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Chapter 10 - E Company – The Final Years (1990s)

   

In November 1990 Peter Brook dismayed all Loyalists and Unionists and further undermined the IRAs justification for their terrorist campaign to remove the British presence from Ireland. He made a statement formulated by John Hume. 

"The British government has no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland" (Mallie & McKittrick, p83).

The Colours

On 23 July 1991, just after the Queen presented the UDR battalions with their Colours, Tom King announced that the Regiment was to me merged with the Royal Irish Rangers and become known as the Royal Irish Regiment.

 

Company Size

“The Ballymoney UDR base closed on 12 June 1992. After 1992 all the companies started to get smaller. I eventually moved back to Coleraine for my final years in the Royal Irish Regiment. I became the Officer Commanding the Coleraine Company so I came back to my roots although the company was now named D Company.

   We were a strong company and very competitive. The Coleraine Company won the Champion Company competition for seven years in a row. The Commanding Officer tried every trick in the book to disrupt our winning streak in order to bolster the morale of the other companies. But everything he tried only failed” S18.

 

The Merger

This act was completed by 1 July 1992. Until that date the UDR had been operational from its inception on 1 April 1970 until 30 June 1992. The Royal Irish Regiment Home Service Battalions went on to carry out the same duties the UDR had done for the previous 22 years.

“There was a consensus of opinion that the title ‘Royal Irish’ seemed to open more doors. For example, our training and equipment, even for part-timers, was on a par with the Resident Battalions. The courses were of longer duration, more demanding and much more was expected from the soldier on course. There was also more General Service than Internal Security course content.

   There was also welcome change in the career prospects for all NCOs. A Corporals Mess was opened and although the Mess Dress was expensive, we welcomed the recognition. All RSMs came from the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish and were all Ulstermen where before the tradition had been for Englishmen to hold that post. We still retained the English Commanding Officers” S32.

 

The Kilrea Bomb

“On 21 August 1991 we were tasked to Mussenden railway tunnel to take part in a training exercise with the emergency services. It was a simulation of a train accident and our role was to clear a landing site for a helicopter to evacuate the injured. We had been told to come in early, do the exercise, and get away early, after our second task, patrolling around Kilrea.

   We carried out the usual vehicle checks on the roads around the area and then proceeded towards the town. On nearing the town from the Garvagh direction we dismounted from our Landrovers and started to foot patrol into Kilrea. This was normal procedure as we were always wary of the horizontal mortars that had been used to deadly effect before in the South Derry area. We patrolled up to the Police station and carried out the usual check with the police officers at the station.

   Leaving the station we went past the high wall at the farmer’s yard and unknown to us a deadly van bomb sat behind it. Looking forward to our tea break we left the town, we pulled up a narrow lane ate our packed lunches and had the usual bit of banter. We were sitting about 5 minutes when we heard what seemed like a roar of thunder, and thought nothing much of it. After we finished our break around midnight we decided to call it a night and head back to Coleraine.

   As we entered camp, the Guard commander was rushing about shouting that the Operations room staff had been trying to get us on the radio as there had been a bomb in Kilrea and we had to get over there.

There had been a huge explosion, which was heard for miles around, yet we sat literally 5 minutes away from it and heard only a slight muffle because of the wind direction. The patrol commander gathered us around and said we were going back to cordon off the area, he then told each team their cordon position and off we went.

   Driving to Kilrea we were unsure of what to expect in terms of casualties and damage, but we started to get information through the radio as we went. We went up through Garvagh and there were people out on the streets who had obviously been woken by the explosion 5 miles up the road. Nearing Kilrea we skirted around the outer roads of the town to our cordon position on the road to Portglenone. We were wary of secondary devices so everyone was doing their area checks and searches.

As we set up our cordon point we got the welcome news that there were no casualties although there was huge damage in the area of the bomb.

   After settling into our position we started to get cars driving up to our cordon, we had TV reporters, newspaper journalists and a man from the Housing Executive who was there to help with anyone who needed to be re-housed. We had to keep these people from entering the area of the explosion as the clearance operation was underway, so we could only advise them to come back or sit and wait until it was safe to proceed.

   About 2am we got a welcome cup of tea and sandwiches from a member of the public who lived nearby, it really lifted our spirits and broke up a long night.

