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History of the RBDF

Prior to 1973, The Bahamas government‟s only legislated law enforcement branch was the Royal Bahamas Police Force. Formed in 1840, two years following the abolition of slavery, the law enforcement efforts of the Royal Bahamas Police Force were primarily land-based until 1958. It was during that year when the organization received their first boat, The Sea Lion, and was able to perform limited harbour patrol duties. Until Independence, sporadic patrols were performed by units of the Royal Navy.

The Police Marine Division

The Police Marine Division (PMD) was formed in 1971 with the acquisition of four 60 foot Mark I Keith Nelson type vessels- Acklins, Andros, San Salvador and Eleuthera.
What was its purpose, location and why was it disbanded?

The Police Marine Division was tasked with eradicating the escalated 1960s flow of narcotics and illegal immigrants, particularly from Haiti into Bahamian territory. The Police Marine Division operated from the Old Lighthouse Depot, on East Bay Street, which currently serves as the home base of the Drug Enforcement Marine Unit. The Marine Division experienced several successes in both the immigration and poaching trends. An increasing narcotic trade and its shipment through Bahamian waters were also brought to light in the 1970s. The Police Marine Division also proved successful in apprehending a great deal of narcotics traffickers and confiscating their shipments, planes and boats. Despite these triumphs, however, the unit proved inadequate for the large number of illegal operatives availing themselves of the amenities in Bahamian waters. Consequently, an alternative was sought—hence the birth of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.

Assistant Commissioner Lawrence Major was placed in charge of the new unit that amounted to some 68 men in total. Deputy Superintendent Leon Smith was appointed as his Second-In-Command (2IC). The names of persons who transferred from the ranks of the Police Force into the Bahamas Defence Force when it was eventually formed were:

 

  1. Deputy Superintendent Leon Smith (Retired Commodore)
  2. Assistant Superintendent Amos Rolle (Retired Snr. Cdr)
  3. Chief Inspector Wilmore E. Munroe (Former Snr. Lt)
  4. Chief Inspector Batchelette LaFleur (former Lt. Cdr)
  5. Corporal David Duncombe (Retired Lt. Cdr)
  6. Corporal Milo Knowles (Retired CPO)
  7. Constable Edison Rolle (Lt. Cdr)
  8. Constable Henchell Pratt (Retired P/O)
  9. Constable Rudolph Sweeting (MIA)
  10. Constable Dudley Smith (Retired CPO)
  11. Constable Peterson James (Retired FCPO)
  12. Constable David Ferguson (left before ranks..went to Airport)
  13. Constable Raphael Deleveaux (Retired FCPO)
  14. Constable Stephen Johnson (Retired FCPO)
  15. Constable Charles Newbold (died before ranks; first Mil funeral)
  16. Constable Denzil Clark (FCPO)
  17. Constable Everette Ingraham (Resigned L/M)
  18. Constable Oscar Miller (Retired CPO)
  19. Constable Gregory Curry (FCPO)
  20. Constable Leslie Forbes (FCPO)
  21. Constable John Minns (Retired L/M)
  22. Constable Addington Cox (Retired CPO)
  23. Constable Bradley Smith (CPO)
  24. Constable Trevor Ford (Retired PO)

William Miller, Dudley K. Allens, Kenneth Turnquest and Maurice Williams were also Police Marines who transferred at a later date.

Prime Minister Pindling’s Vision

Prime Minister Lynden Oscar Pindling agitated for the Marine Division of the Police Force to be transformed into a Coast Guard that would be trained to operate on land, in the air and on the sea. In his October 28th 1975 speech to the 20th National General Convention of the Progressive Liberal Party

“I propose that the Bahamas proceed immediately to develop a defence capability; that the Marine Division of the Royal Bahamas Police Force be reorganized, retrained and expanded as a Coast Guard; and that the Coast Guard be augmented by a unit trained with flexibility to operate on land, in the air and on the sea. It is my considered judgment that such a combined and integrated force would more adequately protect our nation‟s vital interests.

“Let me hasten to advise you, however, that the national interest will not be served by a mere show piece; that at defence force, in the ordinary sense of the word, will not be worth the investment that is necessary. What I am talking about is an agency which will function in a manner consistent with the aims and objectives of national development; one which will operate in a manner consonant with our social and economic priorities: one which will be trained and prepared to itself implement some of the tasks of national development.”

