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643St Helena Rifles

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  • A.H. Schulenburg
    Apr 30, 2007
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      I am forwarding a query received from a Gordon Angus Mackinlay regarding the St Helena Rifles (the following is an edited version). 
       
      Perhaps someone on the list can help.  If so, please reply to gam47@... and copy to the list.
       
      Regards,
      Alexander
       
       
      --------------------------------------------
       
       
      I am writing to you to see if you may possibly help me in a query, or point
      me in the right direction!

      Whilst in Melbourne, Victoria, I was asked by a lady if I could
      help her in relation to her father, who had died when she was a toddler (her
      mother subsequently remarrying and having other siblings).

      Her story being that her father was born in Longsight, Manchester in 1904,
      and enlisted into the Manchester Regiment in 1922.  In 1938 (a single man)
      he was posted to St Helena, with a Captain and a Warrant Officer Class II -
      they respectively being machine gun and musketry instructor, Adjutant and
      Training Officer, and Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant, of the St Helena
      Rifles.

      In early 1942 he arrived in Australia (Melbourne) on a ship which had been
      diverted there from its intended destination of Singapore, he having been
      promoted to Warrant Officer Class II was being posted to the 1st Battalion,
      The Manchester Regiment (which was a machine gun battalion in the islands
      garrison).  He remained in Melbourne with various British military missions
      until 1947, when he took his discharge onto pension there.  He had married
      the ladies mother there the previous year, there being a 20 year age
      difference, and died of lung cancer in 1950.

      The lady had obtained from the Ministry of Defence records in Glasgow,
      details of her fathers service.  This definitely posting him to The St
      Helena Rifles in 1938, and leaving the island on posting 1 December 1941.

      In my own records I have very little on the defence of St Helena during the
      Second World War (the 18th and 19th centuries well documented), apart from
      the supply in 1938 of 140 Rifles SMLE Mk III .303inch, seven Vickers Guns Mk
      1, all complete with 1st and 2nd Line, and Training Scales of Ammunition,
      plus 35 boxes of Mills Bombs (No 36 Hand Grenades) to equip the St Helena
      Rifles.   In 1941 St Helena was supplied with two 6- inch guns complete with
      necessary stores, and Royal Artillery instructional staff, these to be
      manned by St Helenians (Note) for coast defence duties for the harbour
      roads off  Jamestown.

      I had always believed that due to the scarcity of information on the St
      Helena Rifles, that it was a misnomer for The St Helena Defence Force
      infantry element.  Since the main part of the island defences was the coast
      defence guns!   However in 1982, one of my brothers who had been on
      Ascension Island prior to moving to the Falklands had met one Fred Isaac
      and put me in touch with him.  In the course of our
      letter writing (which of course takes so long) he informed me that he had
      served with The Rifles of the St Helena Defence Force.  He was very emphatic
      that they had separate insignia, and command structure, and they would
      appear to have been one full time infantry company and two part time
      companies, and he had joined the unit on its formation!

      He had sent me a photograph of his medals (this unfortunately being lost
      when my house flooded in 1995), of which in this interesting group was a
      King George VI Efficiency Medal with a clasp on which could be partially
      seen the title "St Helen.....".
       
      I have found mention of St Helenians serving in the Great War, and in the
      Second World War with British Forces.  And I have found information that at
      least three who served in the British Army in Northern Ireland during the
      1980's, and there must be more who served with the British Forces post WWII
      as I met a gentleman last year who used to work for the British Post Office.
      He worked under the chap who arranged the contracts and onward movement of
      the twine which used to be a mainstay of St Helena's economy, before some
      with a MBA decided it was more cost effective to use plastic - which it
      definitely was not!!!!!

      There is no doubt in my mind with my knowledge of the populations of other
      remote parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations in WWII (and before),
      there would have been a quite substantial local defence force on the island.
      Looking at similar islands, probably 10% plus of the local population as
      either full or part time members would be very likely.

      Having contact with a chap who is a specialist in the collection of Long
      Service awards to the British Commonwealth, he is quite certain that for
      most of the pre-1960 period. Efficiency Medals and Efficiency Decorations
      with the clasp St Helena were awarded on a regular basis (not in large
      numbers of course), these being awarded for 12 years reserve service.  In
      wartime, service counted double, so you got the same for six years if you
      served throughout WWII and the immediate post war emergency period.

      So, if at all possible you would have any information re The St Helena
      Rifles I would be most grateful, or if you could possibly put me in contact
      with someone who would be able to give me accurate information.
       
      Yours,

      Gordon Angus Mackinlay
      Sydney, Australia