By Stanford Conway
The St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force (SKNDF) is now 109 years old.
The SKNDF was established in 1896 as a result of riots on St. Kitts, especially the one commonly known as the Portuguese Riot at Needsmust Estate on the eastern section of Basseterre in which a large number of properties were destroyed.
According to Commander of the SKNDF Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Patrick Wallace, the local population initiated the riots because they believed that the Portuguese merchants were taking advantage of them.
“It took a while before the British could have sent troops on the island to restore law and order and, shortly after that unrest, the British decided that it was necessary to establish a local force to combat future riots,” Wallace said.
He said the local force comprised a body of trained men who, in event of a recurrence, would have been able to handle the situation until reinforcement could have arrived from Great Britain.
In West Indian annals, it is recorded that in the same year, 1896, not only in St. Kitts was there instability between plantation owners and the black labour force, but also in many other countries in the Caribbean.
Wallace said the composition of the Defence Force at that time was two-fold – mounted and infantry units – and was made up of white managers of the plantocracy under the command of an Englishman.
Former SKNDF officer Calvin Joseph wrote that shortly after the mounted infantry unit was abolished it was replaced in full by the infantry unit, which formed a defence force reserve.
“The structure of command then saw the Commissioner of Police, who was from England, as the head of the Defence Force followed by the Commanding Officer of the Defence Force.
“The first Commanding Officer of the Defence Force Reserve was Captain (Capt) K S Lockart, a Dominican who came to St. Kitts to work at the treasury, and he was considered the father of the Defence Force,” Joseph wrote.
According to Joseph, Capt Dinzie, who preceded the Dominican, was considered the first local Commanding Officer because he was reared in St. Kitts.
“Together along with Maiden, who was the Commissioner of Police and who had prior training as a member of the Kings Guard, revitalised and built up the Force to the strength it was then,” Joseph chronicled.
Joseph noted that St. Kitts was a member of the West Indian Regiment, which was formed some time after the World War ll with the aim of training West Indians for war.
He added that the West Indian Regiment was embodied with the local defence force where it was stationed and for that period governed that particular country’s defence force.
“It was at this time that the Defence Force in St. Kitts broke free from the police command and served independently,” he wrote.
He also noted that the Leeward Islands Battalion, which was a sub-branch of the West Indian Regiment, was stationed in the islands of St. Kitts, Antigua and Monsterrat and its duty was to protect the mainland coast from possible invasion by the German Army.
He said that the headquarters was based in Antigua and the islands trained together with occasional exercises conducted in Nevis.
“However, he continued, “with the federal movement and legislations passed, along with the islands pushing for independence, the Battalion was disbanded and the defence forces separated with St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla merging.”
In 1966 there was much turmoil in the Federation of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla.
“As part of the history of the SKNDF there were problems; for during the 1960s St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, as a colony, was moving towards associated statehood status with the United Kingdom, but the Anguillians resented the fact that they would be administered from St. Kitts and opted to remain as a crown colony.
“This was brought to a head by the Anguillians and American mercenaries along with local political dissidents, who supported their cause. They invaded St. Kitts on July 10, 1967 and were repulsed by the St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force and the then Premier, Robert Bradshaw, decided that the state must have a professional body to secure its internal defence,” Wallace said.
Wallace said that the Defence Force at the time was a volunteer organisation and, “So, Bradshaw approached some Caribbean countries for help in setting up a regular corps but most of them were unwilling with the exception of Guyana that sent Capt Oscar Pollard, who helped with the administrative end of setting up the force.”
He added that Capt Pollard, together with a British Army Capt, who saw to the training of the troops, were mainly responsible for the reformation of the SKNDF.
Wallace said that the SKNDF was then a regular corps and after a change of government in 1980, the Force was disbanded in the following year but retained its volunteer status until 1997.
“In 1997, the now administration reactivated the Force because of the problems the Federation was experiencing in drug trafficking and general lawlessness. And so it was deemed necessary to have a body to assist the Police Force in the maintenance of law and order in the Federation,” Wallace said.
He declared that the SKNDF is below a battalion’s strength and comprised a coast guard unit and an infantry unit but the administration was still working towards the formal establishment.
The formal establishment, a battalion, should comprise three companies – ‘A’ Company being the regular troops while ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies make up the volunteer reserve.
“We currently have ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies but we are not yet amalgamated under the independent command so they are still being administered by Force Headquarters. The Coast Guard operates on its own but, then again, falls under Force Headquarters. Then there is the Defence Force Band and also the Cadet Corps. However, the Cadet Corps, which also falls under Force Headquarters for administration, cannot be used for military operations,” Wallace said.
He said that the Cadet Corps was made up of secondary school children, 13 years and above, and on leaving school they could no longer remain in the Corps but were free to join the regular unit.
Commander Wallace noted that the SKNDF conducts its own basic training, which includes Recruit Course, Trained Soldiers’ Course and a number of advanced individual courses, and also proficiency developmental courses such as Drill, Military Police, Instructors and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers Administration.
He added that basic courses in Engineering, Marine Law Enforcement, Boat Coxswain and navigation, among others were conducted at the Coast Guard, while for advanced training, the Defence Force normally seeks the services of its regional counterparts, the British, Canadian and American Armed Forces.