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Previous Chapter 15 - Recruiting                                            Next Chapter 17 - Patrolling

 

Chapter 16 – Training and Equipment

 

To quote one of the most common statements encountered during the collation of this chapter, “in the beginning the training was a shambles and the equipment was rubbish”. Despite the initial havoc the UDR was able to mount operational patrols on the day of its formation, 1 April 1970.

   The .303 Lee Enfield rifle was replaced with the NATO standard 7.62 self-loading rifle (SLR) in late 1971. In the early 90s the Bull-Pup design SA80 replaced the SLR. By 1971 the Company had also been issued with modern radio sets that were easy to operate. Landrovers protected with macralon armour replaced the soft-top Landrovers loaned to the Company. The Company also had a Shorland armoured car. These armoured cars derived their name from their origins. The firm, Short and Harland built it on a on a Landrover chassis.

   By 1974 the UDR had developed an all-round expertise and were producing well-trained professional soldiers. Many UDR Instructors spent many months away from Northern Ireland training Regular Army units before they were posted to the Province. But despite having the ability to operate beyond its limited tasking, the UDR was always a “Political Football” and the role of the UDR was never expanded and the majority of senior officers and soldiers kept hitting the glass ceiling.

   Occasionally large-scale operational patrols and searches were planned and conducted by the Company with the usual accompaniment of visiting officers in tow. They always posed questions that could only rile the professional they were addressing. “Well, Sergeant Major, how do you feel at being allowed to mount this type of operation?” The usual conversation killer was, “Sir, we should have been allowed to do this years ago and more often”.

 

Basic Training – 1970 Style

“That early experience at Macosquin was quite unique. The British government had disbanded our only defence against the IRA and we were unsure as to what the UDR would be allowed to do. In those early days the training was a shambles because there were insufficient weapons to go around so we had to do our marching drill with brush shafts. John Kerr was the main instructor at that time.

    Our training was far from professional when you compare it to our later training. We did not know how to march and many people were not at all familiar with the army weapons. As time went on the standards did improve.

   We had to report to Macosquin B Special hut every Sunday morning, after that, until our basic training was completed.

I knew quite a few of the men at Macosquin. In those early days we were equipped with the .303 Lee Enfield rifle, the Sterling SMG and some officers had pistols. We borrowed vehicles from other army units when we wanted to go to Magilligan or Eglinton ranges for live firing” S11.

 

Photo 36 On the Magilligan Ranges in 1970

 

“ In those early days we received very little training but as time went on it improved. I remember well the second night I turned up for training at Macosquin, I was given a rifle and ammunition and told I was going on duty in Londonderry! We went there in a soft-top 4 tonner; the late John Cochrane was driving with myself and another soldier on rear guard. We stopped in Londonderry to pick up two other personnel and then proceeded to set up a VCP on the Letterkenny Road. As I hadn’t known that I was going on duty, I had no food with me and I can remember trying to heat a tin of Compo beans and sausages on the manifold of a Landrover” S Brownlow.

 

“I had been in the army cadets so I was familiar with a lot of the military terminology. I hated marching but there was no great demand for marching or drill in the UDR. I knew a lot of people in the UDR but I did not feel comfortable when I first joined. I preferred the operational duties to all the army formality.

   My basic training was very basic. For example, there was a shortage of radios for training purposes. The voice procedure training consisted of one radio and the remainder of the class using a matchbox or cigarette packet to simulate holding a mouthpiece. 

   The training was good enough for what was expected of us on the ground. All we were allowed to do in the early years was foot patrols, searching vehicles and manning vehicle checkpoints. As time went on we were given more advanced training and allowed to carry out more demanding tasks while on patrol” S24.

 

“On a Saturday I did my basic training. That included stripping and assembling the Self Loading Rifle (SLR) and the Light Machine Gun (LMG). After that we were examined on our weapon handling abilities with the Test of Elementary Training (TOETs) and passed. After being in the regular army and the TA for so long it took me a while to adjust and accept the UDR approach to discipline.

