13 – The Permanent Cadre
Permanent Cadre (PC) Platoon Commander’s Story
served in the UDR (PC) from 1978 until 2000. The bases I served
in included: Coleraine, Ballymoney, Magherafelt and Ballykelly.
an initial two years in the PC Operational Platoon at Coleraine I
was posted to Ballymoney Platoon as a Corporal carrying out the
duties of Section Commander. I remained there for two years
before I was posted to the Battalion Training Wing in Ballykelly.
Sergeant Major Chris Bobby was in charge of the Training Wing at
that time. I spent two years there before being posted to
Magherafelt as a Platoon Sergeant in F Company.
While at Magherafelt I attended many career advancement
courses and was given the role of Platoon Commander. Following
that I was promoted to the rank of Colour Sergeant and given the
job of Chief Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS). Before I retired my
final rank was Sergeant Major (WOII).
My final role was Watch keeper at Battalion Headquarters
in the Operations Room. The terrorist situation had eased
slightly in 1999 and 2000 so I was able to spend some time in
vocational training for my future civilian employment.
grandfather was a Gunner in 6 LAA Battery RA (Supplementary
Reserve) from 1939 to 1946. He saw action in Scotland, Suez
Canal, the Western Desert, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.
He died of TB a few years after he left the army.
I was born in 1959 in Plymouth, as at that time my father
was in the Royal Navy (RN). When my father left the RN the family
came to live in Coleraine. He then joined the UDR and was a
Platoon Sergeant in the Portstewart Platoon.
My secondary education was at Coleraine Academical Institution
studied for my O Levels. During these early years I spent some
time in the Army cadets as a Bombardier. We were based in the
Territorial camp at Calf Lane where my grandfather had started
his military career. After I left school I joined the Royal Navy
(RN) for two years and then came back to Coleraine.
I returned home I decided to join the UDR. My father’s service
lifestyle may have influenced me in both these early career
choices. Many young men from around my area had also joined at
this time and I knew them well. Compared to my RN wages, the army
pay was very good. Instead of the £60 per month from the RN, I
was now earning £196 per month. That was a very good wage at
of my previous experience in the Army cadets and the RN I did not
feel that there was a major transition from civilian life to army
life. I was used to attending annual camps, weapon handling and
being shouted at. I really enjoyed my initial training. That
started at E Company, Coleraine with the two Permanent Staff
Instructors. After a week of basic training we travelled on a
daily basis up to Battalion HQ in Ballykelly to complete our
training. After we had completed our recruit training I was
posted to the PC Operational Platoon based in E Company
I started in 1978 the PC Platoon tasks were limited to Mobile
Patrols from E Company. This was done in two shifts. The first
shift patrolled from 4am until 1pm. The second shift patrolled
from 1pm until 8pm, then the Part-Time Platoons covered from 8pm
until 4am, Coleraine town had operational cover for twenty-four
hours daily. This routine had been established in 1977 when
people were being recruited in order to establish PC Platoons. At
that time there was also a PC Guard section covering E Company
base guard duties from 4am until 8pm with the PT Platoons
covering from 8pm until 4am.
We patrolled the triangle area of Coleraine, Portstewart
and Portrush as well as Castlerock and as far south as Garvagh.
Kilrea RUC station was home to a regular army unit who were
responsible for patrolling the Kilrea area. This area was
eventually taken over by the UDR as the company strength
we were trained and qualified in search operations a search team
could be tasked to Op Grenada. This was based at Moscow camp in
the Belfast docks. A Royal Naval ship would take the search team
out to patrol the Irish Channel for two weeks. The tasking was
selected through Intelligence and involved us boarding all types
of ships to search for terrorists and their munitions. After one
particular two-week duty we were preparing to move back to E
Company base when we were told to carry on with the next two-week
patrol. Due to the increased tasking at Coleraine, a relief
search team could not be spared.
spent over a month in Denmark. I was in a group of six UDR
soldiers who trained alongside the Fusiliers on a NATO exercise.
Because of my many contacts with other British army units,
I have a greater respect for the British soldier. This is
particularly true for those who fought on the front line in the
Falklands, the Gulf and Iraq. TV documentaries only skim the
surface of what the ordinary soldier has to cope with.
When I went to Denmark with the Fusiliers I gained a great
insight into this subject. We were there to train in the NATO
role. This involved carrying so much kit it was impossible to
either sit down or stand up without someone else’s help. The
best way you could rest was to bend over and rest on your rifle
to take the weight off your back. On that same exercise we had to
dig a trench and learn to live in the trench for four days.
