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Chapter 10 - E Company – The Final
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).
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
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.
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
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.
“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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Loss of Exposure
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
“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.
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”.
Conspicuous Gallantry Cross
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
citation accompanying the silver Conspicuous Gallantry Cross stated
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.
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
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.
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
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