   Then on the Sunday night I was out on operational duty in places like Swatragh and Kilrea. The basic training did not prepare me for that experience. I picked up the tricks of the trade as I went along. Learning how to conduct myself while out on patrol was important for my survival” Ted Jamieson, 2006.

 

“The initial training was limited and the real training was ‘on the ground’ where I could watch and listen to my more experienced buddies” S22.

“Our radio equipment in the early days was of a low quality. The initial issue was A41s, C42s and Pye Bantams and these were totally unsuitable for the tasks we were performing. We were constantly out of communication with each other” S4.

 

Photo 37 On the Magilligan Ranges with the A41 in 1970

“After F Company’s first VCP the lack of weapons continued for about six weeks and then the company was issued with ten rifles. We thought this was great; however at that time F Company had about thirty or forty members and ten rifles did not stretch far. So it was that the rifles had to be signed out from one person to another. Some men kept a rifle at home and they signed them out to other members of the company.

   One evening F Company set up a VCP on the main road, just outside the village of Toome. They stopped the Prime Minister (NI) James Chichester-Clarke who was on his way home. What the patrol said to him on that occasion is not fit for reproduction. But they did leave him in no doubt that the way they were being treated was less than satisfactory. Two days later F Company had more rifles than they could cope with. No doubt the meeting with James Chichester-Clarke on the Toome road had the desired effect” S4.

 

“Very soon after that we were called upon to attend a range meeting at Eglinton Range. When I arrived at Eglinton Range I found a very strange procedure in progress. Eventually it was my turn to be called up to the firing point and fire ten rounds with a No 4 .303 rifle at a Figure 4 target, which never moved or never seemed to have been marked.

   When the next detail went on to the firing point, I went up to the Firing Point Officer and said to him, “How did I get on there?” He said, “What do you mean, How did you get on?” I said, “I didn’t see anyone marking the target, I didn’t see the targets being turned, I didn’t see the targets being patched I would like to know what’s going on?” He replied, “You have just passed your recruits training. The reason for you being here is simply to ensure that you can safely handle the .303 rifle. You have proved this. As for where your shots went on the target I have no idea”. That was my recruit training in the Ulster Defence Regiment” S4.

 

 “One night in Kilrea one of our Lance corporals, issued with a Sterling SMG, managed to shoot out the windscreen of an army 1800cc car. With the smoke still curling from the barrel of his gun he demanded, “Who fired that shot?” S47

 

“Some of the officers in the UDR had been commissioned without going up through the ranks. When they went out on patrol they were very naive and it became the Platoon Sergeants and the soldier’s responsibility to educate them on patrol tactics. Luckily most of these types of commissioned officers were eager to learn. Some were not afraid to say, “Right boys, how do we go about this?”  “Keep me right, boys, keep me right.” They were not prepared to simply learn from their mistakes, they wanted to benefit from our experience. We had respect for that type of officer” S24.

 

Basic Training – 1974 Style

“Training in E Company became highly professional as skills and drills were perfected for all our operational tasks. We developed skills such as covert vehicle and foot patrolling, first aid, signals, anti-ambush drills, specialised search capabilities, helicopter drills and intelligence gathering.” V Hamill, (2007)

 

The first aid training days could be messy affairs. One of the Platoon Sergeants was a butcher by trade and he would supply the instructors with a bizarre assortment of animal guts, bones and blood. This made the casualty simulations very convincing.

 

“We reported to the Permanent Staff Instructor (PSI) at E Company the Thursday after our initial kit issue. He was going to organize our training, which would take four weekends plus four Thursday evenings after which we would hopefully be sufficiently trained to be allocated to a Platoon and then to be allowed out on operational duties.

