| The Bermuda Volunteer Engineers
Courtesy of Jennifer Hind, author of "Defence, Not Defiance: A History of the BVRC".
After the decimation of Britain’s military forces during World War I, there was urgent need of reorganisation and reallocation of men and materiel. In 1920 the British garrison in Bermuda was reduced to less than 700 rank and file at Prospect Barracks and St. David’s Battery. The few remaining Royal Engineers found the task of maintaining the gun batteries and other equipment overwhelming/impossible, and it did not take long for salt and humidity to have an effect. Lt. Col. Leigh, CRE proposed the raising and training of a local force to maintain and operate the searchlights at St. David’s Battery. Official sanction was given to recruit for the Bermuda Volunteer Engineers in July, 1931. On 1 June, 1931 Capt. H. D. Butterfield, who had served during World War I in the Canadian Signal Corps, was commissioned as the Commanding Officer, and Lieut. C.M. Moore, who had served in the Royal Air Force, was appointed second in command. By 31 October a full compliment had been recruited and was comprised of former members of the BVRC or Bermuda Cadet Corps. The corps comprised one captain, two lieutenants, three sergeants, four corporals, and twenty-four sappers. Attached to the corps from the Royal Engineers was a permanent staff of an adjutant, a sergeant major and two sergeants. With the BVRC, the BVEs were administered by the Bermuda Volunteer Force Association.
“A Headquarters was opened at Smith’s Hill, a complete searchlight and generating set was installed and training really started” (The Bermuda Volunteer Vol 1. No. 1 December, 1937 page 8). The generating unit provided the current for long-range searchlights and camp lighting. The first annual camp was held in May, 1932 and was 10 days in length. A typical day in camp began with reveille at 6.00am followed by drill, with a half-hour break for breakfast at 8.00am. A two-hour midday break included dinner. A practice run on search-lights began at 2.00pm, and from 7.30pm to 9.00pm there was a night run. “The working periods [were] occupied with necessary repairs and other mechanical work, and derrick building” (The Royal Gazette 19 May, 1933). Night firing involved targets being towed at sea, which the engineers would pick out with their searchlights, allowing sufficient illumination for the gunners of the BMA to fire at the targets. There was, of necessity, close co-operation between the two units, prompting the comment “collaboration of the BVE in the manipulation of the searchlights has been extremely helpful” (Record of Service of Bermuda Militia Artillery 1899- 1952 entry for 11 May, 1933). Rifle practice was included in the serious part of the programme while recreational activities included fishing trips and cricket matches. Co-operation between the units and joint training was extended the following year when a combined exercise involving night firing and an attack in camp from the land side was carried out by the BMA, BvE and BVRC.
Capt. Butterfield retired after three years and was succeeded by Capt. Moore, whose position as second in command was filled by N. Bayard Dill on 1 June, 1934. On 31 August, 1937 approval was given to expand the corps to include a signal section. It was proposed to enlarge the unit by one officer and 2 men with a sergeant from the Royal Corps of Signals. As the War Office would not sanction the appointment of a Warrant Officer second class, the Governor, Lt. Gen. Sir Reginald Hildyard KCB, CMG, DSO, agreed to make the local rank of Company Sergeant Major, pending War Office approval. By the end of 1937 the corps was enlarged by one officer and 20 men. This section was named the Wireless Section, and the original unit became the Electric Light Section. At this point, the corps’ responsibilities included telecommunications, including wireless radio and telegraph, and small engine maintenance, including marine engines, as well as gunnery. By 1938 the training also included the erection of camouflage.
In the years prior to World War II, the corps provided community service such as supplying lighting (by means of searchlights) and telephone system for the Jubilee Pageant held at Saltus Grammar School Field. They also were responsible for the construction of a one hundred-foot pier in Long Bay, St. David’s. The primary reason was to make it easier to land stores as close as possible to the Battery, but no doubt the lives of St. David’s residents were made more convenient as well. Sport and social activity included an annual cricket match and tea, rifle competitions held during annual camp and table tennis competitions. There was also an annual dinner and an annual dance at the Armoury “to appease the wrath of the gentle sex whose man has ‘j’ned the Army.’ “ (The Bermuda Volunteer loc.cit)
During World War II, the BVEs provided signalmen for HMS Malabar in addition to manning the searchlights (Defence Electric Lights) in conjunction with St. David’s Battery. For the first few months of the war, considerable work was done on the facilities at St. David’s Battery. Assisted by the men of the battery, the BVEs worked on shelters for the gun detachments on duty, who, until these were completed, had to bivouac on the manning parade. An electric alarm system was also installed and the officers’ mess rewired. At the beginning of 1940 the BVEs took over signalling duties and moved to the top of Skinner’s Hill. They converted the Pilot Station to their use, and this became their Headquarters. Practice alarms were carried out almost daily and night during the first months of the war regardless of the weather. Twice weekly the BVE manned a motor launch equipped with R/T, and night runs were carried out with the DELs. They also helped with the calibration of the guns at the batteries. When the battery at Warwick Camp was expanded to two guns, the BVE signal section provided R/T sets for the observation posts. Their support of the two batteries continued throughout the war. On 11 June, 1940, the governor, _________, addressed the Bermuda Volunteer Force Association about the problem of understaffing of local units, given the fact that a contingent of four officers and sixteen other ranks were being sent overseas. This was in addition to the local men who had formed the Bermuda Continent of the First Battalion West Indies Regiment. The solution proposed was “legislation should be passed for the conscription of man power into the local forces” (Minute Book, Bermuda Volunteer Force Association). In the 16 February, 1945 meeting the association was asked to consider the status of the local units with a view to having their military status clarified. The local units were not recognised as proper imperial troops because they were Home Service units only, which would have affected pay, pension and other benefits. Col. Astwood BVRC and Maj. Moore BE were asked to prepare proposals as to what should be done. By July, 1945 demobilisation had begun.
As a result of the Bermuda Volunteer Reorganisation Act, 1946, the Bermuda Volunteer Force Association was dissolved, and a Bermuda Volunteer Force Board was established. The Board comprised a chairman appointed by the governor from members of the House of Assembly, the officers commanding the BVRC and the BE, an officer from His Majesty’s military forces appointed by the officer commanding the British troops in Bermuda from his staff officers, three civilians appointed by the governor and the adjutant of the BVRC.