St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force
Origins of the St. Christopher and Nevis Defence Force
As with its predecessor the Militia, the Defence Force was embodied to protect those who had wealth and power. Due to falling sugar prices in the 1880's the people of St. Kitts and Nevis had to suffer a reduction of available work and lowered wages. For example, in 1884 the price of Muscovado sugar fell from 20 shillings per 100 pounds weight to 13 shillings per 100 pounds weight. This not only effected St. Kitts and Nevis, but on the whole Caribbean region and many people emigrated to the United States to look for work.
Those who remained in St. Kitts-Nevis suffered economic hardship with one observer W.L.R. Lewis writing a letter to the St. Kitts Daily Express on 1898 commenting :-
".... the mass of people here are in a deplorable state of starvation , which I regret to say is daily increasing. generally speaking it's no exaggeration to remark that hale strong men and women are now daily seen begging their bread, most willing to work but unable to procure same".
Frustration flared in February 1896 when an increase in muscovado sugar prices had not been matched by an increase in wages. On Sunday 16th February the demands for higher wages resulted in disorder northeast of Basseterre at the Pond and Needsmust Estates. The disorder spread as cane fields on both St. Kitts and Nevis were set on fire. On St. Kitts particular venting of workers anger was directed toward a wealthy ex-indentured Portuguese land and store owner.
On the 17th February crowds of black workers descended on Basseterre and were joined by striking boatmen and dock workers. The rioting that followed resulted in the smashing of street lights and the looting of "Portuguese" shops.
The disorders were later called locally the "Portuguese Riots".
The local authorities had to call in a "British Gunboat" to restore order. H.M.S. Cordelia duely arrived from Antigua and landed a force of "Bluejackets" in Basseterre and in Old Road. The Marines had to fix bayonets and fire live ammunition to control the crowds. This action resulted in two men being killed and several others being wounded. A detachment of marines were also despatched to Charlestown, Nevis to prevent similar rioting there.
To overcome possible future disorder the island's authorities now considered an armed "police" force was necessary. On 2nd June 1896 the Volunteer Ordinance was passed to establish a force for internal defence and support of the local Police force. It was raised by voluntary enlistment and the Commanding Officer was under the orders of the Inspector of Police. By the end of that year there were nearly 200 members of the new Defence Force. A contingent took part in the parade celebrating the Coronation of His Majesty King George V in London in 1911.
First World War
19 members and ex-members of the Defence Force enlisted for active service.
The total number of those from to the Presidency of St. Christopher, Anguilla and Nevis who joined overseas armed forces for service in the war was 148 (this includes 3 nurses).
"A" Company - Infantry with headquarters at Basseterre.
Usual strength - 2 Officer and 50 other ranks.
Nevis Section - Infantry with headquarters at Charlestown.
Usual Strength - 1 Officer and 20 other ranks.
Other Units - St. Kitts
Defence Reserve - Infantry with headquarters at Basseterre.
Usual Strength - 15 other ranks.
Cadet Corps (Raised 1917) - Composed of boys from the Grammar School, Convent School and Primary School of Basseterre.
Usual Strength - 3 Officers and 50 Cadets.
The Anguilla Crisis.
The Defence Force was embodied during the crisis involving the "rebellion" of Anguilla in 1967. The people of Anguilla refused to be part of the Associated State of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla as they felt that they would only be a neglected "colony" of St. Kitts and therefore worse off. The force became a full time army unit in 1968 and consisted of 70 men and was supplemented during the crisis by a 162 man Special Volunteer Constabulary. When combined with the 110 man police force it gave the Associated State Government 342 men under arms. These units were never called upon to invade Anguilla as the British intervened in 1969. Anguilla seceded from the Associated State and returned to British administration as a Colony.
In 1980 the newly elected Peoples Action Movement Prime Minister, Dr. Kennedy Simmonds ordered the withdrawal of army units stationed in Nevis. Further to this in 1981 the Federal Government insisted there was no need for an army and it was disbanded.
Dr. Simmonds said "We didn’t need an army, we didn’t have anyone to fight," he added "the issue is internal security, which can be handled by the police."
Regional Security System
The RSS was established in October 1982 through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by five Eastern Caribbean countries: Antigua-Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. St. Kitts-Nevis joined the organisation in February 1983, and Grenada in January 1985.
The MOU was revised in 1993, and a treaty was finally signed between the end of February and the beginning of March 1996, with March 5, 1996 being the treaty date.
Troops and police of members of the RSS were deployed in St. Kitts-Nevis during November 1994 following a mass prison riot that was part of a larger drug-driven crisis.
The Defence Force Reinstated
During 1997 the Defence Force was embodied again as a regular unit by the Federal Government under St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Prime Minister Denzil Douglas. In the 1997 budget, National Security was increased by EC$3.6 million or 17.8% from EC$20.2 million to EC$23.8 million. EC$1.8 million was allocated to finance the recurrent expenses for the full-time regular unit of the St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force. The Defence Force duties were described as the usual functions relating to national security and disaster or emergency management. They are also deployed to patrol the Federation's beaches and to complement the activities of the Police in the fight against drug trafficking.
New St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force Building.
Friday 21st May 1999 saw the opening of a new St Kitts and Nevis Defence Headquarters Building at Camp Springfield. St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr the Hon Denzil Douglas was invited by the United States military to deliver remarks at the ribbon cutting ceremonies and an unveiling of a plaque the event. The key to the building was presented to Lt. Colonel Norman Williams of the St Kitts and Nevis Defence Force.
Prior to the start of the ceremony Prime Minister Douglas arrived at Camp Springfield for brief discussions with Brigadier-General Jeffery Musfeldt of the United States Southern Command Air Forces, U.S. official, Mr. Ronald Bullen and U.S. Commander, Lt. Colonel Tracey Walker.
The two-storey building at the Defence Force Headquarters at Camp Springfield and a multi-purpose community center/sports facility and grandstand at Newton Ground were constructed by over 100 personnel comprising of engineers from the 823rd United States Air Force Red Horse Squadron and personnel from the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion. Medical personnel from the United States Southern Command also conducted a two-week medical assistance programme focusing on emergency medical techniques in conjunction with the Ministry of Health.
The projects, constructed at a cost of US$410,000 (EC$1 million) were financed by the Government of the United States. They were aimed at providing improved facilities for the St Kitts and Nevis Coast Guard and enhancing community and health facilities and giving members of the United States Task Force and opportunity to further enhance their construction skills.
The St Kitts venture meets a commitment of the Administration of United States President Bill Clinton to improve the operational facilities of the Coast Guard and Defence Forces in St Kitts and Nevis and the Eastern Caribbean.