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The British Guiana Volunteer Force

by David Granger

Governor General Richard Luyt inspects the Volunteer Force


The British Guiana Volunteer Force was established in June 1948. It was to be the second to last in a long line of military reserve forces that had been an honourable citizens’ tradition in this country for over 250 years.  The Force was to survive only eighteen years until it was abolished in May 1966 to make way for the Guyana Defence Force.
After the final British conquest of the colonies from the Dutch, the existing ‘Burgher Militia’ was reorganised in 1806 to provide for a distinct unit for each colony – the Demerary (i.e., Demerara) Militia, the Essequibo Militia, and the Berbice Militia. That militia lapsed in the 1850s but was reorganised again in 1878 with the establishment of a ‘Volunteer Force.’ When the West India Regiment was withdrawn, the British Guiana Militia was established in 1891. 

The BG Militia was transformed into the British Guiana Regiment of the South Caribbean Force when the United Kingdom War Office assumed direct control over colonial defence during World War II. This regiment comprised seven companies of the British Guiana Home Guard; four were disbanded in 1945 after the war ended and three were retained under the name British Guiana Volunteer Corps. This Corps itself was disbanded in 1948.
The British Guiana Volunteer Force was established on 14th June 1948 by virtue of the Volunteer Ordinance.  Its role was to assist the police whenever called upon to do so; to provide static guards on all essential works and installations; to provide armed escorts and patrols; and to assist in the restoration of law and order.
The Volunteer Force at first was placed under the command of the Commissioner of Police in his capacity of Commandant, Local Forces.  In those days, the commissioner usually held the military rank of colonel and was responsible for the operational use of the Force.  Next in line was the commanding officer, a part-time officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel, who had responsibility for discipline, recruiting, training and other administrative matters.
It was not until the enactment of the Volunteer (Amendment) Ordinance on 11th July 1957 that this dual control ceased and the commanding officer was vested with full command authority under the direction of the governor. In its brief history, the Force had three commanding officers – lieutenant colonels Ernest Haywood, Charles Bernard and Celso de Freitas.  It was in the same year (1957) that the British Guiana Militia Band was transferred to the British Guiana Police Force to become what is now the Guyana Police Force Band.