War dead: The war graves at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium. *Photo by Sgt 
Jez Doak, RAF, MOD
War dead: The war graves at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium. *Photo by Sgt Jez Doak, RAF, MOD

This year marks the 100-year anniversary since the outbreak of the ‘Great War’.

The battle for Europe cost scores of Bermudian lives as around 500 men volunteered to fight on the front line.

Eighty Bermudian soldiers perished abroad as the conflict raged and a handful of servicemen from Bermuda’s home guard also died in the line of duty.

The brutality of the trenches and gas attacks dealt some families a double blow — brothers Arthur and Harry Bridges along with James and Wentworth Trimmingham all lost their lives fighting in the Great War.

The roll call of the Bermuda dead is full of names that remain familiar to this day, such as Wadson, Place, Simmons, Tucker and Pitcher.

The end of next month will mark exactly a century since the beginning of one of the deadliest conflicts in history.

And historians in Bermuda believe it is just as important as it ever has been to remember the sacrifice made by the hundreds who left these shores to put their lives on the line.

Dr Edward Harris, executive director of the National Museum, said: “More than 80 Bermudians lost their lives in World War I and some families lost more than one son like the Trimingham’s and the Bridges’.

“And it is important to remember that the 500 or so who signed up to fight volunteered to fight.

“There was no conscription in those days.

“Bermuda’s population was around 19,000 back in 1914 so the 500 that volunteered is a significant part of the population — around five per cent.

“It’s an indication of the depth of connection that all Bermudians had with Great Britain at that time and also the sense they had that if the war went the wrong way it would fundamentally effect the fair terms that people here had been used to living with.”

The total number of military and civilian casualties in WWI was over 37 million. There were over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded making the conflict among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

Dr Harris added: “People will continue to remember their ancestors who died in defence of their country and it is right that they should. It comes down to the fundamental principle that we should remind the generations to come of the sacrifice made and the debt that we owe those men.”

The majority of the Bermudian servicemen that signed up to fight in the Great War were from the Bermuda Militia Artillery and the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps.

Most joined up with foot soldiers from various British army regiments such as the Lincolnshire’s, while some later joined the RAF.

Those that left these shores often arrived in France by ship and were sent straight to the front line.

But many servicemen from the BMA and BVRC remained in Bermuda and served their country by providing a ‘home guard’.

Historian Andrew Bermingham: “We think about World War I as trench fighting, Flanders Fields and the memorial graveyards there are in France today. But we should also be cognizant of those lives lost in Bermuda on the home front as well as those
Bermudians who died during the conflict.

“There was also a large number of men who served locally.

“Bermuda was also an important location and base during the First World War.

“Even though it was not in the theatre of war, there was a lot going on here that is worthy of mention.”

The first Bermudian to die in World War One was William Edmund Smith, who was drowned when his ship, HMS Aboukir, was torpedoed by a U-boat off the Hook of Holland on September 14, 1914.

His mother received a letter signed by Mr Winston Churchill, conveying the sympathy of the King and Queen

The first man of the BVRC to be killed in combat was Pte J L Trimingham, who died in September 1915. 

Dr Harris told the Sun: “A lot of what happened in the Great War was lost in the confusion of war.

“And a lot of what these soldiers did has been consigned to oblivion because there are no records of what happened.

“But we are always eager to find more and fill in the gaps in our knowledge, so if there is anyone out there with records or documents from the Great War, we would very much like to know about it.”

Anyone with any World War One memorabilia can contact Simon Jones on 278-1868 or email sjones@bermudasun.bm

German POWs were detained in Bermuda

A handful of German POWs were detained in Bermuda after being captured during World War I.

Most were housed at Port’s Island in the Great Sound, while a few of the more difficult prisoners were taken to St George’s for closer confinement and later sent to Canada.

The first internees were the German officers and crew from various ships including the Bermudian and the steamer Leda, which was captured in August, 1914.

The majority of the Leda’s crew spent four years as POWs in Bermuda.

A small number of Bermuda’s German residents were also interned on Port’s Island during the war, although not all Germans were taken into custody.

Heinrich Friesenbruch suffered from asthma and was given permission to live with his family in Pembroke. 

He had to report to the authorities once a week.

The hospital on Port’s Island that had previously been used to look after thousands of prisoners from the Boer War, ended up holding three German nationals and 58 German merchant seamen in the 1914-18 Great War.

They lived in simple accommodations, grew vegetables to supplement their diet and spent most of their time making souvenirs, marked GPOW Bermuda.

In August, 1915, the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps took over the guard at Port’s Island Prisoner of War Camp.

When the war ended there were 48 German POWs in Bermuda.

There is no local written record of the departure of the German internees, only a blurred 1918 photograph of the men in long boats at Tobacco Bay waiting to row themselves out to a ship en route to Germany. 

A love story with a backdrop of war

The end of the war saw almost all German POWs return home — but one man chose to stay in Bermuda.

Paul Neis stayed behind because he had fallen in love with a Bermudian woman, called Rose, who he went on to marry.

Today his grave can be found at the Emmanuel Methodist Church at Whale Bay in Southampton. Mr Neis was aged 20 when he and 31 other crew were taken from SS Leda and imprisoned at Ports Island.

During this time he was sent to work on Greenmount Farm in Southampton belonged to Rose’s father, Jose Maria de Moura.

And this is how he first met his wife to be: The couple’s great niece, Debbie Reiss, who lives in Bermuda today, said: “My great grandparents had four lovely daughters and as fate would have it, Paul fell in love with one of them — my great aunt Rose. Rose and Paul were married in Bermuda but then moved to New York.”

She added: “Family lore had it that Paul did not like Bermuda, which made complete sense as he was held prisoner here and he had no wish to return.

“It was also family ‘gossip’ that the marriage was not a happy one.

“This is why we were all completely surprised when Uncle Paul died in New York and aunt Rose made the decision to bring him back to Bermuda to be buried.”