“I see a force which will not only safeguard our sovereignty and independence but will also rescue lives at sea; a force which not only will keep out poachers and smugglers but will man our lighthouses and watch our sea-lanes; a force which not only will help to keep the peace but will also supply food and emergency relief to an island community ravaged by a disastrous hurricane or take needed medical services to isolated communities; a force which not only will exemplify discipline, but will also exemplify the same by example in our communities whether they may help to repair schools and roads and drains. In other words, fellow delegates, I see a people‟s defence force which fits totally within our philosophy of development, is dedicated to progress with self-reliance and further helps us to tighten up and toughen up.

A team from Vosper Thornycroft in the United Kingdom in 1975 carried out a feasibility study for the expansion of the Police Marine Division into a Defence Force with additional patrol craft, personnel and possible sites for a venue. A complete check and refitting of all craft were also carried out. A letter of Instruction to Vosper Thornycroft to proceed with design drawings was issued on 1 May 1976 and the work on the companion site surveys was commissioned.

 

The Attorney General, the Honourable Paul Adderley, had set about drafting the Defence Act that would govern the institution. A Bahamian, Brigadier David Hartman Smith, CVO, OBE, ED, who had served as a former Chief of Staff in the Jamaican Defence Force from 1965 to 1973, was appointed as a Defense Advisor to the Bahamian government from 1975 to 1980. Therefore, the Bahamas Defence Act came to be based on the skeleton of the Jamaican Defence Act.

PMD to The Bahamas Defence Force

How did it go from the PMD to the Bahamas Defence Force to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (dates, and significance?)

 

The Prime Minister‟s speech began the groundwork for today‟s Royal Bahamas Defence Force. The Speech was delivered in 1975. On January 1st, 1976, the Ministry of Defence was formed and the actual Act that would legalize the Force ratified in 1979.
From 1976, however, personnel of the Police Marine Division were preparing for the inevitable transfer to the Defence Force, upon the dissolution of their unit, which was met with some resistance. This in itself was not smooth sailing. Naturally, the men of the Royal Bahamas Police Force were well established and were reluctant to transfer to an entity whose orders, regulations, pay and benefit schemes were less attractive compared to what they were presently receiving, and would not be known until the passing of the Defence Act.

 

The Ministry of Defence in England along with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office soon selected Captain William Casper Carnegie Swinley. This was in conjunction with requests from the Bahamian Government. The British Admiralty Board approved his nomination for a three year loan service, of course subject to him satisfactorily reaching terms and conditions of service as set out in the Memorandum of Understanding.

 

The road to establishing the military seemed clearer and more imminent with the acquisition of a Royal Navy Commander, who was to become the Commander Designate and create a Bahamian Navy along the lines of the Royal Navy, but tailored to the specific needs and geography of The Bahamas.
Commodore William Swinley arrived in The Bahamas during the first week in September 1976 to plan and create a navy for a country that had no ships, no base, no military personnel, no uniforms, no regulations; a country that had no foundation, only an idea.

Commodore Swinley with a paper and pencil delved into his initial tasks: discovering the Bahamian way of doing things, finding an office and hiring an assistant.

 

The Police Marines proved very accommodating and Commodore Swinley, the lone member of the Force, was flown around The Bahamas several times on reconnaissance missions in their airplane, stopping at every inhabited island in the archipelago. He is often quoted as saying, “I literally counted 200 illegal vessels in the Great Bahama Bank during one mission before giving up count.” He was also allowed to accompany the Police on several maritime patrols to familiarize himself with the challenges and capabilities needed to navigate Bahamian waters. Those missions showed him exactly how far reaching the poaching problem had become during the „Lobster Wars‟ and thus how to launch a campaign to stop them.

 

An office in the building that housed the Cabinet Office had been set up for the Commodore Designate‟s use and Mrs. Alice Seymour had been appointed as his personal assistant. Constant briefings, discussions and revisions were held with the Prime Minister, Secretary to the Cabinet, Deputy Permanent Secretary and Police Commissioner regarding his findings and recommendations.

Commodore Swinley, in conjunction with the Cabinet office, designed the Bahamian ensign, the crests and the uniform that the men would wear. He also proposed that the cap badges be a representation of the Bahamian coat of arms. The uniforms were in effect an improvement of the Royal Navy‟s tropical rig. He consulted with the then Director of Education, Mr. Gurth Archer to determine the appropriate academic requirements for Bahamians who would want to join the Defence Force, once the recruitment efforts were underway.

Many places, including several spots at Clifton Pier, the Bayshore Marina, several family island sites and the Coral Harbour Resort had all been under consideration for use as the venue for the Force. The Old Lighthouse Depot, where the Police Marines were stationed was unsuitable for many reasons. Finally an October 7th, 1976 article in the Tribune read: “According to a Government release, the Defence headquarters and base will be at Coral Harbour and the planning for this is in an advanced stage. The release further stated that several more patrol craft have now been ordered and these will arrive in The Bahamas in stages between the autumn of next year and the end of 1978”.

