The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
1953 - 1954
All photographs are the property of RHQ Argylls and may not be reproduced or copied without permission from RHQ Argylls.
H.M.S. Implacable crossed the Atlantic at an average speed of 23 knots and, after the first two days, in a calm sea. It was an interesting voyage, for all ranks were given the opportunity of seeing over the ship under the guidance of the Royal Marines, and each day ended with a hockey match against one of the ship's teams, followed by the beating of Retreat by the pipes and drums on the flight deck.
The ship arrived at the Port of Spain, Trinidad, on 18th October 1953, and here Major Troup, Second-in-Command, who had gone by air with an advance party, came on board with news and instructions. The situation in the Colony was still unsettled, but a coup d'etat by the quasi-Communist People's Progressive Party had been forestalled by the timely arrival of 1 R.W.F. from Jamaica. The Battalion was now to relieve the R.W.F. and its task was to be friendly with the civil population but at the same time vigilant and alert. It was expected that the presence of a regular garrison would give the civil population confidence in law and order and at the same time provide a strong reserve to assist the Police and Volunteer Force in cases of emergency.
Aboard HMS Implacable. Click on pictures to enlarge.
Extensive mud-banks thrown up by the waters of the Orinoco River prevented any large ship from getting within 15 miles of the coast of British Guiana; consequently the Battalion with all its vehicles and stores had to tranship at Trinidad into the frigate H.M.S. Bigbury Bay and the Canadian Savenay Terminals bauxite ship S.S. Sunjarv. The plan for the Battalion, brought on board by Major Troup, was for one company to move to Georgetown, the capital, in the frigate and, after disembarkation, to move on to New Amsterdam, 70 miles east of Georgetown. 'A' Company (Major J. V. Parnell) was selected for this task. The remainder of the battalion was to be stationed at the war-time U.S. air-base at Atkinson Field, 25 miles up the Demerara River from Georgetown. The separation of the stores for the New Amsterdam detachment was soon completed, but the process of transhipment of the vehicles and stores was a long and laborious task entailing day and night shifts over a period of thirty-six hours. This work was carried out by the Royal Navy. By the evening of the 19th the transhipment had been completed, and it was with very real regret that the Battalion moved from the Implacable into the two smaller ships. As the Sunjarv moved away, the pipes and drums played the 'Black Bear', while the carrier's complement lined the rails and waved good-bye. Once again a very sincere friendship had been formed between all ranks of the Battalion and their opposite numbers in the ship which had transported them.
Arrival in British Guiana
Pathe News Film of battalion arriving
On 21st October 'A' Company disembarked at Georgetown and relieved the R.W.F. in New Amsterdam the following day. The remainder of the Battalion reached the jetty at Atkinson Field also on the 21st, and here under a blistering tropical sun it was greeted by the advance party and the local Press. Atkinson Field Base had been built in the middle of the jungle, and the available accommodation was the old U.S. Air Force hospital. 'B' and 'D' Companies and the service units remained here while Headquarters, Headquarter Company and 'C' Company moved into or near Georgetown. Battalion Headquarters was set up in some old local Government offices with the Officers' Mess in the Mariners' Club, an unsatisfactory building which was merely a rest house for merchant seamen while their ships were in Georgetown. Headquarter Company established itself in a building once used as a Postal Depot, while 'C' Company, whose duties were internal security in and around Georgetown and the provision of Government House Guards, had to be content with billets in hotels, frequently used as night clubs, in Kitty village, 4 miles away. 'A' Company, on detachment, was probably worst off in a wing of the local hospital. On 28th November the Battalion was delighted to receive, through Headquarters Caribbean Area Jamaica, a message from Her Majesty The Queen, who was on the early stages of her world tour. It read:
'From Commander. I have been commanded by Her Majesty The Queen, during her visit to Jamaica, to convey her greetings to all ranks of the 1st Battalion A. & S.H. Her Majesty also graciously expressed the hope that the Battalion has settled down in its new station after its sudden move from duties at Balmoral and Edinburgh.'
Lt.-Colonel Church was appointed O.C. Troops British Guiana, and Battalion Headquarters therefore became Head quarters British Troops. To assist in overcoming the initial difficulties in establishing the garrison, two Staff Officers from Headquarters Caribbean Area (Jamaica) were attached to the Battalion early in January 1954.
