Previous Chapter 15 - Recruiting Next Chapter 17 - Patrolling
16 – Training and Equipment
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
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”.
Training – 1970 Style
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
initial training was limited and the real training was ‘on the
ground’ where I could watch and listen to my more experienced
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.
37 On the Magilligan Ranges with the A41 in 1970
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.
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
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
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
Training – 1974 Style
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)
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.
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
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
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.
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
Staff Instructor (PSI) Duties
of the most interesting things that ever happened to me as a PSI
occurred about two years into the posting.
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
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
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.
Baxter and the Ammo Boxes
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.
Training – Sandhurst
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.
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).
Previous Chapter 15 - Recruiting Next Chapter 17 - Patrolling