Finally about 6am we got the shout to lift our cordon and return to base. As we drove through the town of Kilrea we were amazed at the damage and wreckage, but most of all we were thankful that our patrol had not been 10 minutes later in passing by the van, as we would have been obliterated. I got into my house at 7.15am got a quick wash and into work for 9am. It had been a very long night” S102.

                                                                                                                             

Terrorist Activity

 

Another Cowardly Killing

“We were sad to lose our unique UDR identity but nevertheless we had a job to finish in helping to defeat the terrorists. Four months after the merger, on 20 October 1992, we had six teams on patrol that night and broke down into two multiples of three, carrying out Vehicle Check Points in the South Derry area. We got the news over the radio that there had been a shooting in Rasharkin. Immediately our teams were dispatched to various ‘Rat trap’ positions in the hope of catching the killer as he made his getaway.

  Various roadblocks were set up but sadly the cowardly killer had made good his escape. We learned that night that the murder victim was a member of the Regiment, Sergeant Irvine of 9 Royal Irish. He was the first member of the new regiment to be killed.

   Sergeant Irvine had been staying in a Portacabin at a relative’s home while his own house was being built. He had been washing in the main house but as he crossed the yard to his family in the Portacabin the killer shot him. He was unarmed and an easy target; like most of the killings. How the murderers sleep at night I never could understand. They called themselves soldiers but in reality they were gutless cowards who brutally murdered defenceless people. It was a sad night as our new regiment had its first casualty but more importantly a family had lost a husband and father”S102.

 

The Coleraine Bomb

On Friday 13 November 1992 at 11pm, a blue Toyota van with a 500lb bomb on board exploded in the Diamond, Coleraine. After the bomb exploded many buildings went on fire and at one stage it looked as if the entire town centre was going to be razed to the ground. It was a windy night and the Fire Brigade nearly lost control of the fires. (Hamill, 2007) Over 100 buildings were damaged at an estimated cost in damages of £12m and many jobs were lost. That damage could be repaired as it had been over the previous 23 years of terror.

   There were other distressing repercussions. This incident took place only five days after Coleraine had held its Remembrance Day parade and wreath laying ceremony. The poppies and wreaths so lovingly placed on the war memorial were now scattered or lost amongst the rubble. This incident resurrected for many the former atrocity. The bombing was an affront to the memories of all the citizens of Ireland who served in the Allied Forces to defeat all forms of fascism and avarice.

   Five years earlier, on Sunday 8 November 1987 an IRA bomb exploded in Enniskillen during the Remembrance Day wreath laying ceremony. There were eleven immediate deaths. Gerry Adams publicly apologised and hoped there would be no more ‘Enniskillens’, but of course he went on to remind everyone that ‘no more Enniskillens’ depended on political change.

    Perhaps the PIRA rogue element had a problem getting the bomb ready for Coleraine’s Remembrance Day parade? As a leading terrorist once stated, he only had to get it right once, the security forces had to get it right all the time. The day after the Coleraine bomb exploded Gerry Adams was launching the SF party manifesto in Dublin and talked about how to overcome unemployment.

  

 

Coleraine War Memorial and Town Hall

The Castlerock Murders

On 25 March 1993 four workmen were shot dead in Gortree Park, Castlerock by an active service unit of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). Those responsible for the murders used the same weapons in the Greysteel massacre on 30 October 1993.

 

More Garvagh Murders

On 24 April 1994 Alan Smith and John McCloy were both murdered in Garvagh village by Republican terrorists. Alan was an ex-Garvagh Detachment soldier who had served part-time in the late 70s and served full-time in the early 80s. He had been subject to a murder attempt before he left the UDR and then again after he left the UDR. On the second occasion his car exploded after he had dropped off his workmates and they were all at their workplace.

  The murderers were stopped, arrested and convicted when their getaway car was halted at a UDR vehicle checkpoint. One of the murderers later escaped from prison disguised as a woman.

 

Constitutional Change

 

On 22 May 1998, ninety-five percent of the general public in the Republic of Ireland voted for the peaceful unification of Ireland. It was a democratic vote that led to the removal of the territorial claims on the province enshrined in Articles 2 and 3 of their constitution. This vote indicated how the politics of the south and the politics of Sinn Fein had drifted apart and best of all also denied the IRA their murderous campaign objective.

 

The End

Then in October 2000 5 Royal Irish was disbanded and the company was transferred to Ballykelly as L Company 4 Royal Irish Regiment. The Magherafelt Company also transferred to Ballykelly at that time and became M Company 4 Royal Irish.

