It was always hot – Memoirs of Col. Reginald T. Michelin, Commissioner of Barbados Police 1949-1953 post Col. Oriel St.A. Duke

Reginald Townend Michelin (1903-1998), CMG (1957), CVO (1953), OBE (1952) took the post of Sub-Inspector, Police, Jamaica, 1924 and Inspector, Police, Leeward Islands, 1928. He was made Assistant Commissioner of Police, Nigeria, 1930, and Commissioner of Police, Barbados, 1949 and Jamaica, 1953, retiring in 1958 from the Colonial Police.

In 1940 he married Nina Gladys Faulkner in Enugu, South Easterns Nigeria on 28 December 1940. They had met in Nigeria when he was producing the play My Fair Lady and she was the leading lady. Nina was born in Oxford, England. They had one son and one daughter.

After his retirement from the Colonial Service, Michelin became the General Manager of the Agualta Vale Estates, Jamaica from 1958-1964 and then a post on the Jamaica Tourist Board from1964-1973.

Our guest contributor is David O’Carroll, the great nephew of Col. Oriel Duke who was Commissioner of Police in Barbados from 1939-48.  David O’Carroll was born in London in 1951 and was brought up in Wimbledon. After graduating from University College Swansea, University of Wales, where he attained a B.A.(Hons) in Political Science & Government, he joined the UK Civil Service. He was awarded the OBE in the 2009 New Year’s honours for his public service in the Department of Health. He is now retired and lives in Wales with his wife Elisabeth and they have three children and five grandchildren. His links to Barbados are through the Gall family who arrived on the island at the end of the 17th century. His mother, Clara Gall was born in Dominica and lived in Barbados as a teenager.

In completing his research on Colonel Duke’s career in the Barbados police “The Duke Affair – A West Indian versus the colonial establishment” David visited the Bodleian library in Oxford to search for relevant documents in its West Indian collection on policing in Barbados during 1939-1945 and the perceived communist threat in the British Empire after the Second World War.

Kingston Gleaner, Jamaica – 16 August 1949

He found the papers of two Governors of the time (Waddington and Blood) but they were mostly copies of published papers and reports and in the case of Waddington his press cuttings and public addresses to Barbadians. No mention of the police let alone Colonel Duke. But then he discovered  the typescript of Colonel Michelin’s memoirs. Michelin was the “younger man with the requisite energy and drive” who replaced Colonel Duke in 1949.

Entitled “It was always hot” the memoirs cover Michelin’s time in the Colonial Police Service in The Leeward Islands, Nigeria, Barbados and Jamaica from 1924 to1958. He finished his police career as Commissioner of Police Jamaica.

The History of the Royal Barbados Police 1835-1985 had credited Commissioner Dickens (1932–1939) with first bringing modern policing  to Barbados. It recorded that “with the arrival of Mr R T Mitchelin [sic] from the Nigeria Police a new  direction was given to the Force. The new Commissioner assumed command succeeding Colonel O. St. A. Duke. He immediately gave the Force a forward thrust and kept the momentum until his departure in 1953.”

David had hoped Michelin’s memoirs would shed some light on these changes; but what he found was praise for the status quo and little mention of the changes Michelin made.”

Erratum Note: In The History of the Royal Barbados Police the spelling of Michelin is recorded as Mitchelin [sic] and this erroneous spelling is then reproduced across the internet!

Extract from: The History of the Royal Barbados Police 1835-1985

Col. Reginald J. Michelin, Commissioner of Police, Barbados, 1949 to 1953

When Michelin was looking for a career change after 19 years in Nigeria he was offered the position of Commissioner of Police to replace Colonel Duke. Duke had been retired in December 1948 and was on paid leave until July 1949. The Colonial Office had found it difficult to find a replacement. A posting to the West Indies was not a sought after posting – Palestine or Africa were seen as providing a better prospect for future promotion. However, this was an attractive posting to Michelin, even though it meant a drop in salary and leave entitlement. He had been born in Jamaica and still had family there. He had also served previously in the Leeward Islands. The posting gave him an opportunity for his wife and children to live with him in a pleasant climate.

