In the trenches: Soldiers in the Battle of the Somme, 1916. *Photo supplied
In the trenches: Soldiers in the Battle of the Somme, 1916. *Photo supplied

Bermudian soldiers fought with great courage in some of the bloodiest battles of World War I.

And today, dozens of those who died in foreign fields, away from their families, on the front line in Europe, are buried in cemeteries in France and Belgium.

Philip Tatem of Pembroke was one of the more than 1.1 million fatalities at the infamous Battle of the Somme.

The 24-year-old of Spanish Point was killed on September 25, 1916 serving with the 1st Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment.

Harry Francis Bridges died at Vermelles just a couple of months later with the same regiment.

Lance Corporal Bridges, whose brother, Arthur, died when he returned from the war, is buried in the British Cemetery in
Vermelles.

Bermudian soldiers did not just fight in some of the most infamous battles in the Great War, they served with distinction and stories of their bravery in the face of incomprehensible adversity were widespread. 

In 1915 they were even praised by Field Marshal Earl Haig, British Army Commander-in-Chief.

Referring to the Bermuda contingent of the Royal Garrison Artillery during operations
before the capture of Vimy Ridge, he stated: “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 also conspicuous for their cheeriness under all
conditions.

“On more than one occasion the dumps at which they were employed were ignited by hostile shellfire and much of their work was done under shellfire.

“Their behaviour on all these occasions was excellent, and commanded the admiration of those with whom they were serving.”

Bermudians were rushed to the squalid and notoriously dangerous Western Front as soon as they arrived in France.

And, as Sergeant Billy Richardson of the Bermuda Militia Artillery wrote in his
diary about his Great War experiences in Europe,
the theatre of war was a stark reality to be faced with.

He wrote: “Our first job was digging trenches. I had a Bible my Auntie gave me and I took it to the trenches.

“I told those guys: “Tell my Auntie if I don’t come back, I took the Bible with me.”

Many Bermudians served with great distinction during World War One.

One such soldier was Lieutenant Arthur Rowe Spurling from Hamilton, who was awarded both the Star Trio and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his wartime exploits.

The latter was presented in November 1918 for flying his bomber into the centre of a formation of some 30 German planes.

He and his observer shot three down in flames and sent two others crashing to the ground. 

Spurling joined the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps in February 1915, sailing with the first war contingent for England in May and soon after being posted to the Lincolnshire Regiment.

He was commissioned in July 1917 and qualified for service in the Royal Flying Corps in September, before being posted to France and joining 49 Squadron in July 1918. 

He returned a hero to Bermuda after the First World War and went on to serve in World War Two

He married Ilys Darrell in 1948 and ran a taxi service on the island, as well as importing mushrooms and starting the Rowe Spurling paint supply
company.

He and his wife moved to Guernsey in the early 1970s but eventually sold up there with a plan to return to Bermuda.

Instead, Lt Spurling developed Alzheimer’s Disease and died in a nursing home in England, aged 88.

His body was flown back to the island for a funeral at the Anglican Cathedral and he is buried in Pembroke.