Lt Col Brian Gonsalves and Lt Col William White have voiced their concern regarding the end of conscription. *File photos
Lt Col Brian Gonsalves and Lt Col William White have voiced their concern regarding the end of conscription. *File photos

The recruitment process by which the Bermuda Regiment sustains its strength has been maligned in recent years to such an extent that our political establishment wishes to make a change.

The process being used at the moment is that in the first instance volunteers are sought.  If there are insufficient volunteers then conscription is used.

Conscription has served a very important purpose to recruit the number of people required for the Regiment to fulfill its roles. The Regiment has four roles listed in the Defence Act. The first and most important is to support the Police in time of civil unrest or disobedience. To carry out this role the Regiment requires more than 400 personnel of all ranks. The number of people volunteering to join the Regiment annually has been fewer than 30.  Some of those only volunteer because they believe they will otherwise be conscripted at a future time. If conscription is abolished then where are the necessary personnel going to come from? Not volunteers.

The vast majority of the officers, warrant officers and senior N.C.O.s, past and present, came from the ranks of the conscripted, and most would not otherwise have served. If conscription is abolished where will the Regiment find sufficient numbers with the potential to be its future leaders? Not from volunteers.

Abolish conscription and the Regiment will downsize by attrition to become ineffective for its role. This is Bermuda’s post-World War II experience. We are a small, isolated island community with a very limited gene-pool, unlike the United Kingdom or United States; two often quoted examples of all-volunteer military forces.  There are simply not enough Bermudians born to fill the requirements of all the uniformed organizations in Bermuda – mainly Police, Customs, Regiment and Fire Services.

To abolish conscription is not in the best interests of Bermuda, and will over time have a dramatic result – Bermuda will lose the Regiment.

Are the moves towards recruitment solely by volunteers the response to an action group advocating to abolish conscription? This group has made many outlandish statements over several years and has legally challenged the concept of conscription on numerous grounds to the highest court possible. All legal challenges have consistently been lost.

Conscription does not violate human rights and it does not enslave anyone. The anti-conscription group should be given no credence whatever.  To give them any credence is a serious error in judgment.

A full-time volunteer unit will require substantial uplifts in pay scales to attract the number needed. It will cost substantially more to fund the Regiment as a result.  Taxpayer costs will rise. This, too, is contrary to our best interests. 

There are over 35 countries in the world that conscript young people to serve in their armed forces – including Austria, Holland, Brazil, Israel, Norway, Finland, Switzerland,  and Argentina – it is not unique to Bermuda, and in the Bermudian context serves an essential purpose.

We will be asking those who have served with us in the Regiment over the years since 1965 as officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers to join with us in a campaign to preserve the Regiment as it is.  We will try to act as spokesmen for the Regiment over the next few months, to rebut some of the untruths and specious arguments that are being advanced, and to help the community understand how grievous the loss will be if the Regiment is thrown on the scrapheap to appease an anti-conscription lobby that has no legal credibility.

We mean no disrespect to those we will be opposing.  Indeed, it will be difficult for soldiers who have been brought up in an atmosphere of respect and neutral service to engage in any kind of campaign at all.  However, we feel circumstances warrant our current course of action – indeed, we would be remiss in our duty to the unit if we failed to speak up.

  
Lt Col Michael Darling,

Lt Col CE Raynor

Lt Col Gavin Shorto

Lt Col Allan Rance

Lt Col Patrick Outerbridge

Lt Col David Gibbons

Lt Col William White

Lt Col Brian Gonsalves