On arrival in Barbados in 1949 he was met by Douglas Holmes a’Court, the acting Commissioner and put up in a hotel. “The next morning we were taken to see our new home. There was quite an imposing drive leading to the house with an avenue of Casaurinas, at the end of this there were two highly polished brass cannons with a Police sentry in full dress, rifle and fixed bayonet complete. I was then introduced to Corporal Cheltenham who was to be my Orderly and Driver, he was a first class chap and a great help during my three and a half years in Barbados.”

“The house was a large one and had been originally built as a military hospital. On the ground floor there was a bedroom with its own bathroom, then came the guard room with a telephone, this led into an archway where a car was usually kept, from there was a large dining room with a pantry and kitchen off it. Upstairs there was a very large master bedroom with a dressing room and bath and a smaller bedroom. In the middle of the house was a sitting room with a study at the end. A wide verandah ran the full length of the front of the house while at the back there was a large covered patio with pots of ferns. All the floors were scrubbed weekly by a police cleaner. A garden on either side of the drive with a tennis court and stables at the back completed the residence.”

The quarters were unfurnished and the Michelins had no furniture of their own as their quarters in Nigeria were all furnished. “This problem was however soon solved when we were told that the previous Commissioner Colonel Oriel Duke, a good friend of mine from the Leeward Island days, was willing to rent us his furniture. We gladly accepted his kind offer and used this for our entire stay in Barbados. We moved in the next day. We took on a cook called Sylvia and a Nanny called Gooding, they both turned out to be very satisfactory. Sylvia was a first class cook and had worked at Government House as an assistant cook for several years. I bought a new Vauxhall car so in a short time we were all set up”.

The Mounted Troop and their Riding  School were just over the garden wall, with the Police Training School adjoining. “My office at the Police Headquarters in Bridgetown was in an old building of character. I found that it was customary for a Quarter Guard to turn out each morning when the Commissioner arrived in Office. I quickly did away with this and also having an armed guard at my house. These relics of the days when the call on the Police were far less than they were now, also I did not think that all of Bridgetown should know when I arrived in office with the turning out of a Guard and the bugler blowing the General Salute.”

The Barbados Police Headquarters

The Commissioner of Police was also Officer Commanding local forces with the rank of full Colonel. The Barbados Regiment was a Territorial Unit commanded by Lt.Colonel Connel, it also had an Officer seconded from a British Regiment  with the rank of Major as Staff Officer and a British Regimental Sergeant-major, Mr Brown by name, a very good drill instructor. Miles Skewes-Cox was the staff officer and a great help both with military and police affairs. When on Military parades they wore red tabs in place of the police blue and silver.

The Fire Brigade also came under the Commissioner’s direction. Soon after Michelin’s arrival a fire officer from the U.K. Mr. Gregg was appointed as Superintendent to run this.

Michelin was very proud of the military traditions of the Force which had been disparaged in the Calver Report (into the Barbadian Police Force). “The Queen’s Birthday Parade in which all the local Forces took part, and which I had to command, was a fine sight……and the Police in their colourful uniform of blue trousers with a red seam down the side, a white tunic with a white helmet, spike and chain. The Harbour Police had a sailors uniform with a Nelson Straw Hat, then last but not least the Mounted Troop on their fine imported Canadian horses with lances and wearing Scarlet Plastrons. These parades did a great deal to give the public a chance of seeing their Security Forces and was a good confidence builder, so important if they are to be successful in their difficult and sometimes unpleasant tasks.”

Michelin wrote about the barracks which Colonel Duke and the Calver Report had condemned without mentioning their state of serious dilapidation. “There were six Police Out Stations in the country, all housed in buildings many years old and in superb strategic positions, overlooking the surrounding countryside with a view for miles around. These stations had a Sergeant in charge and about ten constables, three of which were mounted men. It was a good sight to see these men on their well groomed horses doing their daily patrols through the sugar cane plantations. No motorised unit could have the effect of a mounted man smartly turned out on a good horse, the sight of them alone made the presence of Law and Order felt in a friendly way. They carried a patrol book in which the citizens could record any matters that needed attention in their district. This was seen by the Superintendent in charge of the area each week to ensure that the necessary action was taken.”

