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12– The Garvagh Detachment
1972 the company had a recruiting drive in Garvagh and Kilrea. At
Kilrea only four people attended the first recruiting night and the
recruiters left without any volunteers.
The first foray into Garvagh took the recruiters to the
Presbyterian Hall. The B Specials had a strong detachment in the
Garvagh district so this made Garvagh a good recruiting prospect.
Many good men were there and joined the UDR.
The Garvagh detachment was an immediate and complete
success. It had the usual mixture of males and females from the
Garvagh and surrounding villages. There were many good soldiers but
some however had their own concept of army discipline.
I became the PSI in E Company one of my duties was to do the
administration at the Detachment Headquarters in Garvagh. The
Garvagh detachment was located in the RUC station and my office was
the old USC office located at the back of the station. At times
there was an uneasy relationship between the RUC and the UDR. It is
not as though there was any hostility there. By this time we had
got new boots with rubber soles. These left black marks all over
the station floor much to the consternation of the local caretaker
and cleaner who refused to clean them off. The police got very
The detachment at Garvagh was very successful. It was one of
two experiments carried out in the province.
The same set up was tried out at Rathfriland in Co Down and
it had been a failure. At the peak of its strength there were sixty
officers and men, enough to establish a separate Company” S4.
Platoon Commander’s Story
joined the E Company 5 UDR on 16 January 1972 when the company was
based at Macosquin. After the company moved to Coleraine there was
a large influx of recruits from the Garvagh area. This led to the
setting up of a detached platoon in Garvagh, which became known as
24 Platoon, Garvagh Detachment E Company 5 UDR.
I was posted to Garvagh platoon as a section commander and
for the next twelve years I carried out all my part-time duties
with the Garvagh part-timers. I was eventually promoted to the rank
of Colour Sergeant and became the Platoon Commander of 24 Platoon.
During those first twelve years at Garvagh there were many
serious incidents to cope with. The first one was the death of my
fellow section commander who was killed in a car bomb explosion in
Garvagh in July 1974. Unfortunately that was only the start of a
series of tragedies the people of Garvagh had to face. But this
first one steeled my resolve to remain in service as I felt it
would have been a betrayal to his memory if I were to leave the
I have many happy memories, such as the birth of my two
daughters. I must record the vast support that I had from my wife
over those troubled years. Holding down a civilian job and being
out on duty most nights meant that our social and home life was
very limited.” S34.
John Conley Story
Conley was born on 16 April 1931. He was the fourth child of Samuel
James Conley from Cullyvenny and Annie Matilda (nee Woods) from
Killeague. Sammy had served in the Ulster Home Guard during WWII
and was employed as a farm labourer and then as a process operator
in Aghadowey Creamery.
John was educated at Collins Elementary School in Aghadowey
and at the age of 14 years he entered full time employment in
Aghadowey Creamery. He remained there for 29 years. In 1955 when
John was 24 years old he joined the Englishtown B Specials Platoon
based at Macosquin. Then on 9 January 1958 John married Hilda
Archibald. John remained with the Englishtown Platoon until the B
Specials were disbanded in 1970.
32 John and Hilda
During his time at Aghadowey Creamery, John was promoted
until he became a sales person and lorry driver.
His skill as a sales person was probably secondary to his
friendly disposition and eagerness to pass the ‘time of day’
with all his customers. In fact, the lorry helpers would have an
argument every morning concerning who would be Johns’ unlucky
helper. He spent so much time talking to all the customers and
drinking tea that the helpers usually walked home rather than spend
an extra couple of hours out on his round.
John then joined the UDR in 1971 and was soon promoted to
the rank of Corporal and placed in command of a section of the
“When you went out on patrol with John Conley it did not
matter who was on the patrol, officers or senior NCOs, there was
only one man that mattered to the people of Garvagh and that was
John Conley. There was always one lady in the village that would
produce her best tea set and tea tray with a tray cloth and she
would say, “Mr Conley would you like a cup of tea”? The first
time I witnessed that I realised what the local people thought of
John Conley” (George Lapsley, 2007).
On Tuesday night 23 July 1974 Republican
terrorists planted car bombs in Garvagh, Portrush and Feeny. The
Garvagh car bomb attack involved stealing a dark green Mini car in
Swatragh village. This vehicle was used as a scout car and then as
an escape vehicle by the bombers. At the same time a Ford Cortina
Mk 1 was stolen in Toome village and was used to transport the
bomb. The bomb was placed in the boot and it was so large the boot
lid had to be tied down.
At approximately 3.20am the Mini escorted the bombers into
Garvagh village from the direction of the Swatragh Road. They
parked the car bomb at the junction between Bridge Street and Main
Street. The bombers then escaped in the Mini towards Kilrea.