 

The slowly increasing team of officers and marines found that their initial tasking involved creating workable conditions at the Coral Harbour Resort and Marina that had been closed since 1971, when it had ceased operations.

Prime Minister Pindling had had planned to allow Queen Elizabeth to lay the cornerstone for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force at Coral Harbour during her Silver Jubilee visit in October. However, the purchase of the property did not go through in time and the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas was christened instead. Her Royal Highness Princess Anne was scheduled to attend the Commemorative Celebrations of the Bahamas‟ 250th Anniversary (3rd oldest outside of Great Britain) of partaking in Commonwealth Parliament Government in September 1979. Prime Minister Pindling prudently capitalized on this visit and invited her to commission the Coral Harbour Base that had just been occupied by the small unit. Amazingly, the request was met with a positive response promptly, despite the common practice of ensuring an entity is a lasting one before presenting it with the royal insignia.

 

In February 1979, the Prime Minister Pindling, Deputy Prime Minister AD Hanna and senior Defence Force officers walked around the Base, evaluating necessary actions needed to be taken to make it ready for the Commissioning. Consequently, one of the most important moments in Bahamas Defence Force history occurred on Saturday 29th September 1979. The Princess, herself an honourary member of the Women‟s Royal Navy Service (WRNS) and her then husband, Captain Mark Phillips, visited the Bahamas Defence Force Base and unveiled a plaque designating the Base as: “Her Majesty‟s Bahamian Ship Coral Harbour,” and officially conferred the title „Royal‟ on the Force, making it known therafter as the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.

 

In a short ceremony, the Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling delivered remarks and promised the addition of modern accommodation docks and repair shops for the newly commissioned royal entity. Cannon John Calnan and the Reverend Ranfurly Brown prayed and blessed the event and the entity while the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band played. Also, in attendance at the event were the Minister of Health, Perry Christie and his wife, the then Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Affairs, Kendal Nottage, the Minister for Transport, Phillip M. Bethel and the Member of Parliament for Pinedale, Milo Butler Jr., Mrs Pindling and Lady Cash. The platoons were inspected by Princess Anne and she was introduced to the officers, all of whom she spoke with.

 

She walked around the base, embarked Marlinwith Captain Leon Smith and accepted the Royal Salute from the honour guard to conclude the Commissioning Ceremony

First Entry

A recruitment campaign began for marines almost immediately after Commodore Designate Swinley‟s arrival in 1976. The Ministry of Defence published the following release in the Nassau Guardian looking for candidates who were:

  1. “17 1/2 – 25 years old
  2. Bahamian nationality
  3. Male
  4. Holding two advanced level certificates
  5. Three ordinary level certificates (including Math, English and wherever possible physics or a degree from a recognized university)
  6. Medically fit
  7. Without speech or sight defects

 

Application forms are available at the Cabinet Office, first floor, Churchill Building between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. beginning October 12. Closing date for submitting applications is October 31. It was stated that the salary would be good and the facilities (opportunities) offered from the date of enlistment in the force are “unlimited‟ and „unrivaled‟.1”

 

 

The selection tests were held on the 18th, 19th and 20th April 1977 for the droves of anxious young men clamoring to become marines. The first group of enlisted men, 27 in total, joined the ranks on 02nd May 1977. These were: Antonio Collie, Hubert Smith, Wilmore Munroe, Herman Gaitor, Michael Hudson, Leroy Whylly, Luke Bethel, Andrew Seymour, Keith Baker, Sidney Barr, Neville Moss, Brian Evans, Joseph Forbes, Stafford Knowles, Anvil Cunningham, Andrew Farrington, Hylan Johnson, Floyd Deveaux, Peter Carroll, The Nassau Guardian, 09 October 1976.
Kenrick Brennen, Anthony Marshall, Anthony Forbes, Andrew Butler, Cyril Sands, Curtis Ferguson and Brian Pennerman.

Signed training agreements with the British government secured two slots in January 1977 for the Junior Officers Course at the Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) in Dartmouth, England.
These first two openings for the Junior Officers Course were filled by Kenneth Gordon Turnquest, 23, and 19 year old Peter Daniel Drudge Jr. in January 1977. Turnquest had already been serving on the Police Force and Drudge was attending the University of South Florida. The two midshipmen spent a very intensive three terms at the Britannia Royal Naval College and were among the nine who passed the course in its entirety, out of forty who underwent it. Donald Livingston Weir became the third Midshipman selected to undergo officer training. He left in April 1977 to join Turnquest and Drudge.
The course trained the young men in areas as Ships‟ Stability, Radar Technology, Naval Traditions, Strategic Studies, Operations, Meteorology, Oceanography, Rules of the Road, Navigation, Seamanship, Communications, Engineering, Damage Control, Parade and Physical Training and a 9 week Initial Sea Training Course onboard a Royal Navy Battleship. Upon their return to The Bahamas, they were promoted to Acting Sub-Lieutenants.