Clady Car Bomb
remember one terrorist attack very clearly. This happened at
Clady Permanent Vehicle Check Point (PVCP) on the Co. Tyrone/Donegal
was a weird day. For example, the security specialists came in
that day to check out the CCTV system and ensure that all the
cameras and monitors were in working order. I was in command of
the PVCP for that period. My job was to rotate the soldiers
around the various posts and operate the PVCP from the central
I was checking through the vehicles and as normal the RMPs
and an RUC officer were standing out on the road checking the
traffic. The RUC officer shouted in, ‘There’s a guy out here
saying that there is a bomb out here’. I immediately checked
the CCTV monitors and the car was not visible. It had been parked
on the only blind spot in the whole PVCP. I shouted out, ‘Is
that guy drunk or joking?’ and the RUC replied, ‘I think he
is serious.’ So I hit the alarm and verified the situation was
for real by physically checking the car and checking the
At the Clady PVCP
By that time the men had all paraded with all their kit
for a ‘Bug Out’. But this was for real and they were deployed
to their cordon points on the perimeter of the base. We had to
stop anyone or any vehicle from coming into the PVCP as well as
securing our own safety. The Garda secured the opposite side of
No sooner had we evacuated the PVCP than the bomb went
off. It was only at that time we discovered that the cordon
points were too close to the bomb. Every cordon point was
showered with shrapnel and bricks from the explosion.
After the explosion we returned to the PVCP. It was a
total mess. We were hungry because the bomb had been parked just
as we were organizing the evening meal. Every time we tried to
use the cooker the rings would overheat and explode. That was not
something we wanted, more explosions. We ended up eating cereals
whilst the rings continued to explode, not a very relaxing
We spent the rest of the night at the location controlling
the traffic, without any washing facilities, food or back up to
relieve us. The following morning the normal changeover with
another platoon took place and we walked to the pick up point to
be airlifted back to Ballykelly by helicopter.
We were in the air for ten minutes when the loadmaster
looked back at us and shouted, ‘We’re ditching, a bird has
hit the rotor blade!’ The pilot managed to get the chopper into
Omagh base. We then had to wait there until a new rotor blade was
fitted to the helicopter before we were able to finish our
At Ballykelly the patrol had to be debriefed on the
bombing incident before we could make our way back home. The bomb
went off at approximately 6pm and over eighteen hours passed
before we eventually reached our homes.
At Omagh Waiting For a Plane
I was a PC platoon commander in Magherafelt I was awarded the MBE
for both my leadership and the operational successes my platoon
had at that time. I was a qualified Unit Search Adviser and on
one memorable occasion I personally found a sniper rifle while I
was deploying my platoon on a search operation. This was a joint
RUC and UDR operation, a follow up to a shooting incident the
night before. Both search units stopped for a break at midday
then the RUC left the area and we decided to continue with the
search in the area already covered by the police. We had already
found many items, which led me to believe there was something
more to be found in the area. The finds included sets of rubber
gloves and balaclavas that had been discarded by the terrorists
in their haste to escape from their ambush position.
As I jumped over a fence to continue the search I saw a
shiny object in the undergrowth. On closer inspection it turned
out to be the scope still attached to the sniper rifle.
On another occasion I organized a follow up search after a
patrol had found two rifles in the Maghera area. This uncovered a
holdall. On first inspection it was seen to contain sets of
rubber gloves so I called forward the SOCO (Scenes of Crime
Officer) and he started to collect the evidence for forensic
examination. As he emptied the bag he suddenly froze. The bag
also contained half a block of Semtex with a detonator, battery
and a clock attached. We had to clear the area and task in the
ATO (Ammunition Technical Officer) to deal with the device.
went to Buckingham Palace to receive my MBE from The Queen. The
whole event was well organized. My family were provided with
travel warrants, hotel accommodation and transport to and from
the event. The Military Awards ceremony took place after all the
civilian MBEs were presented.
stress in the UDR changed continually. As your job and rank
changed, so did the stress factors. As a Corporal I was always in
command of at least eight soldiers. That was the normal patrol
strength. When I was promoted to Sergeant I expected to have more
administration based tasks with the Corporals carrying out the
patrols. I was to be proved incorrect because, as the UDR
developed their expertise, the operational tactics changed.
Multiple patrols and the principle of Framework Operations came
into force. The whole platoon with eight vehicles was deployed
into a particular area and that required the controlling hand of
the Platoon Commander or Sergeant.
One of the most stressful aspects of being a Platoon
Commander or Sergeant was parading the platoon for their
Operational Tasking. All platoons were expected to meet their
taskings so you had to maintain a strict rota for soldiers on
courses, leave and sick. On some occasions a soldier could have a
family crisis or fall ill, this created a manpower problem. You
were always expected to turn up on an operation with a set number
were other occasions when the stress was created for each soldier
and their immediate family. For example, there was a one-year
period when we operated out of Magherafelt for three weeks at a
time and then back to Ballykelly for another three weeks. The
Ballykelly part of the cycle was easy because we could go home
when we were off duty. The Magherafelt duty kept us on duty for
the full three weeks.
