BERMUDA - A State of Emergency

RAF VC10 RAF Brize Norton Bermuda.
Boarding an RAF VC10 at RAF Brize Norton for the flight to Bermuda.

During the month of April 1968, when the 1st Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiiers was based at Norton Barracks in Worcester as the 'Spearhead Battalion', the Battalion was tasked with what was to be the final operational move of the Inniskillings before becoming The Royal Irish Rangers. Growing unrest in Bermuda had been little reported in the UK press until, midway through a Ladies Guest Night in the Inniskillings Officers Mess, the order was received to deploy Tactical Headquarters (Tac HQ) and one company to the island where the Governor had declared a State of Emergency. B Company was seen off at 0600 hours the following morning by the remainder of the officers still in their mess kit.

The deployment was swift by two RAF VC10s from RAF Brize Norton. B Company* arrived at United States Kindley Air Force Base in the north of Bermuda at the same time as HMS Leopard arrived in the South. This was a classic example of the use of minimum force, as immediately the rioters saw that Britain meant business, the rioting and disorder ceased.

Tac HQ and B Company were accommodated in the Bermuda Regiment training camp on the south shore of the island just 100 yards from one of the best beaches on the island! Among the early visitors were the Governor, Lord Martonmere, the Senior Naval Officer in the West Indies and British comedian Jimmy Edwards and Marjorie Proops from the Daily Mirror, the latter two having been stranded on the island by the emergency. However it was decided that the Inniskillings should remain in Bermuda until after the local elections. Such was the heavy social demand on the detachment that the Paymaster and Signals Officer were sent out from Worcester as reinforcements. During the six weeks in Bermuda the platoons followed a three-day cycle of training and duties - one day on patrol, a second on guards and duties and the third carrying out tasks in aid of the Bermuda government. This consisted mainly of renovating an overgrown former military cemetery in the old Naval Base.

Just before they were due to fly home, a returning RN submarine put into Bermuda with a request for an officer to make up a Bridge four during the Atlantic crossing. Lt W S D Burke and his orderly arrived in England by submarine while the remainder returned in a more conventional manner on an RAF Belfast freighter.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. George Thomson) made the following statement to the House of Commons on 29 April 1968:

'I regret to tell the House that on the night of 25th April there were disturbances in the Colony of Bermuda. The disturbances continued on the night of the 26th, in the course of which several fires were started. Fourteen persons were injured, including five police officers, but, I am glad to say, there was no loss of life. There has been much damage to property.

On the 26th a state of emergency was declared, the Bermuda Regiment was embodied and the police reserves were called out. At the request of the Governor, H.M.S. "Leopard" was diverted to Bermuda on the 27th, and a company of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was sent from this country on the 28th. The situation is now quiet. One hundred and four arrests have been made, including a number for breaking the curfew.'

Open the Attachment below if you wish to read a personal story by the Officer Commanding B Company.