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Bermuda Contingent Royal Garrison Artillery


ianjonesncl

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An interesting unit I came across was the Bermuda Contingent RGA who were employed on the vital task of ammunition handing.

As ever, a quick search on the GWF helped point me in the right direction. Many thanks to those who contributed to Bermuda Contingent RGA in paticular @aodhdubh

The information has been drawn from many sources, and there are discrepancies in ranks between accounts, possibly due to acting and local rank. 

Bermuda Contingent Royal Garrison Artillery

The Bermuda Contingent Royal Garrison Artillery served in France and Belgium from June 1916 though to the Armistice, their main function being to provide the vital function of ammunition handling. The Contingent was drawn from the Bermuda Militia Artillery, formed in 1895 to augment the Regular Army Gunners manning coastal batteries in Bermuda.

When war was  declared on 4th August 1914 the Bermuda Militia Artillery (BMA) were undertaking their annual training. Already embodied, the BMA deployed to war stations. [1] In November 1915 the British military authorities decided to accept a contingent from the  BMA for service overseas. [2]

The Bermuda Contingent Royal Garrison Artillery (BCRGA) consisting of 4 officers (Major Dill, Lt's Hamilton & Smith, 2/Lt Gosling [3]) and 206 other ranks departed Bermuda on 28th May 1916, under the command of Major Dill. [4] They arrived in Devonport on 9th June [5], and were accommodated in an arrivals camp for West Indian soldiers, Withnoe Camp, Plymouth [6]

On the 19th June the Bermuda Contingent entrained at Devonport destined for London Waterloo, from where they marched to London Victoria. They entrained again the following day to Folkstone where they embarked for Boulogne, arriving in the early evening and were billeted in a rest camp. The Bermudian's entrained on the morning of 22nd June, travelling via Abbeville to Heilly (11km SW of Albert), where they arrived on 24th June. [7]

That day the opening bombardment of the Battle of The Somme commenced.[8] The Bermuda Contingent received orders to deploy detachments of 1 officer and 50 OR's to fours of the Corps involved with the opening phase of the battle. Major TM Dill's detachment to 10 Corps HA HQ at Bouzincourt (Thiepval Sector), Lt Hamilton to 8 Corps SAP at Raincheval (Beaumont Hamel Sector), Lt Smith 3 Corps HA HQ at Dernancourt (Pozieres Sector) and 2/Lt Gosling 15 Corps SAP to La Neuville Fricourt Sector.  [9]

Over the next months, the Bermuda Contingent were involved in a number of varying taskings. The were involved with ammunition handling at Royal Engineer Ammunition dumps. The Sappers used some of the Bermudian's  skills employing carpenters and sign writers on special jobs. Other tasks included digging in guns, draining water, and preparing a telephone exchange. The Contingent also provided working parties to the infantry, and used their trades in the building of sheds. They also continued to be employed in their primary function of ammunition handing, moving around locations on the Somme including employment at railheads. The BCRGA were involved with the loading and running Ducauville trucks from lorry dumps to batteries. [10]

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Bermuda Contingent RGA Soldiers July 1916

The work was arduous, the long hours causing four men to breakdown at the beginning of August. This resulted in the adoption of 3 shifts of four hours and six hours off, a system that increased the efficiency of the Contingent 50%. [11] The climate also had an effect on the Bermudians with 7 men being admitted to hospital for frostbite on 21 October 1916 [12]. Eight days later, orders were received for the Bermudians "to standby for sustainment for station in a warmer climate. [13]

The Bermuda Contingent RGA left the Somme on 6th November 1916 entraining for Abancourt (50 km SW Amiens). There they were employed at No1 Base Supply Depot. The climate continued to take it's toll on the Bermudian, several cases of pneumonia resulted in soldiers being evacuated to Rouen. [4] Sadly the Bermuda Contingent RGA sustained their first casualty when Gunner Wears died of pneumonia. [15]

The Contingent would make their way to a "station in a warmer climate". On the 4th December 1916 then entrained for Marseilles, moving via Rouen and arriving at Marseilles Arenc Station on 8th December 1916. [16] Initially accommodated at Musso Camp (Marseilles Stationary Hospital). The New Year found the BCRGA at Marseilles Bassin de Radoub,  on the Canal du Midi. They were employed at No 6 Base Supply Depot discharging cargo, and caring for Boatswains stores under Royal Navy control. Some of the men's pre war skills were in demand, some artificers, plumbers, painters and other tradesmen being employed permanently by the Royal Engineers. The Contingent would spend the winter in Marseilles before returning to the Western Front. [17]