British Guiana is approximately the same size as Great Britain, but its population is only about half a million, and about 90 per cent. of them live in the narrow coastal belt which is often below sea-level and very swampy. Inland, the ground rises slightly, but is covered in thick jungle and practically uninhabited, while in the extreme south there are wide rolling grasslands, known as the Savannah, and these are flanked by mountain ranges rising to about 3000 feet. The country is intersected by many rivers—the Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice being the largest—and it is from all these rivers that the Colony takes its name, for the Amerindian word Guiana means 'land of the waters'. The Colony is very undeveloped, roads are scarce and, outside Georgetown, unsurfaced. A single-track railway runs along the coast. The tropical heat is tempered by a pleasant trade-wind which blows almost every day of the year. Heavy rains fall between May and August, and again in November and December, and these cause severe flooding in the coastal plain.
The health of the population is generally good, as the conquest of malaria is one of the big achievements of the British Administration. The population is multi-racial and includes British, Portuguese East Indians, Africans, Chinese, etc. The original natives of the country, the Amerindians, live on reservations in the interior, but they are a dwindling race. The Battalion found the people of the Colony kind and hospitable, and, with the exception of a few political extremists, loyal to their British connection. The elected Government of the People's Progressive Party had been replaced by a new interim Government and the leaders of the former were either on a world tour enlisting sympathy for their cause, or in custody at Atkinson Field under guards provided by the Battalion.
After settling down and getting to know the country and its inhabitants, the chief task for the Battalion was to show the flag as a means of encouraging the loyal and law-abiding majority of the population. This was done by means of extensive patrolling of the coastal areas and of Georgetown and district in particular. Only on one occasion was the Battalion required to assist the local forces, and then only in a supporting role, when early in December 'A' Company assisted the police in a cordon and search operation by night in Port Mourant. One of its tasks was to fire 2-in. mortar parachute illuminating flares to provide light for the police searchers. This type of illuminating bomb was carried in carton containers, and before the first bomb was placed in the mortar a careful N.C.O. inspected it, and it was fortunate he did so, for he found that, despite the marking on the containers, the bombs were in fact high explosive. His vigilance averted what might have been a serious accident which would have had grave repercussions in the political world. In the middle of December, Lt.-Colonel J. C. Church, M.C., returned home on special leave, and the command of the Battalion devolved upon Major A. C. S. Troup.
Christmas and New Year were very happy periods. The hospitality of the people of British Guiana was on a very lavish scale, and there was scarcely a member of the Battalion who was not invited into a Guyanese home to share the family's Christmas fare.
Early in January 1954 the Battalion formed a Rugby Football XV to play local teams in the Colony. In spite of the fact that cricket is the chief sport in British Guiana, a certain amount of rugby is played during the rainy season. The local teams are formed from British and Portuguese residents of Georgetown and the sugar estates. It was the first time for several years that the Battalion had put a team in the field, and that selected to play the rest of the Colony on 3rd January was very much an experimental side, but it won by 17 points to 5, and this same team remained unbeaten during the Battalion's stay in the colony. The matches included one against Trinidad Colony XV, and this was drawn at 3 points each. The team owed much to its pack, which, on the heavy water-logged grounds, had the advantage of weight and physical fitness over most of its opponents.
The first week in January saw the arrival of the first draft from home and the departure of the first batch of officers and other ranks due for release or new appointments. On this occasion the drafts were transported to and from the Colony by a Constellation aircraft, but the normal method was by the R.A.S.C. vessel Oxna, which took personnel and stores to Jamaica some 1800 miles away—an uncomfortable journey in a very uncomfortable ship. The Battalion was dependent on this vessel for all its supplies, spare parts, stationery, etc., and its irregular and unreliable movements was one of the many administrative problems with which it had to contend. By 20th January the Public Works Department, whose employees had worked night and day, had completed four new barrack blocks in Georgetown, and with this extra accommodation available the opportunity was taken to reorganise the Battalion. The Support Company, which had been disbanded on leaving U.K., was re-formed under Major I. H. Scheurmier, but with the 3-in. mortar and machine-gun platoons only. 'B' Company, many of whom had already been attached to C', was disbanded to make available the necessary personnel. 'C' Company moved from its billets outside Georgetown to join the Support Company at Atkinson Field. Headquarters and 'A' Company moved into the new barracks, and 'D' moved to New Amsterdam to relieve 'A'.
