Military History in Antigua and Barbuda dates back to the 1670’s when the Naval Dockyard at English Harbour was considered of strategic importance to the safety of His Majesty’s ships. This importance along with the possibility of attacks from the French resulted in the establishment of over 40 Major and Minor Forts strategically positioned throughout the country to defend English Harbour and St. John’s against attacks from both land and sea. Thus Antigua was considered as one of the most heavily fortified places in the region.
In defence of the St. John’s Harbour, there existed Ft. Barrington (Goat Hill), which overlooks the southern entrance to the harbour and Ft. James, which overlooks the northern entrance to the harbour. The Citadel (Rat Island) sat inside the St. John’s Harbour to provide close defence from within.
Ft. George (Monk’s Hill) provided security for the village of Falmouth, one of the most important villages in Antigua at that time. Ft. Charlotte in the east and Ft. Berkeley in the west provided security to English Harbour and Ft. Cuyler and Ft. Charles overlooked and defended the entrance to English Harbour.
It is reported that some 80 British Regiments served in Antigua throughout the years to provide protection and defence against attacks and invasion from the French.
In 1707 the Lillingston’s (The Staffordshire Regiment) arrived in Antigua. This Regiment to this day holds the distinction of being the longest overseas serving British regiment. Their service lasted some 57 years, and they were referred to as the Forgotten Regiment. At the time of their departure in 1764 they were known as the 38th Foot. As a result of their length of service in Antigua and Barbuda, a current affiliation has been established between the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force and the Staffordshire Regiment.
In the 1730’s soldiers lived all over St. John’s e.g. (in private homes), but in 1735 a barracks (which we now know as the prison) and the parade ground (known today as the ARG) were built. The entire area to include Camp Site, was developed for military administration and support, as there still exists today evidence of some of the cisterns at the Antigua Grammar School.
n 1795, the legislature in Antigua had embodied some 1000 slaves to augment the militia and the British Regulars in providing for the defence of Antigua and Barbuda. West Indian militias were not only for the protection against foreign raids and invasions but were often called up for guard duties, patrols and expeditions against runaway slaves.
In the early 1800s the militia in Antigua consisted of two regiments of infantry, an independent infantry company, a squadron of dragoons and a battalion of artillery. The regiments were referred to as the Red Regiment and the Blue Regiment. The dominant colour on the different uniforms used by the militia in Antigua was scarlet, a close resemblance of one of our present colours, maroon.
Soon after the abolition of slavery in 1834, a Police force was established in 1838 and was charged with the responsibility of internal security. In July of the same year, the Militia was abolished and the arms and bayonets that were withdrawn were used to build a fence around the then arsenal (which is now the St. John’s Police Station)
In 1897 the Defence Force was established in Antigua, it consisted of 1 company of Infantry and 1 company of mounted cavalry. Most males between the ages of 18 and 45 who earned more than ₤50.00 annually were required to serve.
In 1914 the Force was put on active service due to the commencement of the 1st World War. During the period of the 2nd World War, the Antigua Defence Force became a part of the Leeward Islands Battalion and towards the end of 1943, ADF members were deployed to Europe as part of the 1st Battalion, The Caribbean Regiment and returned in 1946.
The Force was disbanded in 1952 as it had no HQ and reactivated in 1956 under the Command of Capt E M Blackman until 1962. In 1957 the Defence Force held its first annual camp at Crabbs, the then former US Navy Base. Capt Leo Gore served as Commanding Officer from 1962 until 1964. During this time, commencing in January 1958 a number of islands, including Antigua and Barbuda became a part of the Federation of the West Indies. Among the areas for which the Federal Government, then headquartered in Trinidad, was responsible, was the West Indies Supreme Court, federal civil service, control of immigration from outside the Federation, University of the West Indies and the creation of the West India Regiment.
As a result of the creation of the West India Regiment, several hundred Defence Force members enrolled in the Regiment and traveled to Jamaica where the Regiment was administered and underwent training. In May of 1962, however, the Federation was dissolved and serving members were given the opportunity to enlist in the British Army, remain in the West India Regiment (as the Jamaica Defence Force), travel to Trinidad to enlist in the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment or return home to their respective islands. As can be expected some members stayed while others returned home.
Lt.Col Dennis Gardiner served as Commanding Officer during the period 1964 to 1971. In the years 1967 and 1968 there was some turmoil as a result of a split of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union. The birth of another political party and another union resulted in political crisis. In 1968 as a result of the crisis more violence erupted, a state of emergency was declared and ADF was mobilized to assist in the restoration of order to the state.
Capt Herman Blackman was appointed as Commanding Officer from 1972 to 1979. In 1979 command was handed over to Major L E Haywood who served as Commanding Officer until 1983.
During the period while Maj. L E Haywood was commanding Officer, Antigua and Barbuda attained its Independence and the appropriate legislation was enacted to establish the Antigua Barbuda Defence Force comprising of a new Regular Element, a Volunteer element (which is the old Defence Force) and the Reserves.
In 1983, command of the force was handed over to Lt. Col. Clyde Walker who served until 1990. During this period in 1983 the ABDF was deployed to Grenada on its first overseas peacekeeping mission. Also in 1989 ABDF once again deployed to Trinidad and Tobago to assist in securities duties. ABDF became a founding member of The Regional Security System established in 1982.
In 1990 command of the Force was handed over to Col. Trevor A Thomas who continues to serve as the Chief of Defence Staff. In 1994 ABDF was once again deployed overseas in a peacekeeping operation, this time to Haiti as part of a Multinational Force and in 1995 ABDF participated in its 1st UN mission to Haiti as part of a Caricom Battalion.
In 1995 the Coast Guard was transferred to the Defence Force. In December 2000 a milestone was again achieved, when members of the ABDF received Medals of Honour for service in Grenada and Haiti and for meritorious and distinguished service in the Force. Another hallmark in the life and history of the Force occurred when the Queens and the Regimental Colours were consecrated and presented to the Force in August of 2001.
The aftermath of devastating Hurricane Ivan in 2004 resulted in ABDF once again being mobilized and deployed overseas to Grenada to provide security and humanitarian assistance.
ABDF deployed overseas in 2005 to Barbados as part of an RSS operation due to a prison uprising that led to the destruction of a significant part of the national penitentiary, thus threatening the national security of the said State. ABDF assisted in the restoration and maintenance of order and security of the prisoners until new facilities were identified, renovated and the prisoners relocated.
In 2007 ABDF participated in Operation Cricket World Cup. In 2009 ABDF personnel were deployed to St. Vincent to participate in Operation VINCYPAC which dealt with drug eradication and confiscation of illegal weapons.
ABDF’s last overseas deployment was again to Haiti in 2010 during the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.