The Barbados Police Band at Queen’s Park Band Stand

In addition to the Mounted Troop Michelin was proud of the Police Band he had inherited despite Calver’s criticism of its retention in the Force. Michelin considered that it was an excellent Band, “the results of training and practice by Captain Raison the director of music, a graduate of the Military School of Music at Kneller Hall and ex army band master. He was a very dedicated man who was extremely keen in his job. The Force was fortunate in having a man of his calibre in charge of its band. Between us and with the advice and help of Major Skewes-Cox, the Staff Officer to the Local Forces, we planned and produced several very fine displays in the Police Riding School. I was able with the help of the recruits in the Police Training School to improve and enlarge the seating accommodation for spectators and purchase more chairs. To get funds for all this we used to put on displays when cruise ships were in and charged one dollar entrance to visitors from these and the hotels. It became a very popular attraction and was well done. Besides a Musical Ride and Beating of the Retreat at the end, we had an arms drill display without commands, Mounted Musical Chairs, Tableaux and Comic Acts. Our Announcer was a Peer of the Realm who was living in Barbados.” Later when Michelin was Commissioner in Jamaica he started a police band there.

It was frustrating to find that on some matters Michelin did not give much information. At the end of his time in Barbados he mentions that “Several Politicians were very much against a number of the improvements I had made in the Police Force without their aid and were most anxious to see me leave Barbados.” He did not say what these improvements had been. Just as Colonel Duke had been pushed out by his political masters, the same  was to happen to him.

His detractors saw an opportunity that they were long waiting for when the Commissioner made an unguarded comment about a recent car accident when making a speech about about road safety. An unprecedented contempt of court case was made against the Commissioner as his words had prejudiced a court case. “It was quite a thing to be Commissioner of Police and have to go into the dock and plead to a charge for doing something to help improve safety on the roads….. The Jury retired for fifteen minutes…Then came back and returned a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’….My Orderly, Corporal Cheltenham who had not put out my uniform during the days of the trial came to me after and said how pleased he and all the Force were at the verdict and how upset they had been by all I had to go through in trying to do good for their island. He was voicing the sentiments of the majority of the island’s inhabitants.”

Kingston Gleaner, Jamaica – 3 November 1948

Michelin clearly didn’t agree with the Calver report comments on the mounted police and use of police officers to control traffic. On a trip to Canada in March 1951 he met Mr Langlais, the Commissioner of the R.P. and he had a long talk with him on Police work in Montreal. “Of his 1800 men, 300 were at this time engaged in traffic regulation in the city.” This had no doubt changed considerably with the introduction of traffic lights later on.

“I was interested to learn from Captain Pellietier, the officer in charge of the Delinquency Bureau the big way the Montreal Police had gone in for Boys Clubs where there was a membership of 7,000 boys…..The funds for this organisation are derived from voluntary subscriptions.”

“At the end of my visit to Canada I called on Colonel Wood….I was able to arrange for him to let me have the loan of one of his sergeants for about three weeks to come down to Barbados to train my mounted troupe.”

“I had seen so much of highly efficient Police organisations which I would be able to put into use in Barbados Police.” Unfortunately he didn’t go on to say what these changes had been.

Some press cutting provided by Charles Leacock during the time that Col. Reginald J. Michelin was Commissioner of Police, Barbados, 1949 to 1953.   Notable was the introduction of women police constables.

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Responses to “It was always hot – Memoirs of Col. Reginald T. Michelin, Commissioner of Barbados Police 1949-1953 post Col. Oriel St.A. Duke”

  1. David O’Carroll

    Michelin was was responsible for creating a number of Boys Clubs in Barbados. See the attached from BMHS.

  2. Lotte Starck

    Those days were really part of your interesting history too – amazing Barbados!
    Thanks very much, BajanThings

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