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War veteran was ‘an absolute gentleman’

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War veteran: Herbert Tatem’s memoir was buried in a time capsule at the site of Bermuda’s War Memorial (Photograph by Akil Simmons))

Herbert Tatem, who chronicled his war experiences in the memoir As You Were, has died at the age of 95 after suffering from dementia.

He died in the Elder Home Care nursing residence, according to Carol Everson, a caseworker with the Bermuda Legion.

Mr Tatem helped to defend the island during the Second World War after he added an extra year to his age when signing up as a 16-year-old.

He served in the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, the Bermuda Volunteer Engineers, on board HMS Malabar and was the cipher officer at Admiralty House.

Ms Everson said: “Mr Tatem was a highly accomplished machinegunner who asked to be posted overseas, but was kept on the island because of his proficiency as a signalman at Admiralty House.

“Herbert was an absolute gentleman. He was very bright, very kind, and very concerned for the welfare of his fellow war veterans.”

Ms Everson added: “He and his wife, Dorothy, were regulars at veterans’ functions and he helped us with our poppy appeal on many occasions. His book shows the scope of his talents and wartime activities.”

Mr Tatem’s memoirs also depicted a prewar Bermuda where it was possible, at the age of 12, to purchase ammunition for a new Buckhorn rifle out of a shop on Front Street.

That was in 1934, when Mr Tatem trained in the cadet corps. He went on to garner fame among fellow soldiers for his accuracy with a machinegun.

His autobiography, published when he was 84, showed his power of recall.

Mr Tatem told The Royal Gazette in 2007: “When you live something, it should stick in your brain,” he said. “I was very close with the chaps.”

When war broke out in 1939, the soldiers used boiling water to strip off the packing grease from their weapons.

While the local units were vigilant, Mr Tatem later said there would have been little chance of them repelling an invasion.

He was transferred to the Bermuda Volunteer Engineers in 1943, moved on to Admiralty House followed by a spell at the BVE station at Prospect.

Among his duties was signalling and telephone repair. He was discharged in March 1946, and returned to his prewar job at H.A. & E Smith & Sons.

Arthur Harriott, captain of the BVE, officially commended him for “fine work” in the signal section, adding that “those of us who had to sit the war out in Bermuda know the utter monotony of keeping on the alert for an enemy that may have struck at any unknown moment and I strongly commend your patience and high morale during these past years for it was this spirit that kept our unit a going concern”.

Mr Tatem remained close with his old colleagues and proudly supported the Legion, Ms Everson said.

In later life, Mr Tatem advocated for veterans who were denied pensions.

More recently, as dementia took its toll, his wife Dorothy’s challenges supporting him illustrated the plight of seniors struggling with dementia, and the Legion’s efforts to secure them full-time residential care.

Mr Tatem’s memoirs joined other historic articles that were placed in a time capsule in 2013 at the War Memorial in the grounds of the Cabinet Office.

“It’s an honour to have my book among the troops, as it were,” Mr Tatem told the Gazette as the capsule was put in place.

War veteran Herbert Tatem was hampered by dementia in his later years (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)