   The training was intensive and whilst it concentrated on weapon handling it covered many other subjects such as map reading, first aid, field-craft, radio communications, yellow card rules on engagement, and we were tested throughout the training programme. Being competent at stripping and re-assembling a Self Loading Rifle (SLR) in the dark or load twenty rounds of 7.62 ammunition into a magazine in less than 15 seconds was difficult at the start but we soon became very proficient.

   Learning the phonetic alphabet was quite a task but amazingly this has stuck with me to this day. Having passed the basic training requirements we still had to carry out live firing of our weapon before we would be allowed to do operational duties and the PSI informed us that the following Sunday had been booked as a Range Training Day at Magilligan Camp and we should report to Laurel Hill for 8.00 a.m.

   Sunday duly arrived and myself plus another seven recruits reported for duty as ordered. The camp was busy because it was a Company Training Day and there were about forty soldiers getting ready to move out. We drew our weapons out of the armoury – each soldier is issued with his own weapon – and we were given two magazines but no ammunition. The eight of us got into two Landrovers and the PSI had organized two armed escorts in the rear of each vehicle with loaded weapons to accompany us to the range.

   It was a beautiful Sunday morning as we travelled out the Castlerock Road and along the coast road to Magilligan. On arrival at the training ranges the PSI and his training staff took us to No 1 Range while the remainder of the company went to No 3 Range.

   We spent the morning putting into practice the drills we had learned in our training such as loading, unloading, make safe, changing magazines and dealing with stoppages. Of course we were not to know just how dirty a weapon gets after a day of live firing and just how much effort is needed to clean it. It is a military offence to put a dirty weapon back into the armoury as many a soldier found out to his financial cost.

   The main objective of the range day for us was to make sure we were safe and competent in a live firing situation and to get each of our weapons zeroed to our individual needs. In our training we were taught the theory of aiming, holding and breathing and grouping shots four inches above the white patch on the target at 100m. Making that happen took a lot of practice but we all got there and one of the recruits could group his shots very closely and it was obvious even on his first day at the range he was going to be a very good shot. He eventually went on to represent the Battalion on shooting competitions.

   At the end of the range day we joined the main body of the Company. The ranges all had to be cleared by collecting the empty brass cases. The targets also had to be “patched up” and returned to the Range Warden’s hut.

   Once this task was completed the Company had to line up in front of the Company Commander. We were ordered, “For inspection, Port Arms, Show Clear!” The NCOs checked that all our weapons were clear of live ammunition. Then as the NCOs checked our pouches we shouted out the declaration, “I have no live rounds or empty cases in my possession, Sir!”  It was only after that the soldiers loaded up their weapons with magazines of live ammunition and we made our way back to Laurel Hill.

   What a day this had been. I had fired a couple of hundred rounds, managed to get a reasonable group on the target and the PSI informed me I was now cleared for operational duties. I was to report to the 22 Platoon Commander to get my duty roster for the coming month. That was the start of many operational and training duties over the next 15 years” S39.

 

“We adopted the catchphrase “work hard and play hard” especially at annual camp which was the highlight of our training programme. Camp was a break from operations but camps always had a serious training purpose. We trained at camps in England and Scotland as well as at Ballykinlar and got to know the training areas very well indeed at Warcop, Wathgill, Otterburn, Barry Buddon, Thetford, Cameron Barracks Inverness, and Folkestone.  

 

 

   Travelling to these camps was by means of commercial ferry and coaches, sometimes by ‘Green Vehicles,’ on one occasion by courtesy of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in a Landing Ship Logistic from Belfast to Liverpool and eventually by C130 Hercules aircraft flying out of Ballykelly.

   I’ll never forget the ‘day off’ we had one year at Folkestone when the entire company took a trip by ferry across the English Channel to Boulogne in France. We successfully managed to get everyone back to camp at the end of a long enjoyable day after several head counts by the Company Sergeant Major who by that stage had had at least one sense of humour failure” (Hamill, 2007).