 

Terrorist Loss of Exposure

On 9 September 2001, when al-Qaeda murdered twice the number of innocent people in one day than the IRA had murdered in thirty years they gained centre stage. The Republican predilection for staging ‘spectacular’ murders was poisoned off more effectively by that al-Qaeda atrocity than by any governmental move.

   The al-Qaeda attacks also forced world leaders to take a more proactive approach to terrorist organizations from whatever source. The IRA was effectively eclipsed by al-Qaeda and could never recapture the limelight for their little squalid murder and propaganda operation.

 

The Last Patrol

“We carried out patrols alongside the Resident Battalion, the Coldstream Guards in the Clooney and Waterside areas. The Regular units had a different attitude towards the Royal Irish when contrasted with the Ulster Defence Regiment. We were now treated as professionals and equals. For the final five years there were few patrols in Nationalist areas. The main threat was now seen as the Loyalist terrorist so we spent most of our patrol time in Protestant areas. The last Royal Irish Regiment operational patrol by former E Company 5UDR soldiers took place on 31 August 2006” S32.

 

After thirty years the violence stopped in 2005 without the armed Republicans achieving their main objective, a united Ireland. Over 3,500 people had been killed including thirty-five volunteers from the 5th (County Londonderry) Battalion. Twenty-seven had been murdered whilst serving and eight had been murdered after they left the Regiment.

 

The Final Review

The parade and final review of the Royal Irish Regiment and the UDR Regimental Association took place on Friday 6 October 2006 in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

   At that parade an ex 5UDR officer from South Londonderry who had been seriously injured in a Republican murder bid said to her, “Good Morning your Majesty. The Regimental Association of the Ulster Defence Regiment is present and awaiting the honour of your inspection”.

 

The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross

After the inspection was concluded the Queen presented the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross to the three home service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment and the Ulster Defence Regimental Association. The CGC is the second highest award for gallantry within the armed forces immediately following the Victoria Cross.

   The Queen then paid tribute to the Royal Irish Regiment and the Ulster Defence Regiment. She said they were coming to the end of a remarkable 36 years of continual operational service, adding,

 

“Your contribution to peace and stability within Northern Ireland has been unique. Serving and living within the communities of the Province during the most difficult years of violence required uncommon courage and conviction. The Regiments discharged their responsibilities without flinching in what was often a climate of extreme personal intimidation. But however perilous the conditions, no challenge went unmet.

Of course, the success of the Regiments’ service often came at a terrible price. Many gave their lives while others lived at the cost of grievous physical and mental injury. Families too, unable to escape the menace of the violence engulfing them, nevertheless gave unstinting support for which many suffered greatly.

Today, we have cause to reflect these fine achievements while remembering the suffering. As you march off this field, you will commit this proud record to The Royal Irish Regiment into the future. Furthermore, although you depart the British Army’s order of battle, you should know that your collective gallantry has secured admiration and the deepest respect throughout the land.

For this reason, and so that the extraordinary record of The Ulster Defence Regiment and the Home Service Battalions will always be remembered, I wish now to present the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross as a mark of the nations esteem” Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Friday 6 October 2006.

 

The Citation

The citation accompanying the silver Conspicuous Gallantry Cross stated in part,

“ For the past 36 years the officers and soldiers of The Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Regiment Home Service Battalions have given constant, firm and courageous military service in Northern Ireland in the face of a sustained and brutal campaign of terrorism. The Regiment has suffered heavily in protecting both sides of the community from danger, with many killed or injured in the line of duty, while their families often faced threats and intimidation.

As Operation BANNER, the provision of support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, draws to a close following years of dedicated support from the security forces,……………………………………………..

The award of the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, to be emblazoned on their Regimental Colours, recognises the collective courage, enduring faithfulness and dedication to duty of all of those who have served in the Regiment in Northern Ireland, and who have accepted the danger and stress this has brought to them and their families.

 

The End

“The announcement of the disbandment of the Royal Irish Regiment was bad for serving officers and soldiers. The first I heard of it was on the radio. We were not prepared in time to tell the soldiers, especially the young soldiers. It just came across, ‘As from August 2007 you will have no job’. If the government cared about us at all, they would have let us know well in advance and then let us know what the future held for all of us. When they let all the terrorists out of prison it felt like it had all been a waste of time”S33.

 

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