Garvagh volunteers who were out ‘on watch’ for such an event
observed all this. They reported the matter to Garvagh RUC and the
Garvagh detachment who were on duty at the time were tasked by the
RUC to mount a clearance of all the civilians from the immediate
“There was an old man in Bridge Street called Jimmy Wade.
Young people attending dances in the Imperial Hotel had continually
tormented him. Every weekend they would consistently knock
Jimmy’s door. He got fed up with having to answer the door. When
the UDR patrol tried to get Jimmy out of bed they failed miserably.
He would not respond to all the hammering and knocking.
John Conley became very concerned for Jimmy. Half way down
the street he decided to return and give the door another knock.
Of course the bomb exploded. Two pieces of shrapnel struck
John on the leg and another piece of shrapnel entered at the side
laces of Johns’ flak jacket and caused a fatal wound. Jimmy Wade
who refused to get out of bed despite all the effort employed was
pulled out of the ruins of his house totally uninjured but
suffering from severe shock.
John Conley was lying on a stretcher on Main Street and two
members of the UDR lifted him off and laid him on the street. Jimmy
Wade was placed on the stretcher in order to get him some medical
attention. Jimmy lived for many years afterwards and John died in
Coleraine Hospital that morning at 6.45am. That was one of the
saddest stories. John Conley died because he wanted to save Jimmy
three children and his wife Hilda, who died twelve years later on
17 January 1986, survived John.
Section Commander’s Story
I was sixteen years old in 1954 I joined the Boveedy Platoon of the
B Specials. They operated between Garvagh and Kilrea. I was given a
rifle but I was not allowed to carry ammunition for one year until
I had been fully trained. I progressed until I was promoted to
Sergeant and was in command of seven men. My service with the Bs
lasted sixteen years until March 1970 when we had to return all our
uniforms and hand in our rifles and ammunition.
was disgusted by the way the B Specials had been treated so I did
not join the UDR immediately. I then discovered that many of the
local men were in the Ballymoney Company of the UDR. There was a
group who travelled to Ballymoney base by private car nearly every
night of the week. I applied to join the UDR in 1972.
Kerr and E Company
went to Dr Wilson in Garvagh for my medical before being accepted
into the UDR. At that time you did not need an appointment to see
the doctor, you just attended in the morning during surgery hours.
As I went in the door big John Kerr was coming out the door. He had
been my Sergeant instructor in the Bs and was now the Company
Sergeant Major in E Company. He asked me, ‘Young fella, when are
you coming to join?’ I said that I was just on my way to do the
medical for the Ballymoney Company. He said, ‘No you’re not!
I’m telling you now, put your application in for Coleraine and I
will fix it up for you to get in’. And so he did. My acceptance
came through and I was asked to report to E Company in Coleraine. I
then discovered that nearly all the Garvagh men I knew were at the
Coleraine base. They were all being prepared to go to Annual Camp
and complete their military training.
many others from my area I could not spare the time off the farm to
go to camp. We were trained over a series of weekends until we were
fit for operational duties.
That was an experience in itself. On the final weekend we
all ended up on the range at Magilligan. The Regimental Sergeant
Major (RSM) was in charge of us for the first part of the day. We
were a mess to look at. All our kit and webbing was wrapped up in a
ground sheet and tucked below our arms. We had no idea how to dress
ourselves or fit the webbing.
The RSM called us for everything under the sun except
soldiers. Eventually we made ourselves more presentable and were
marched off to the range. We started to shoot and the RSM found out
that in contrast to our appearance, most of us could shoot. We did
not need any tuition from him. There were a couple of range
practices where we had to run down the range 100 yards to the next
firing point. The RSM always made sure he started off in front but
there were plenty of us fit to pass him.
was just before July 1972 that I was on the first UDR patrol out of
Garvagh RUC station. I remained in the Garvagh Platoon for twelve
years and eleven days until the Garvagh base was closed down twelve
years later in 1984.
Garvagh was never credited for the success they had over the
Republican terrorists in the Garvagh area. It was the Garvagh
Platoon that became what the terrorists feared most. We were the
eyes and ears of the Garvagh area and many people of all
persuasions would confide in us and keep us up to date about the
activities of the local terrorists” S37.
of the first Lurk Patrols conducted by 24 Platoon went out with the
Commanding Officer as part of the patrol. When I reported into the
Garvagh base for duty one evening I was told to report to the
platoon commander in his office. When I went into the office the
platoon commander did not have his beret on so I knew I was not
‘in any trouble’. He said to me. ‘Corporal would you mind
taking out a Lurk Patrol tonight?’ ‘No’, I replied, ‘Who
are we targeting?’ He told me that the Battalion Intelligence
Cell needed to update their information on a local terrorist. This
character lived in an isolated farmhouse and had a dog tied up in
He told me to pick my men for the task so I selected two
other good soldiers I could trust. There was no requirement for
greater numbers because no one knew we would be doing the Lurk and
it was better to have fewer men. I then tasked one as the radio
operator. He was good at reading the situation on the ground and I
knew he would stay in position when I posted him.