The Bermuda Contingent entrained at Marseilles Arenc Station on 4th April 1917, moving via Abbeville (50 km NW Amiens) to the Arras sector where they went into billets. [18] On 10th April they proceeded by road to Villers au Bois [20km NW Arras where they were employed at ammunition dumps loading ammunition onto lorries for batteries, [19] the opening phase of the Battle of Arras having just commenced. [20] After a brief period of rest, [21] the Bermudians were back on ammunition work, taking charge of sidings and dumps neat Vimy. Parties of men were attached to the Canadian Heavy Artillery sorting captured enemy ammunition. During the period the Bermudian's were in the Vimy area, an explosion seriously wounded Sergeant Tregaskis and killed Bombardier Stowe. [22] His death is recorded as 20th May 1917 [23]

To the north, the preliminary bombardment for the capture of the Messines Ridge commenced on 21st May. [24] On 25th May the Bermuda Contingent RGA boarded buses and moved to the Ypres sector. There they were employed on ammunition work supporting the 2nd ANZAC Heavy Artillery batteries involved with the capture of the Messines - Wytschaete Ridge. [25]  On 25th June the Contingent moved via a camp near Poperinghe to Vlamertinge where they were attached to XIX Corps employed on ammunition dumps. [26]

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Bermuda Contingent RGA working with Australians Ypres Salient

At the end of June 1917, the Bermuda Contingent RGA was reinforced by a second contingent form Bermuda consisting of two officers and forty men. [27] The enlarged BCRGA remained at Vlamertinge until 22nd October 1917, when they moved to St Jean. [28] Whilst at St Jean, Gunners Mussenden, Place and Swan lost their lives. [29] Gunner Mussenden died from wounds on 31st October 1918. [30] Gunner George Bascome recalled "When we were at a place called St. Jeans, which is just outside Ypres, two men were killed.....I was on guard duty that night watching for airplanes and poison gas when Gunner Swan and Place were blown up taking ammunition out of the battery"  [31] Gunner Place is recorded as being killed in action 2nd November, whilst Gunner Swan is recorded as dying from wounds 17th November. [32]

The Bermudians remained in the Ypres Salient until 18th January 1918, when they were sent to Normandy for a rest. After Normandy the BCRGA returned to the front line and in July 1918 they were located  Robecq and St. Venant in the vicinity of the River Lys, 10 km north of Bethune. On September 28th they were sent to back to the Ypres Salient. [33] Whist working at an ammunition dump on the Ypres-Menin Road, the Contingent was incessantly shelled. Lt Lewis Wrigg was awarded the Military Cross for his leadership in ensuring the ammunition continued to be loaded onto light railway trucks , keeping nearby batteries supplied. [34]

The Armistice on the 11th November 1918 brought an end to the fighting. The Bermudian Contingent Royal Garrison Artillery's vital contribution was recognised, Field Marshall Douglas Haig recorded;

“This Contingent served with the Canadian Corps during the operations in May and June, subsequent to the capture of Vimy Ridge. They were employed on Heavy Ammunition Dumps, and great satisfaction was expressed with their work.

Though called upon to perform labour of the most arduous and exacting nature at all times of the day and night, they were not only willing and efficient but conspicuous for their cheeriness under all conditions.

Their officers rendered valuable services in the management of the dumps. The unit also worked on ammunition dumps from the end of June to the beginning of September in another Corps. On more than one occasion the dumps at which they were employed were ignited by hostile shell fire, and much of their work was done under shell fire.