Another source of stress was the high number of courses
you were expected to attend before you were considered for
promotion. The combination of courses and the days spent on
patrol, meant your family life was limited and constantly under
final two years in the Regiment were spent in the Battalion
Headquarters Operations Room as a watchkeeper. I was responsible
for supervising the signallers and keeping all the senior
officers briefed on the current situation as it unfolded.
the same time I was also preparing myself for life as a civilian.
That included attending courses in England and studying at home.
I attended enough courses to gain a City and Guilds certificate
in Computer Engineering and a BTec certificate in Computer
proved very difficult to gain employment in a job with a decent
wage. My first job lasted a year. I left and then settled down in
my new employment where I remain until the present day.
I did make some close friends when I was in the UDR, but
they were not steady friends. That was because of the continual
two-year postings and promotions. Both these factors only allowed
me to develop short-term friendships with many people but very
few close relationships.
I did not join any veterans associations after I left the
UDR. Most of these organizations have a higher number of former
Part -Time soldiers rather than Permanent Cadre soldiers so they
have no attractions for me personally.
joined the UDR because a friend talked me into joining it. My
uncle was in the UDR at that time and had previously served in
the B Specials. I enrolled in the Garvagh detachment of the UDR
in 1980 at the age of eighteen. I felt a bit out of place, just
like a duck out of water. Nearly everyone else in the company at
that time was much older. I felt like a young schoolboy amongst
these older hands. My initial enrolment was for part-time duties
but within a couple of months I started full-time duties. The pay
in the early days was not worth talking about.
There were no changes in the attitude of my friends or
neighbours when I joined up. Most of the people in the Aghadowey
area had a tradition of joining the RUC, the B Specials or other
initial training in those days was very limited. It was not until
I joined full-time that my serious training started. This
included pre training in the Battalion and then down to
Ballykinlar Training Depot for a six-week course. But basic
part-time recruit training was limited to a couple of weekends
and Thursday nights. This started off in Garvagh and then the
final weekend was spent at Magilligan Camp. There we trained on
the ranges and were taught anti-ambush drills. I found the
training easy. Prior to my military training I had been an
accomplished clay pigeon shooter so I was familiar with firearms
and their safe handling.
do not believe that my initial training prepared me for the
operational patrols. We all learned as we went along. My first
operational duties were conducted in the Glenullen, Garvagh and
Kilrea areas. There were many men in our area who were under
constant threat from Republican death squads and our patrolling
was an essential deterrent.
After I joined the full-time platoon in Garvagh we were
merged with the Magherafelt Companies (F & G Companies). We
then spent a lot of time patrolling the mid Ulster area and doing
guard duties at Magherafelt UDR base and Coolkeragh power
started my dog-handling role in 1982.
I was always interested in working with dogs. I would like
to have joined the Royal Army Veterinary Corps after I left
school but there were no vacancies at that time. It was in 1982
that a position of dog handler became vacant in the Co
Londonderry area. I applied for the post and was successful.
I spent a lot of time in Londonderry city as I was
attached to the resident battalion in the city and accompanied
the patrols carrying out many searches.
At one stage of my career I was presented with a MID for a
job well done. This happened after a terrorist incident where
soldiers and terrorists were shot dead.
The local terrorists had a panic attack and started
ditching their weapons in the local area. Some weapons were
recovered from inside a hollow gate pillar. The top had not been
replaced properly and the dog indicated it.
In 1996 I was also attached to a special British army team
in Hong Kong. This was before Hong Kong was handed over to the
Chinese. It was our job to search all the military bases in Hong
Kong for munitions and ensure a clean hand over took place. This
task took six months to complete. At that stage I was a single
man and it was a great experience.
Garvagh detachment saw action against terrorists on many
occasions. I was part of a multiple patrol in a Shorland armoured
car approaching Swatragh village one night from Garvagh. The
other part of our patrol reacted so fast to a ‘shoot and scoot
attack’ that we managed to catch one of the gunmen hiding
behind the Rafters Bar in Swatragh within minutes of the attack.
Some of the experiences were memorable for the horror of
the situation. Later on in my military career I became a search
dog handler. I will always remember the search I had to conduct
in Swatragh village. That was after a Landrover patrol had been
ambushed from the children’s playground on the Swatragh Bridge.
The Republican terrorists had used an RPG rocket and it had hit
one of the patrol vehicles. I spent the day picking up body parts
that the dog had indicated before we recovered the patrol
weapons. The smell of the man’s body was very strong.
years before I finished my twenty-two year service career I was
given the opportunity to retrain for a civilian trade.