I carried the night sight that allowed me to see up to 100
meters away in the dark. The rifleman had very little extra kit
because he would have to get close to the targeted building if
we were to be dropped off near the target, walk in and then observe
the target for two hours, record all observations and then walk
At the end of the observation period we still had one bit of
information to find. There was a car parked in the farmyard and we
were unable to see the number plates from any angle. We took a
chance; the rifleman walked into the yard, straight past the dog
and checked out the number plates of the car without the dog
The rifleman rejoined us and we made our way back across the
fields to the pick up point. As the Landrovers approached without their
lights on, I signalled the leading Landrover and it slowed down to
allow the three of us to get in.
As the Landrover returned to Garvagh the Commanding Officer
turned around in the front passengers seat and said to the platoon
commander, ‘Are you not stopping to pick up your Lurk patrol?’
He was suitably impressed when he saw us all sitting in the back of
his Landrover” S37.
Brigadier and the White Lady
Commanding Officer was so pleased with our performance on the Lurk
patrol he asked the Brigadier to go to Garvagh and see how we
operated. Another Lurk patrol was set up for the occasion. During
the patrol briefing the platoon commander covered all the subjects
and then mentioned a local legend from the area we were going to
patrol. It concerned the White House in the Glenullin area. There
was a White Lady reputed to cross the road at midnight.
The patrol went into ‘The Glen’ on foot with a Landrover
backup in the area. When the patrol reached the White House a big
ewe jumped up from the side of the road and scuttled along the side
of the ditch. The Brigadier nearly jumped out of his skin he was
that startled. The patrol commander was behind him and made the
situation worse by saying, “Are you all right, sir?” The patrol
got him settled down, carried on to meet up with the Landrovers and
returned to Garvagh.
The Brigadier was supposed to stay with us until 3am but he
went home early saying, ‘I have a long hard day tomorrow’. We
thought different” S37.
James ‘Scrapper’ O’Neill
Guard Sergeant in Garvagh detachment was ‘Scrapper’ O’Neill
who had been a boxer. He was also a dab hand on the drums and had a
wee band. He was an accountant by trade and kept the detachment
records well up to date. Not only that, he would look after the tax
returns of many soldiers who found it difficult to run the accounts
of their civilian job and part-time service in the UDR. Scrapper
was really a man of many parts. The reason why he ended up in
Garvagh detachment was because he was always arguing with someone.
If he took a dislike to you he would always look for an argument.
Photo 33 James ‘Scrapper’ O’Neill
notable character in the Garvagh Detachment was a soldier with two
very prominent teeth at the front and everybody called him
was the untidiest soldier in the British army without a doubt. One
day ‘Fangs’ decided to re-stock a shotgun in Garvagh Barracks.
This was an old shotgun that had been damaged and the stock was
cracked. I saw the shotgun in the kitchen of Garvagh RUC station
and made enquiries and found the owner was ‘Fangs’.
I had no idea what he intended to do with it. I came back
from Coleraine on one occasion and was met by the Guard Sergeant
Jimmy “Scrapper” O’Neill. He was standing just inside the
kitchen door. When I looked into the kitchen I could not believe my
eyes. It was ankle deep in shavings. Sitting on the draining board
of the sink was a newly stocked shotgun. ‘Fangs’ had spent most
of the day making the new stock.” S4.
the beginning of 1974 there was a series of house raids conducted
by the IRA in the Garvagh area. They were looking for weapons.
Among those targeted by the IRA was a private soldier in the
The IRA broke into his house late one night held his family
at gunpoint and demanded his rifle, which was an SLR. At that time
he was keeping his weapon at home. The soldier had no alternative
but to hand over the weapon otherwise his family would have been
shot and killed.
He promptly found himself on a charge for having lost his
rifle. He appeared before Lt Col John Lys who was then Commanding 5
UDR. The soldier was fined £40 for the negligent loss of his
The Garvagh detachment immediately laid down their weapons
and refused to serve because this was one of the most unjust
punishments inflicted on a British soldier. The matter was resolved
when the fine was paid by someone unknown but there remained great
deal of unease in the Garvagh detachment because of this incident.