Their behaviour on all these occasions was excellent, and commanded the admiration of those with whom they were serving. In fact the manner in which they carried out their work under all conditions was strikingly good.” [35]

The BCRGA Contingent RGA returned to England in April 1919. [36]  Whilst in England  Gunner Hayford Douglas Simmons died [37]

large.The_First_World_War_Bermuda_Contingent_of_the_Royal_Garrison_Artillery.jpg.cc50b5bd1530737a752cc6559d7263d6.jpg

Bermuda Contingent RGA England April 1919

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BCRGAOfficersNCOSRepatraitionCmpWinchesterMay1919.jpg.8f12d61dcffe055a5fd2b07b05e81534.jpg

Officers and NCO's Repatreation Camp Pitt Corner Winchester 1919 Group incudes members of BCRGA

https://www.greatwarforum.org/blogs/entry/2771-bermuda-contingent-royal-garrison-artillery/?do=findComment&comment=3794

BCRGANCOSRepatraitionCmpWinchesterMay1919.jpg.d7e135274b0cf20f2ead64df5b0c30e6.jpg

SNCO's Repatriation Camp Empire Day 1919 Group incudes members of BCRGA

https://www.greatwarforum.org/blogs/entry/2771-bermuda-contingent-royal-garrison-artillery/?do=findComment&comment=3794

1919-07-15 RG Pg 04-BC RGA at Winchester.jpg

The Bermudians would return home on the 11th July 1919 on board the SS Ulua to a hero's. [38] A gala day was held the following day to welcome the men home. [39] The Bermuda Contingent RGA was demobilised on the 11th of August, 1919. [40]

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The Bermuda Contingent Royal Garrison served on the Western Front from June 1916 to the Armistice. During that period a Military Cross, two Military Medals, and two Meritorious Service Medals.

Military Cross - Lieutenant Lewis Rigg [41]

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Military Medal - Gunner H Knights [42]

Military Medal - Gunner A Manders  [43]

Meritorious Service Medal - BSM HEF Anderson [44]

Meritorious Service Medal - Acting Sergeant CC Watson [45]

 

Major TM Dill was Mentioned In Despatches [46]

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Major Thomas Merville Dill RGA

------0------

A memorial to the soldiers of the Bermuda Royal Garrison Artillery who lost their lives during the First World War is is located in King's Square, St. George, Bermuda. It records the names of eleven men. [46]

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Bermuda Garrison Artillery Memorial

BERMUDA GARRISON ARTILLERY
BERMUDA CONTINGENT

Killed in France

Bombardier C.W. Place

Gunner J. Mussender

Gunner A. Stowe

Gunner S.S. Swan

Died In France

Bombardier R.G. Wears

Gunner E. Burgesson

Gunner W.A. Condor

Gunner W.E. Easton

Gunner W. Joell

Gunner W. Richardson

Gunner H.D. Simmons

 

The comradeship of the Bermudian Gunners that brought them through the war continued. In 1920 the Royal Artillery Association, Bermuda Branch was formed.  [47]

===============================

[1]  https://www.bermuda.com/know-bermuda-militia-artillery

[2] https://www.bermuda.com/know-bermuda-militia-artillery

[3] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 24 June 1916

[4] http://www.bermuda-online.org/history1900-1939prewar.htm

[5] https://www.royalgazette.com/other/lifestyle/article/20140802/the-bermuda-militia-artillery-and-the-great-war-in-france/

[6] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 19 June 1916

[7] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 19 to 24 June 1916

[8] The Battles of the Somme, 1916 - The Long, Long Trail (longlongtrail.co.uk)

[9] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 24 June 1916

[10] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 24 June to 20 October 1916

[11]  WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary -  2 /3 August

[12] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 21 October 1916

[13] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 29 October 1916

[14] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 6 to 18 November 1916

[15] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 18 November 1916

[16] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 4 to 8 December 1916

[17] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 8 December 1916 to 4 April 1917

[18] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary -  4 to 9 April 1917

[19] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 10 to 13 April 1917

[20] The Arras offensive, 1917 (Battle of Arras) - The Long, Long Trail (longlongtrail.co.uk)

[21] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 13 to 22 April 1917

[22] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 22 April to 23 May 1917

[23] Gunner Arthur Granville Stowe | War Casualty Details 1142 | CWGC

[24] OHGW Military Operations France & Belgium Vol 2 Page 44

[25] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 23 May to 25 June 1917

[26] WO 95/397/5 Bermuda Contingent RGA War Diary - 25 to 30 June 1917

27] http://www.bermuda-online.org/history1900-1939prewar.htm

[28] Major Thomas Melville Dill  account : https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/118028-bermuda-contingent-rga/page/2/#comment-3114966

