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15 – Recruiting
males eligible for service in the UDR were normally resident in
Northern Ireland between the ages of 18 and 40 (in certain
circumstances up to 55) and could apply to join the UDR. All
volunteers were expected to attend twelve days training and twelve
two-hour training periods each year. Female recruiting did not
start until 1973. Initially the volunteer was expected to enlist
for periods of one, two or three years with opportunities to extend
their service beyond the three-year point.
E Company always focused on attracting Roman Catholic and
Protestant volunteers who would serve the whole community without
The initial target set for the Regiment on 1 April
1970 was 6,000 soldiers. This was surpassed quite easily. During
1973 the strength of the Regiment declined from 8,900 to 7,500
(Potter, 2001 p112). Four years later that figure rose again to
7,660 but that can be attributed to more soldiers enrolling for
Full-Time service. Potter
has remarked that the Part-Time element continued to decline.
Some of the decline in numbers can be attributed to the
catastrophic interference of the Unionist Party in RUC and army
operations. This resulted in the withdrawal of support for the
security forces by nationalist politicians and the loss of many
Roman Catholic soldiers. The IRA targeted the few remaining Roman
Catholic soldiers and that action dissuaded potential Roman
Catholic recruits from volunteering.
One senior officer stated that only three per cent of the
Northern Ireland community eligible to enrol had taken up the
challenge (Clark, 2003, p130). Another accused Ulstermen of taking
the easy way out by finding excuses for not joining the Regiment
(Defence, 1973, Vol2 No3). The death toll of the Regiment had
reached 39 in 1973. That may have been a mitigating factor for the
ninety-seven percent of the eligible people who did not apply to
join the Regiment.
The selection procedure was far from perfect. There were
many good men who waited months to join only to be rejected without
a clear reason being given. Once they found out they had been
rejected many people re-applied. They changed their addresses, used
their middle names and briefed their referees on how to respond to
There were other factors that must have made the Regiment an
unattractive prospect. Perhaps people were not prepared to commit
themselves to a demanding job that would interfere with their
The constant denigration of the UDR by nationalist and
Republican politicians did nothing to improve the Regiments image.
The Scandinavian Public Relations team hired by the nationalist
politicians in the early years appears to have trained them well.
They always managed to squeeze out the maximum damage from
every incident. Slurs, allegations, persistent maligning, open
hatred and the use of half-truths appeared to be the stock in trade
of any nationalist elected to speak on security matters.
recruiting also suffered irreparable damage from the activities of
the minority in the ranks who broke the law or became involved in
Treachery is also known as betrayal. In the early years, the
screening of potential recruits was flawed and several individuals
with Loyalist or Republican paramilitary connections were later
identified. These treacherous individuals were always told to
resign before they did any damage. But some did ‘get it right
There were many occasions when the nationalist politicians
highlighted the depravity of the Republican and Loyalist
terrorists. But the constant criticism by nationalist politicians
of the Regiment because of the behaviour of a few traitors within
the ranks was disproportionate.
No other social institution in Ireland has ever faced the
same venomous tirade. Had that been the case, the magpies would
have picked over many bones long ago.
In Northern Ireland society there are many strands of
Republicanism, Nationalism, Loyalism and Unionism. In order to
understand the source of Loyalist treachery it is worthwhile
studying the work of Todd (1987) referred to by Bruce (1994 p1) who
describes the Unionist sub-categories in Ulster. From the main
group, Ulster Unionists, there were two offshoots. These are called
the Ulster Loyalist and the Ulster British.
The Ulster Loyalist group could be sub-categorised into the
working class and the evangelical. The gunmen of the Ulster Defence
Association (UDA), Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and the Ulster
Volunteer Force (UVF) were located in the working class group and
their loyalty to Ulster came first. This group always believed they
were fighting for the survival of the Ulster Protestants. They also
believed that the British government was going to resolve the
‘Irish Problem’ by engineering a United Ireland. Their fears
were well grounded on many occasions and they always reacted
violently to every government-sponsored process directed towards
Members of the UDA, UFF and UVF were publicly encouraged by
their terrorist leaders to develop their military skills by
infiltrating the UDR. This publicity always gave the mendacious
nationalist politicians more ammunition than they needed to sustain
their barrage of half-truths and allegations against the Regiment.
The Ulster British also had their working class and middle
class elements. Their first loyalty was to the Crown so they were
more suitable for enrolment into the Regiment. The main problem for
the British government with the Ulster British was the fact that
they were not ideal either. The government was always looking for
recruits who would reply, ‘Not Really’ to the question,
“Would you mind if there is a United Ireland tomorrow?”
was in a healthy state apart from the long delays caused by the
vetting procedures. This was a problem, which we often complained
about because some men who were interested in joining lost interest
because of the time taken between applying to join and being
accepted for enlistment. Naturally the vetting had to be effective.
A special vetting unit was set up at HQNI for this purpose.
There was an interesting cross section of society in the
Regiment including quite a few from the Roman Catholic community
and they were well accepted in those early days. Sadly that was to
change as the IRA successfully terrorized many causing them to
leave. We had ex-B Specials, plus many ex-Regular soldiers and some
ex-Royal Navy or Royal Air Force personnel as well as the young and
inexperienced like myself, enthusiastic, interested and very
willing to learn” (Hamill, 2007).