 

By the time the second entry began training almost a year later, in January 1978, the organization was still struggling to achieve the subtle balance that would dictate a smooth and seamless operation. It is often remembered that this particular entry went through their entire training period in civilian clothes, as their uniforms, ordered from England, were held up in transit for one reason or another.
In a 09 February 1978 presentation to the Kiwanis Club of Fort Montague, the Commander Designate exclaimed that applications were very heavily oversubscribed, i.e. about three hundred young men had applied to fulfill the thirty positions advertised. They were also informed that hundreds of young women, too, were calling to ask how and when they could join and he admitted that in „due time‟ as he saw a number of administrative and radio operating billets that women could fill.
Fourteen days after the force became official, NE 6, who also happened to be the first entry to be trained on Coral Harbour Base, began their training. Up to this point, all other entries were trained at the Police

 

 

Commodore Belton during his tenure also began the practice of aligning officer recruits with an enlisted entry, thereby familiarizing them with military practices and giving them several months of sea time, before sending them to Dartmouth BRNC to complete the Young Officer‟s Course.
In a letter dated 10 March 1982 to Captain GB Evans RN who was the Director of Naval Assistance Overseas, Commodore Belton secured spots for an Upper Yardman. History was made in April 1982 when L/S Andrew Farrington became the first rating to attend the International Midshipman Course at the Britannia Royal Naval College. Soon after, Petty Officer William Munroe became the first marine to undergo and pass the Special Duties Officer Course also at the BRNC in Dartmouth, England. In the same vein, Kenneth Forbes became the first enlisted to attend the Officer Cadet School in the United States.

 

It was often said that those who undergo the Midshipman Course at Dartmouth could progress straight through the ranks, up to Commodore. It is alleged also that those who have done the Special Duties or Upper Yardsman course knew that the furthest their careers could ever progress would be to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and the post of Commodore would never be opened to them. The appointment of Lieutenant Commander Clifford Scavella, who completed the Upper Yardman‟s or Special Duties Course at the Britannia Royal Naval College has since debunked this myth.

Woman Entry 1

It was time for women to join the ranks of the Defence Force.‟ Prime Minister Pindling said these words which heralded of course, controvertibly, the single most important and politically progressive occurrence during this Era-the decision to allow females to enlist in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. Commodore Swinley shared that Mrs. Marguerette Pindling (now Lady) also advocated for this move.
Whenever asked about the advent of females in the Force, Commodore Smith fondly recalls how impressed he had been with the Women Royal Naval Service (WRNS) when he had been at the Naval Staff School in Greenwich, England in 1979. He instantly realized that allowing women to join the ranks and working watches with the marines would ensure the prompt preparation of sailing orders and reports despite the vessel‟s arrival time. Upon his return to The Bahamas, Smith sold his idea to the then Prime Minister and Secretary to the Cabinet, Sir Lynden O. Pindling and Mrs. Margaret MacDonald.
Under the directives of Commodore Smith, the first woman entry was allowed to enlist on 28 October 1985, following a total of 17 all male entries joining. These history makers were Prenell Armbrister, Shane Bain, Cheryl Bethel, Mynez Cargill, Bianca Cleare, Carolyn Douglas, Cynthia Edgecombe, Glenva Evans, Idamae Ferguson, Christine Gibson, Marsha Grant, Gaye Major, Julianna Major, Aura Pratt, Joan Thompson and Verna Wood.

 

 

They were chaperoned nightly by Sergeant Ella Mae Rolle of the Royal Bahamas Police Force. Mrs. Ena Mae Rolle, a civilian who served as an Executive Officer in the Ministry of Defence acted as their Divisional Officer during the days. The Training Officer at that time was Lt. Commander Godfrey Rolle, who was assisted by Force Chief Petty Officer David Duncombe.

 

 

Cheryl Bethel and Gaye Major were the first females to undertake the WRNS, leaving in 1985. July MacDonald would become the first female that would attend the International Midshipman Training Course at Dartmouth. This Royal Navy course allowed the integration of women into the regular navy and the course included a three-month international sea training course that was previously omitted from the WRNS course.