[29] Royal Gazette of 15th July 1919

[30] https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/268716-spoilbank-cemetery-case-2-negro-corporal/#comment-2770617

[31] Gunner Bascome account: https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/118028-bermuda-contingent-rga/page/2/

[32] https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/268716-spoilbank-cemetery-case-2-negro-corporal/#comment-2770617

[33] Major Thomas Melville Dill  account : https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/118028-bermuda-contingent-rga/page/2/#comment-3114966

[34] The London Gazette Publication date: 29 July 1919 https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/31480/supplement/9788

[35] Royal Gazette of 15th July 1919

[36] Photograph - Bermuda Contingent RGA 1916 to 1919  - Returned to England April 1919

[37] https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMMQ79_Bermuda_Garrison_Artillery_Monument_St_George_Bermuda

        Gunner Hayford Douglas Simmons | War Casualty Details 1168 | CWGC

[38] https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/118028-bermuda-contingent-rga/?do=findComment&comment=3113855

[39] Royal Gazette of 15th July 1919

[40] From <https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/118028-bermuda-contingent-rga/#comment-1129534

[41] https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/31480/supplement/9788

[42] https://www.thegazette.co.uk/Edinburgh/issue/13214/page/784

[43] https://www.thegazette.co.uk/Edinburgh/issue/13214/page/785

[44] Page 975 | Supplement 31132, 17 January 1919 | London Gazette | The Gazette

[45] Page 6871 | Issue 31370, 30 May 1919 | London Gazette | The Gazette

[46] Page 15033 | Supplement 31080, 20 December 1918 | London Gazette | The Gazette

[46] https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMMQ79_Bermuda_Garrison_Artillery_Monument_St_George_Bermuda

[47] http://www.bermuda-online.org/history1900-1939prewar.htm

 

Edited by ianjonesncl

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aodhdubh

Posted (edited)

Thanks for the acknowledgement, and the well written piece. The Bermuda Militia Artillery had actually offered to send a volunteer contingent overseas in 1914, but - despite its role as an Imperial Fortress (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_fortress#Bermuda) - Bermuda's garrison was always understrength, and had been reduced after the Second Boer War (something it suffered in the economic austerity that followed every major war, including the Seven Years' War, the American War of Independence, and the Napoleonic Wars and American War of 1812).

As Sir Henry Hardinge said in the House of Commons on the 22nd of March, 1839:

    Such were some of the reasons why it appeared to him, that her Majesty's forces should be increased. He might go to other stations Bermuda for instance. All who were conversant with the interests of our West-Indian and North American possessions must know that Bermuda was one of our most important posts—a station where the navy could be refitted with the greatest ease, where during the last war we had about 2,000,000l. value in stores, where our ships (such was the safety of the anchorage) could at all times take refuge. This island had been fortified at very great expense; for some years 5,000 convicts had been engaged on the works, and it was most important in every point of view that this island should be maintained in a state of perfect security. For a long time even after the determination of the sympathisers in the United States to attack us had been known, the force at Bermuda was never greater than a small battalion of 480 or 500 men, perfectly inadequate to do the duties of the station. Considering that this post was one of great consequence, that immense sums had been expended upon it, and that the efficiency of the navy in those seas was chiefly to be secured by means of it, it was indispensable, that it should be in safe keeping. To what quarter were they to look for further reinforcements, should they be needed, to increase our army in America, in the event of the dispute between New Brunswick and Maine becoming more serious? Not to the West Indies, from which two battalions had already been withdrawn. Not to the Canadas, for communication between these provinces and New Brunswick was impracticable, separated as they were by a wilderness of 400 or 500 miles. In the other colonies every man was required. From the Ionian islands not one could be spared, from Malta not one. From Gibraltar, perhaps, one battalion more could be squeezed, if they could bring themselves to inflict great additional hardship on the troops now in garrison there, It really appeared to him absolutely necessary, that Government should look to the state of the army—should fairly consider the amount of work done by it, and apply themselves to the question, whether it was their duty to increase the military force.

