton-Hart of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, was posted to Bermuda from 1953 to 1957.

His regiment had a long affiliation with local defence forces, and Major Houlton-Hart thus served during his time here as adjutant for what was then known as the Bermuda Rifles.

Based in Prospect outside Hamilton, the Major nonetheless left behind pictures of a very early Warwick Camp, which his son was happy to share with the Royal Bermuda Regiment.

“I don’t remember much, to be honest; I was only 3 or 4,” Mr Houlton-Hart said.

He recalls Front Street, the military tattoos, and the christening of his sister Sarah, born here in 1955.

“I must confess I thought the island was flat — but I would have been carried at that age,” he said.

It was a time of the classic liners fondly recalled by older residents: “honeymoon ships” such as Ocean Monarch and Queen of Bermuda, or the RMS Caronia, nicknamed the “green goddess”, that brought Mr Houlton-Hart to Bermuda with his mother, Pauline, and younger sister Mary.

Returning to old haunts ranged from a call on Warwick Camp to the family’s former home off Happy Valley Road, now the site of Teen Services.

Both their lives traced the far-flung military careers of their fathers, Mrs Houlton-Hart said: “Our parents bought their first homes only when we were teenagers.”

The couple, who went home yesterday, expressed deep gratitude to local resident Sarah Browne, who happened to meet them on their flight to Bermuda and found that they all hailed from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Ms Browne also reached out to the Regiment to arrange their tour of the base.

The two were especially grateful for the welcome and kindness shown by Bermudians, and said they looked forward to returning soon.

“I always wanted to come back; this is the first time in 59 years,” Mr Houlton-Hart said. “We’re not leaving it so long until the next.”