Company was fortunate in being able to recruit more members from
the Roman Catholic community than most other Companies in the
Regiment. As Officer Commanding E Company I worked hard to ensure
our ethos was as non-sectarian as was possible” (Hamill, 2007).
a limited period I was employed as the company recruiter, Sandy
Baxter. Before Sandy could interview the recruits it was my job to
present them with a welcome pack and gather their personal data for
the recruiter. I would give them promotional booklets, tell them
what the job entailed, the pay rates and what was expected of them.
Unfortunately there were some lovely young lads and lassies
I expect would have turned out well but they had a minor criminal
record for some stupid thing they had done years before applying. I
had to warn them that their criminal record would stand against
them in the final assessment of their suitability for the Regiment.
That decision was never taken by anyone in the company as HQNI
Lisburn always had the final say in the matter
At that time most of the recruits were genuine people. In
many cases it was a family tradition to serve the Crown. Perhaps
their father had been in the B Specials or they already had a
brother in the Regiment.
there was the other type of recruit. The pay rates for the UDR had
increased dramatically and this made the Regiment an attractive
form of employment even for the part-timer who wanted to earn some
At the time of the pay rises the basic training standards
also increased. You still did the two weekends and two evenings
basic training but before any recruit could go operational they had
to attend a seven-day residential recruits course at Ballykelly”
joined the UDR in 1974. A friend who worked with me in my civilian
job was a member and he suggested I should join.
I was not particularly politically minded but like most
people I listened to the news and was aware of the problems and how
members of the UDR and RUC were being targeted and even killed. My
parents of course were aware of the situation and were uneasy about
me joining because of the risks but were not going to stand in my
I can remember my excitement when the letter came through
the letter box confirming my acceptance and asking me to report to
Laurel Hill House to “sign on”, which I did on the Thursday
evening of that week. Arriving at the gate that evening I was
escorted to the “Big House” where a number of other new
recruits were waiting. We were then marched into the Company
Commander’s office. We were all “Sworn In” and the
administration work was completed. I was not to know how this was
to shape my life in the future or how the experiences and
friendships would stay with me and have such a positive influence
on my life.
The following Saturday we reported again to Laurel Hill and
eight of us were taken in a civilian van to Ebrington Barracks in
Londonderry to be kitted out. We left Ebrington Barracks
Quartermaster Stores with everything from long johns, shirts,
combat smock, tin helmet, webbing, boots and these things called
Puttees all packed into a big kit bag. We signed for everything we
received and as I later discovered you signed for everything in the
I arrived home with my kit bag and that evening spread the
contents out on the living room floor. I was fortunate as my dad
had been in the RAF and was familiar with most of the contents and
together we managed to put the webbing and ammo pouches together.
Unfortunately when I tried on the trousers, shirts and combat
smocks they literally drowned me. They were small sized but I was
five foot four inches tall and of light build and was never going
to fill these garments! Fortunately my sisters worked in a shirt
factory and we spent all Sunday fitting and pinning the shirts,
trousers and combat smocks and they managed to tailor these to fit
on their sewing machine” S39.
first memory of the terrorism affecting me personally was when my
friend’s brother had been blown up on Portballintrae Range. He
was not seriously injured but some of his colleagues were. When my
friends and I heard about this we vowed that we would join the UDR
when we were old enough. At that time we were still at school.
Time passed and I noted that many of my neighbours were in
the UDR. I would often see them being picked up and dropped off by
a Landrover at their homes. I eventually asked one of them for an
application form and I was eventually accepted into E Company, the
5th Battalion UDR, based at Coleraine.
I presented myself at the Laurel Hill base one Saturday
morning. From there I was shouted and bawled at by some very scary
people. Big John Kerr and even Wee Dan the store man shouted at me
for not knowing my beret size and of course there was getting past
Percy and his guard dog” S28.
joined through having an argument with my workmates. A new man
started working at my civilian employment. Both this man and his
wife were in the UDR. One day the works van was stopped at an army
road check. One of my workmates said, ‘What good do those boys do
Our new workmate decided to bring in the application forms
for the UDR and dared two of us to find out what good the army did
for ourselves. We filled in the forms and joined the UDR. The
yearly bounty was £25 and the night’s pay was only £2.30. I did
not join up for the money ” S24.
to joining the UDR I had been in the Army Cadets. We practised a
lot of drill at the Calf Lane TA Camp. Our instructor was Sergeant
Major O’Grady from Birr, Co. Offaly who had settled in
Londonderry city. He had a voice that carried for miles. The
cadets also took part in lots of sporting events as well as the
weekend training camps at Magilligan.
The main reason I joined the UDR was because I wanted to do
something worthwhile for the country. My wife found my first
application form and tore it up. I managed to complete the second
application form and was eventually accepted into the UDR” S25.
had a box of plastic soldiers I played with as a wee fella. I still
have them. They’re collectables now. It was never Cowboys and
Indians with me. It was always the army. You see I come from a
military family – there were seven of us in the UDR at one time.
My mother’s side was in the army. My uncle is buried at the Somme
in France. My father was in the merchant navy.
I had been in the B Specials. The big difference from the
UDR was that the men recruited each other into the B Specials. I
was invited to join and there was great loyalty among the men.
There was a far nicer calibre of men in the B Specials. The UDR was
government recruited and it took a long time to build up