Prior to the Second Boer War, the garrison had included three Royal Garrison Artillery companies (8th Company, Southern Division, 3rd Company, Western Division, and 21st Company, Western Division in 1898) (plus the Bermuda Militia Artillery), as well as two infantry battalions, two companies of Royal Engineers, and companies or detachments of various supporting corps (plus the Command Staff, of course). After the Second Boer War the regular units were reduced to two companies of Royal Garrison Artillery (3 and 95), one battalion of infantry, one company of Royal Engineers, plus the various supporting corps establishments. Both part-time units, particularly the BVRC, struggled to maintain their mandated strength. Against that backdrop, the BMA request to send a draft overseas in 1914 was refused (the garrison would be even more greatly depleted after the First World War, with similar results upon the outbreak of the Second World War...a small contingent of volunteers from the BVRC, BMA, and the new Bermuda Volunteer Engineers (that had been formed to replace the last regular Royal Engineers company that had been withdrawn in 1928, leaving only a CRE and a small detachment of regulars in Bermuda), proceeded overseas in June, 1940, following which the weakness of the garrison led to a moratorium on overseas drafts that was in place 'til 1943, by when the threat of a German attack had become low enough, the US defensive forces strong enough, and the (re-)formation of a Home Guard to take on duties from the embodied territorials a sufficient enabler, and two more contingents were formed for overseas service). The BVRC did form an overseas contingent in December, 1914, of course, which proceeded overseas a year before the first BMA contingent.

It was rather kind of the BEF leadership to move the BC RGA in light of the climate in the winter of 1916. I do not know that they suffered any greater hardship from the climate than other soldiers, including the BVRC contingent that was suffering its second winter in the trenches (at least the second for the survivors of the first contingent, who had been reinforced by a second in 1916) and had not received such consideration, but assumptions held widely about the ability of the darkly-complected to tolerate cold weather may have played a part. Curiously, West Indian soldiers (Bermuda not being in the West Indies) on their way to Europe suffered very badly during the war when their vessel was forced north, as I recollect, and the soldiers lacked clothing to counter the effects of the winter weather of the Maritimes...the ship diverted to Bermuda where the victims of the cold were treated for frostbite.

Bermudians were traditionally shipbuilders and seafarers. Bermuda's merchant fleet had almost disappeared since the 1820s due to various factors outside Bermudians' control that affected both the market for their ships and their ability to compete in the carrying trade into and out of US ports, as well as the advance of metal hulls and steam propulsion. A great many Bermudian men still worked on the ocean, though, taking employ on vessels registered in other parts of the British realm, and many of those who remained in Bermuda applied their skills in the employ of the Admiralty at the Royal Naval Dockyard or the War Office, building forts, barracks, and ordnance depots and so on. You notice this when you look at the attestation documents of many members of the BMA and BVRC. It also explains the rather large contribution Bermudians made to the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force (not simply in the roles of aviators, but also mechanics and carpenters and so on). The men of the BRVC contingent serving with the 1st Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment were also very popular with the officers responsible for building and maintaining trenches and similar work as its members were all highly skilled, resourceful and reliable by comparison with the average for the battalion.

Here is a 10th of July, 1955, biography from the Royal Gazette newspaper of Bermuda on one former BC RGA member, which may be of interest. Richard Smith worked for the Admiralty at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda until it was reduced to a base in 1950-1951 (it remained the home base for ships of the America and West Station, but lost the ability to haul ships out of the water for extensive repairs or refit, requiring them thereafter to cross the Atlantic to Portsmouth). It's particularly interesting that the Admiralty was still paying him his dockyard salary while he was in France with the RGA. If they did the same for all of the shipwrights, carpenters, and other dockyard employees who went overseas to fight in the war, it must have been very expensive.

1955-07-10 RG-Richard Smith HMD & BCRGA bio cr.jpg

Edited by aodhdubh
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By way of comparison, here is another bio from the 20th of November, 1949, Royal Gazette on another dockyard worker, Arthur Galloway, who was serving in the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps at the start of the war (his OC, Captain Richard Tucker, would lead the overseas contingent of that corps to the Western Front in 1915). Although called up for full time military service, the navy forced his release as he could not be spared from his day job.

1949-11-20 RG-Arthur Galloway HMD & BVRC bio cr.jpg

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@aodhdubh many thanks for the additional information, in particular the photographs of the BCRGA. It is always nice to see pictures of men from a unit one has researched.

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