THE FIRST MAN

Way back in 1912, a young twenty-year old Bermudian joined the Royal Navy, left Bermuda, and went into Bermuda’s history.

He started by joining the RN warship HMS Sirius, as a cooks-mate. HMS Sirius was then a part of the RN’s North America and West Indies Squadron. This Squadron consisted of a large number of warships. The Squadron’s duty was to patrol the Caribbean and western Atlantic looking after the many bits of the British Empire scattered around and in the Atlantic triangle that stretched from what was then British Guiana [now Guyana], to British Honduras [now Belize] to Newfoundland [at the time not a part of Canada]. The Squadron was based in Bermuda, and was commanded by an Admiral who lived in lordly splendour in Admiralty House, just above Clarence Cove in Pembroke.

When HMS Sirius finished her two year West Indies Squadron commission, she returned to the UK and paid off. That means that her entire crew were sent on home leave. Men due for discharge were discharged. Men continuing their naval service would come back at leave’s end and join a different RN ship.

However, this young Bermudian had not actually joined the RN as a naval enlisted man. Instead, he had joined as an auxiliary. So when HMS Sirius paid off, he actually lost his job. Even though he was thousands of miles away from his Somerset home, and even though there was no possibility of a quick trip back home by a British Airways flight [ocean crossing passenger planes were still twenty years in the future], he was not fazed.

He signed on again in HMS Aboukir. This time as an Officer’s Cook, 1st Class. This was a step-up from cooks-mate.

In 1914, HMS Aboukir was a fourteen year-old four-funnel coal-fired ship-of-the-line designated as a cruiser. Since the RN was shifting from coal to oil, HMS Aboukir was already obsolete. However, on 3rd August 1914, when Great Britain went to war with Germany, every ship of the RN’s Home Fleet was pressed into service.

That’s how this now twenty-two year old Bermudian found himself at sea in the North Sea, at about 6:25am on 22nd September 1914. HMS Aboukir, along with HMS Cressy, and HMS Hogue, all three part of the 7th Cruiser Squadron of the 3rd Fleet, had been assigned a patrolling task that kept them at sea.

All three, Aboukir, Cressy, and Hogue were torpedoed by one German submarine – U-9. Aboukir was hit first, and Commander Austin Tyrer RD, RNR on board HMS Hogue tells part of the tale:

“Someone told me that the Aboukir had hit, or had been hit, by something…..the lame vessel slowly lost way… and began to heel over to port and settle by the head. The Aboukir heeled over even more. Her crew were frantically trying to launch their boats. Finally abandoning the attempt, they tore off their clothes … and crawled on to the ships sides. Scores of other naked men had begun to claw their way down it. The rising sum glistened on their bodies and on the wet smooth steel plates of the vessel’s rounded bilge. Down they came slowly, inch by inch, some sitting, others standing, several lying flat.

And then, suddenly, it was all over. The vessel had completely turned turtle and on all sides of her…the sea was literally black with a mass of struggling humanity.[*] One man in that ‘mass of struggling humanity’ might have been this twenty-two year old Bermudian. When the survivors of HMS Aboukir were finally brought ashore, that young Bermudian was not amongst them. Fewer than 280 of the 700 man crew were saved.

The men from HMS Aboukir had come from all over England. One had come from Bermuda. To commemorate them, their names are inscribed on the Chatham Naval Memorial, set on a hill overlooking the town of Chatham, Kent. This young Bermudian’s name is there. It’s listed with the names of his English shipmates. So there, on this monument in a corner of England, is a little piece of Bermuda that most Bermudians don’t know about. Sometimes, though, you’ll find his name published in a Roll of Honour in Bermuda.

His name? Edmund William Smith, son of Mr and Mrs William F and Emma J Smith of Sandy’s Parish.

He was the first Bermudian to die in the Great War of 1914-1918. He was black, but that isn’t so important.
[*] From: “I Was There!” (Vol 1) – Sir John Hammerton – Waverley Book Co – 1936

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Paths That Cross-Eldon Trimingham

In other countries, people would say that we had come from different sides of the tracks. In Bermuda, we came off different hills. I came off Pond Hill. He came off Trimingham’s Hill. We both lived in Bermuda. But we lived in different Bermudas. At the start, his Bermuda was white and privileged. At the start, my Bermuda was black and was kept, and kept well, in second place. In life, and as in all of Bermuda’s 398 year history, our paths crossed.
The first crossing was in 1966 when he brought his blue-hulled sloop ‘Privateer’ to Bermuda and slipped her at Darrell’s Island. I was tasked with the job of varnishing and painting that yacht. I did it well, and I enjoyed doing it. A sometime boatman myself, I understood the pleasure that a man derived from owning and sailing a yacht. Later, I gave up some 24th May holiday periods to work – for pay – and paint and varnish ‘Privateer’. I stopped that and moved on.

Later, from 1996 to 1998, our paths crossed again. I was working towards the PLP’s 1998 victory. Our paths crossed because, as Chairman of the Board of Director’s of the Bank of Bermuda, he was part of a consortium of Bermudian power-brokers who – every year, and year after year – pumped, and had always pumped, hundreds of thousands of dollars into UBP coffers; but had always denied similar funding for the PLP. More time passed.

In February 2002, I wrote about Bermuda’s overall Tax structure. I said that in Bermuda’s best long-term interests, Bermuda needed to shift from its 1930’s style over-reliance on Customs Duties, that had been put in place as long ago as the 1830’s. I’d written that Bermuda needed to move to taxing corporate profits and a point of sale Sales Tax.

In publicly agreeing with me in two newspaper pieces, Eldon Trimingham and I crossed paths for what turned out to be the last time. From one Bermudian to another, I was sorry to note his passing.

DAME LOIS BROWNE-EVANS

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I think I first saw her, about fifty years ago, on a platform at Devonshire Rec. She was making a speech about politics and stuff, but I was more impressed by the fervour and imagery of her speech. Leap forward many years and I saw her again, inside Alaska Hall on the night of 9th November 1998.

This time I saw a woman who was just wide-eyed with happiness. Her dream of a PLP election victory had come true. What she had worked for, for so long, had finally happened.

Later, the next year, after she had accepted the Royal Honour and had become Dame Lois Browne-Evans, DBE; I came upon her at a reception at Government House. She was sitting down. She was greeting and being greeted by every one who came past.

I muscled in, knelt down, grabbed her, and gave her a big hug, and I said, “Thank you for all that you’ve done.” I took the opportunity to congratulate her on the award of the Royal Honour of Dame of the British Empire. I pointed out that I thought that the award was well deserved as it placed her in Bermuda’s pantheon of heroes and heroines; and that her own family had been given a form of national recognition that showed some kind of national gratitude. I ended by saying that the award was a very small payback for all the silent and hidden sacrifices that she and her family had made.

I also said that future generations of Bermuda would remember her more easily and would see her raised to the same, or higher, levels as all those other past leaders.

I’m glad now that I did that. I’m glad that I thanked her that day.
Dame Lois – or as many knew her, “Browne-Evans” – will be missed, and missed terribly. The old warhorse has gone on; but she has left a big trail.