The revolt was finally resolved at a meeting held at the
Grove when the detachment members met in order to decide if they
would make their protest permanent and resign en block. When I
heard of the meeting being convened I asked Jim Watt to attend. Jim
was a private soldier in the Garvagh detachment but he had a great
way of getting himself involved in local community affairs. He
later became a local councillor for the Garvagh area. Jim managed
to get himself elected as chairperson of this ad hoc committee at
the Grove. From this position he managed to sway the opinion. He
suggested that it was not a good move to resign and that was how
the crisis was resolved.
When John Lys was leaving to go back to England he commented
to a friend, ‘I made two command decisions during my time as
Commanding Officer of 5 UDR. One of them was wrong.’ I think he
was referring to the stolen rifle incident” S4.
McCaughey lived in Boveedy about three miles to the east of
Garvagh. He died on 11 November 1976 after being shot by
Republican terrorists in front of his family. His eight-year-old
son went out and stopped passing motorists and asked them to help
When they got around to sinking his grave in the grounds of
Boveedy Presbyterian Church they came up against solid rock. They
had to bring in a Detachment of Royal Engineers to blow up the
rocky ground with explosives in order to create a grave. On 13 Nov
Winston was buried. Winston was the third 5 UDR soldier to be
murdered in four days” S4.
It was a very wet day with non-stop rain from morning
to night. All the soldiers taking part in the funeral got
absolutely soaked. Funerals are always sad occasions but this one
was especially sad and difficult because of the terrible threat at
that time. (Hamill, 2007)
George Lapsley recalled, “WC McCaughey was a typical big
red faced Ulsterman. He was building his own house and a man across
the road from his house shot him in front of his family. That is
the difference between the IRA skulking killers and Winston
McCaughey and John Conley who were trying their best to protect
were nine children in the Gilmore family and Bertie, the youngest
boy, was born in 1940. His father was a farm labourer. Their family
home was located in Ergamagh, Kilrea. Later the family moved about
half a mile along the road to an area called Drumane.
All the Gilmore children were educated in Boveedy PS,
Garvagh. Their secondary education took place in Garvagh.
He was an excavator driver by trade. At one stage he spent a
period in the Army and then returned to excavator driving. Bertie
married Annie Johnstone from Killygullib and they lived in
Beechview Gardens on the Garvagh road outside Kilrea. They later
bought a house at New Row, Kilrea.
Bertie was in the UDR from the inception of the Garvagh
Platoon in 1973 until he left in 1985.
years after he left Bertie sold his house in New Row and bought a
plot of land a quarter of a mile outside Kilrea, just opposite
Eddie McIntyre’s on the Drumagarner Road. Bertie and Annie
intended building their new home there.
On Saturday, 1 December 1990, at 5:10pm
Bertie’s brother Fergy returned home to be informed by his
brother-in-law that Bertie and Annie had been shot.
had been working all day at the site and Annie had arrived to take
him home. While they were sitting in the car both of them were shot
at from a passing car. Bertie was killed instantly.
The killers then drove into Kilrea, did a U-turn at the
Marion Hall and came back for a second pass at the murder scene. By
this time an off duty nurse had stopped and was giving first aid to
Annie who had been severely wounded. The killers rammed her car,
fired again and then sped off. Bertie’s body remained at the
scene for four hours until the Scenes of Crime Officer and the
Forensics team had completed their work. It was not until the
following afternoon at 3pm that the family were permitted to go to
the morgue and identify Bertie’s body.
A few days later a known Provisional was stopped at a VCP.
‘I hear we got one of yours on Saturday,’ he taunted the patrol
hope the old bitch dies as well. We’ll get more of you before
Christmas is out.’ J Potter (2001) A Testimony To Courage, Page
Down Garvagh Base
were rumors that Garvagh base was going to close down. I went to
my local MP and asked for his support in keeping the base open. But
Garvagh was closed on 20 January 1984 and the argument then became,
‘What were they going to do with the Garvagh men?’
The main idea floated was that the Garvagh men were going to
be posted to Magherafelt. We would kit up in Garvagh but then
travel down to Magherafelt to be detailed to our patrol tasks. The
Limavady men were expected to come down to carry out patrols in the
Garvagh area. We did not think that was a very reasonable course of
The Garvagh NCOs held a meeting in Garvagh one evening in
order to decide our best course of action. There were no officers
present at the meeting. The first item on the agenda was ‘Should
we all go to Coleraine?’ There was no one prepared to go to
Coleraine so we eventually decided that if we were going to remain
in the UDR we would all volunteer to go to the Ballymoney base. Our
immediate officers turned down that idea, so we all packed up.
There was one last attempt by the OC E Company to stop us
from resigning. He invited us into his office one at a time to
discuss our individual views. We stayed on in the UDR for a further
year without doing any duties because there were many court cases
coming up involving successful operations we had been on. After all
the court cases were over we all left the UDR” S37.