 

Sergeant McNeill one of the first PSI's

 

Permanent Staff Instructor (PSI) Duties

“One of the most interesting things that ever happened to me as a PSI occurred about two years into the posting.

On a Sunday morning I received a telephone call to go into E Company lines because they were having an NCOs cadre and the Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO) had failed to turn up or had indicated that he was too busy to attend and give a lecture on explosives. Could I fill in for him? Now I know very little about explosives but then the people on the cadre would know less. I decided to go in and give a lecture.

   As I was about to start this hastily prepared lecture on explosives George Lapsley appeared in the lecture room together with the General Officer Commanding (GOC) and a whole entourage of Staff officers and assistants who set themselves down in the back row.

   If the ground had opened and swallowed me it could not have been worse. But Martin Luther said on one occasion, “Here I stand, I can do no other may the Lord help me”. I was in that position and understood how Luther must have felt when he nailed his theses to the Wittenberg church door in the year 1517.

    So I started. I have a fairly good memory for things that I have read in books. To many this may seem irrevelant but I remembered that Alfred Nobel was asked the question, “What is an explosive?” It is a very simple question but a very difficult question to answer. The answer to that question is, “An explosive is any substance whether liquid or solid which can be transformed from its liquid or solid state into a state of gas”.

   After talking about high explosives, low explosives, how explosives were formed and the danger from explosives and that different types of gelignite deteriorate under adverse conditions. I asked the class the question, “What is an explosive?” and I had one or two half-hearted replies. Then I repeated Nobel’s famous quotation.

After the lecture was over the GOC came up to me and said, “That was wonderful, how many courses have you done on explosives?”  Of course I had to admit that I had done no courses on explosives and I was simply filling in for the ATO who was too busy to attend and so that the cadre could proceed unhindered. I can tell you it was not an experience I would like to repeat” S4.

  

Sandy Baxter and the Ammo Boxes

Sandy Baxter was one of the early volunteers for the UDR. One year at annual camp on the Lydd & Hythe ranges Sandy was responsible for issuing ammunition on one of the live firing ranges. This ammunition was of inferior quality as it had either been on the round trip to or else captured in the Falklands conflict. Sandy had no incidents with the ammunition but became a victim of the ammunition boxes themselves.

    It was a bitterly cold day standing so close to the sea front. Sandy used the empty ammo boxes to build himself a sentry box to stand in and issue the ammunition from. He even used his camouflaged Poncho (rain coat) to cover his little den.

   As midday approached the driver of the four-ton lorry was ordered to go back to base and collect the midday meal. Jimmy, a very experienced driver who enjoyed driving holidays around the European WW2 battlefields, reversed into the little den and Sandy was buried under the ammo boxes with nothing hurt but his dignity.

 

Officer Training – Sandhurst

“At forty years of age I was sent to Sandhurst. Many people said, “That’s the end of him. He will not survive.” I did. I made up my lack of fitness and lack of youth with my experience. When we went out on the night exercises all the young officers loaded themselves down to the ground with bottles of minerals and crisps. All these items added weight. When I got my rations I threw half of them away and only took the bare necessities. I seemed to survive on half rations much better than the young officers did, loaded down with all sorts of luxuries” S4.

 

“I had been promoted from Private to Lance Corporal as I had previously expressed an interest in a Commission and had been earmarked for Officer training. There were no Officer Cadets in the Regiment at that time and I was frequently reminded that I had better not put a foot wrong otherwise that would be the end of any ambition I had to become an Officer.

   In May 1971 I successfully attended an Officer Training Course and was appointed Second Lieutenant and posted back to E Company to assume command of 22 Platoon. By then the Company had grown to three Platoons. 21 Platoon was made up of men drawn roughly from the Portstewart and Portrush area. Twenty-two Platoon consisted of men from the east of Coleraine and 23 Platoon had men mainly from west of Coleraine” (Hamill, 2007).

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