At the same time news was received that the families were to be allowed to come to the Colony, and in spite of the housing problem an energetic committee under Major Ash and Padre Crombie succeeded in reserving enough rooms in hotels, guest-houses and vacant houses to accommodate all those expected. Before the end of February all had arrived. The anniversary of the Raising of the Regiment was marked by a Church Parade on Sunday, 14th February, in each of the three detachments and by a Sergeants' Mess Ball early in March. The arrival of the M.C.C. touring team in mid-February had been eagerly looked forward to. A large number of all ranks had received complimentary tickets through the courtesy of the British Guiana Cricket Club. The touring team had lost the first two test matches, and its success in the third at British Guiana was very welcome. On 22nd February the officers entertained the team in the Officers' Mess.
Lt.-Colonel B. A. Pearson, D.S.O., arrived in the Colony on 12th March and assumed command of the Battalion, and with him came the military band, which was soon to prove itself a great asset in the Colony. Major Troup, after handing over to Lt.-Colonel Pearson, returned to the United Kingdom. An attempt was made during March by the Communist-inspired People's Progressive Party to involve the troops in incidents in Georgetown. They were frequently provoked into starting a fight, and being unarmed could do little to defend themselves against the knives and clubs that were used against them. Several were taken to hospital suffering from superficial wounds. There can be little doubt that all these incidents were part of a campaign directed against the presence of troops in the Colony, but it was of short duration, principally on account of the strict measures that were taken to defeat it. Civil disturbances threatened to break out in April when Dr. Jagan, leader of the P.P.P., left his home in Georgetown after being put under 'restriction of movement'. He was found and arrested in the Berbi district and subsequently sentenced to six months' imprisonment. Demonstrations in protest were organised by his party; these lasted for about a week, and although the troops were not called out, the families were confined to their quarters and the walking-out areas for the troops were restricted. The police acted with great firmness, but had to resort on occasions to tear gas to clear the crowds. Acts of sabotage against communications, police stations, banks, and on one occasion on the statue of Queen Victoria outside the Law Courts, caused great public resentment and did much to discredit the P.P.P., who had organised them.
On 21st April the Battalion turned out for the Queen's Birthday Parade along with the local forces of the Colony, Lt.-Colonel Pearson commanded the parade, which was inspected by H.E. The Governor, who afterwards took the salute. After the parade, a flag march through Georgetown passed off without incident. The risk of civil disturbance was decreasing each month, and at the beginning of May there was time and opportunity to organise a training programme for the remainder of the spring and summer months. N.C.Os. training and specialist training soon got under way, and all ranks were able to fire their range courses. On 31st May the Battalion had to take over the Government House Guard again from the police to release them for guard and patrol duties elsewhere. The Guard was now operational, and the sentries were armed with sten guns, while wire obstacles were erected in the grounds.
On 5th June Lt. D. Darroch and 2/Lt. I. B. Robertson were appointed Honorary A.D.Cs. to His Excellency The Governor, Sir Alfred Savage, K.C.M.G. Also on 5th June the Battalion sent a small party of pipers and dancers, under command of 2/Lt. B. Malcolm, to Caracas, Venezuela, at the request of H.M. Ambassador, Sir Robert Urquhart. The occasion of the visit was to perform at the various events organised to celebrate the official birthday of Her Majesty The Queen. Performances were given at the British and Canadian Embassies, the Venezuelan Officers' Clubs and at many official banquets. They visited several cities in Venezuela, and wherever they went they were accorded a tremendous welcome and lavish hospitality. They returned to British Guiana on 19th June.
In mid-June a visit by the new Commander of the Caribbean Area, Brigadier R. C. S. Hall, O.B.E., resulted in the withdrawal of the New Amsterdam detachment. The decision was welcomed by the Battalion, but resisted by the officials of the Sugar Estates Company in the Berbice Area. The latter were, however, satisfied with an assurance that the area would be frequently patrolled and a promise that the detachment would return if security was jeopardised by its departure. Brigadier Hall confirmed that 2 Black Watch would relieve the Battalion in October.
At the end of June the Battalion Rugby XV won the Colony Gonsalves Cup with a score of 49 - 0 in the final, while the soccer XI were runners-up in that competition. On 1st July the Battalion was reorganised, and its final deployment was: Georgetown—Battalion Headquarters, Headquarter Company, 'D' Company; Atkinson Field—'A' Company 'C' Company, Support Company. The Area Commander's annual inspection was carried out during the period 13th to 17th July. He expressed himself as very well satisfied with the standard of administration and accountancy within the Battalion, and as a reward granted a whole holiday to all ranks of the Garrison. This holiday was observed on 22nd July. Another interesting event occurred in July when the Walt Disney film 'Rob Roy' was shown in Georgetown. Officers and men from the Battalion had helped to make the film the previous year. The opening night was made a big regimental occasion. There was a good supporting programme and the pipes and drums and military band gave a programme on the stage before the film show. H.E. The Governor and Lady Savage attended.
On 17th August R.S.M. R. T. Boyde, D.C.M., and his family left the Battalion to take up the appointment of R.S.M. at the Depot. For over four years he had been R.S.M. of the 1st Battalion in Hong Kong, in Korea, during the wonderful year of 1953 at home, and lastly in British Guiana. His own personal example contributed in a large measure to the fine record of the Battalion. He was devoted to the Regiment and will go down in its history as one of its outstanding Regimental Sergeant-Majors. He was succeeded by R.S.M. T. J. R. Collett, M.M.
September saw the beginning of the planning for the relief the following month. As the War Office and Caribbean Area had no staff available, the details of the plan had to be worked out by Battalion Headquarters and British West Indian Airways in Trinidad. The Black Watch, like 1 A. & S.H., were to disembark at Port of Spain, but the remainder of their journey was to be by air. Captain J. D. C. Graham, the Adjutant, flew to Trinidad on 2nd September for the first relief conference with B.W.I.A.
On l0th September in fine weather the Battalion held its Highland Games in Georgetown. The Games were attended by a large crowd of spectators, and at their conclusion Lady Savage presented the prizes. In Trinidad the annual Battle of Britain celebrations for 1954 included the showing of the film 'The Red Beret', to which the local R.A.F. Association invited Lt.-Colonel Pearson to send two parachute-qualified men to represent the Parachute Regiment at the film's premiere. S.I. Stuart (A.P.T.C.) and Pte. Webster were selected. On 20th and 25th September H.E. The Governor carried out his farewell inspection of the Georgetown and Atkinson Field detachments respectively. After inspecting the Georgetown detachment, H.E. formally opened the new barracks, and he named them 'Balaclava Barracks' in memory of the Regiment's service in the Colony and at a time when the whole Regiment was celebrating the centenary of the battle. His Excellency complimented the Battalion on its efficiency and its good conduct while it was serving in the Colony.
On 23rd September the advance party from the Black Watch arrived by air, while on 27th September Lt.-Colonel B. A. Pearson, D.S.O., and 51 all ranks left by air for London via Jamaica. Major C. P. Anderson assumed temporary command of the Battalion. On 6th October, officials of B.W.I.A. arrived in the Colony to make final preparations for the air lift to Trinidad, while on 12th October M.V. Tapacuma left with all the heavy baggage, and on the same day Sir Alfred and Lady Savage gave a farewell party at Government House, which was attended by all officers and their wives. The air lift began on the 15th and continued until the evening of the 18th. During this period B.W.I.A. flew thirty Viking and Dakota flights in addition to their normal services. No aircraft were delayed by engine trouble, and perfect weather prevailed.
By the 18th the Black Watch had been transported to British Guiana and the Argylls to Trinidad, where they embarked in H.M.T. Dilwara. This complicated move, was carried out efficiently and smoothly, thanks to the wholehearted co-operation of the officials of the B.W.I.A. with Captain Graham and his Battalion planning staff. The Battalion was embarked by 9 p.m. on the 18th, and H.M.T. Dilwara sailed from Port of Spain on the morning of the 19th. Before leaving, farewell messages were received from His Excellency The Governor of British Guiana and the Commander and Staff of Headquarters the Caribbean Area. There was a welcome break in the voyage at Las Palmas, where, by permission of the Spanish Government, all ranks were allowed ashore for a few hours. On and November H.M.T. Dilwara docked at Southampton. Lt.-Colonel Pearson went on board as soon as the ship had tied up, and over the ship's broadcasting system he read out a telegram of greetings from Her Majesty The Queen which said: 'Please convey to all ranks of the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders my sincere welcome on their return home from service in British Guiana.' and a letter of welcome from the Colonel of the Regiment, General Sir Gordon MacMillan.
History of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 1st Battalion 1939 -1954
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Updated: 11 October 2014