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17 – Patrolling
the UDR was formed in 1970 its principal role was to support the
Regular Forces in protecting the border and state of Northern
Ireland from armed attack and sabotage. This was accomplished
through carrying out static guard duties, patrols and checkpoints.
That role changed in the early 70’s as the Regiment
learned to cope with the activities of the sectarian murder gangs.
The next major role change took place in 1977 when the Permanent
Cadre and Part-Timers inherited the Tactical Area of Responsibility
in the counties of Londonderry and Antrim from the Regular Army. At
that time the RUC were given primacy in the fight against
terrorism. This role brought E Company Permanent Cadre and
Part-Time soldiers into more violent contact with extremists.
The UDR operated two common types of
patrol, the foot patrol and the vehicle patrol. Foot patrols were
transported to and from the drop-off points and pick-up points by a
combination of vehicles, boats or helicopters. Patrols had many
objectives, such as denying the terrorist the use of the terrain,
prevention of common crime, deterrence of terrorist acts and
monitoring the activity of the terrorist and their supporters They
were also used to reassure the general public that the Security
Forces were actively engaged in protecting them from terrorist
UDR patrol commanders set up Vehicle
Check Points (VCPs) as
one method of achieving their patrol objectives. The point on the
ground has to be recorded in the form of a map grid reference as
part of the documentation for the VCP.
Once a vehicle has been stopped within a VCP the security
situation determines the actions of the patrol. The vehicle and its
occupants can be subject to a search. The occupants can be
questioned about their identification and current movement.
week I was kicking a ball around the streets with my mates and the
next day I was coming out the front door in an army uniform with a
Self Loading Rifle over my shoulder. I then walked to the camp and
on the way met up with other similarly attired comrades from The
Creeve and The Rope Walk, such as Jimmy Gault, SA Taylor, the
Baxters and John Molloy. By the time we approached the camp there
was half a platoon of us walking in for our duty” S18.
my years in the UDR I carried out a variety of duties, including
static Vehicle Check Points on the Bann Bridge, Agivey Bridge and
Kilrea Bridge, country and town mobile patrols, town foot patrols,
guard duties on Garvagh and Kilrea RUC stations and guard duties on
Coolkeeragh Power Station, Magilligan Prison Camp and Coleraine
Telephone Exchange. I enjoyed most of these duties, especially in
the summer months but not so much in the winter” S Brownlow.
looked forward to my first patrol with some trepidation. For
example, who would I be working with? How would I get on with them?
Would anybody shoot at me or even worse? All these sort of
questions went through my mind but I need not have worried. I knew
most of the blokes in the platoon from my mother’s bread-man to
blokes I had gone to school with.
My first patrol was exciting for me but uneventful
thankfully. We travelled through quiet country roads in the dead of
night, sometimes without lights. I listened to many war stories as
we passed places where previous incidents had taken place. No doubt
some of these stories had been enhanced for the benefit of the new
first proper duty and first VCP took place at Five Road Ends. I
also took part in mobile patrols and static guards in the Coleraine
and Kilrea areas. That included telephone exchanges, various
electricity sub-stations and Kilrea Police station.
During one of the riots in Kilrea I was tasked as one half
of the snatch squad. We would be running till now to catch our
target because the bugger was wearing a pair of trainers.
On another occasion we were fortunate to have a ‘faulty’
Schermully illuminating rocket because it helped to clear a rioting
crowd from the car park in the middle of Kilrea. The rocket
didn’t go up in the air but fell on the ground and went off.”
very first VCP ever set up by F Company was set up in the town land
of Aughrim, near Magherafelt. Of course the UDR at that time had no
weapons so Sergeant Major Smith who was a Permanent Staff
Instructor in Magherafelt had to go to Ebrington Barracks in
Londonderry. There he had to sign out two .303 rifles and 20 rounds
of ammunition. He then brought the lot back to Magherafelt to
enable the VCP to be mounted that particular evening.
The rifles were to be used by the cover men in the VCP.
These cover men had to be concealed behind the hedge so that no
member of the public would see a UDR soldier armed.
first duty that I was called upon to do was outside the Technical
School on the Moneymore Road in Magherafelt directing traffic. We
were unarmed at that stage” S4.
Setting up and lifting a VCP were the
two most critical phases of the operation. No matter how
experienced the patrol is there was always the danger of a road
traffic accident at these times. One tragic exception to E
Company’s excellent record occurred on 6 April 1972. At
approximately 10:45pm on the main Coleraine/Limavady road at
Gortcobies, 20 year-old Constable Desmond Hamill was returning to
work at RUC Waterside, Londonderry when his car collided with a
Landrover at a VCP. He died instantly at the scene from impact
night on the Letterkenny Road in Londonderry we stopped a vehicle
and the occupant was reluctant to open the boot, he did eventually
open it but then refused to open a suitcase in the boot. He was
informed that if he didn’t open the suitcase, we would send for
the RUC. When he reluctantly opened it, we found it to be full of
ladies underwear, which he had been stealing from clotheslines!
One other incident that comes to mind was when we were
manning the civilian search barriers in the city centre in
Londonderry. I was frisking a man and I felt something solid in one
of his legs so I thought I had found something significant but the
poor man was wearing a calliper!” S Brownlow.
powers that be decided that we should do guard duties at Banagher
Dam. We all called this area “The Dam”. So we headed off on a
4-ton truck to guard the dam. The final leg entailed walking for a
mile and a half from the pumping station up to the breast face.
Looking at the dam now, if the IRA had used all the explosives they
had available they would not have taken a chip out of that
We were kitted out with hob-nailed boots and walked up that
long route to the Breast face. We were making so much noise you
could have heard us a mile away. In fact a farmer I know from the
Dungiven area said, “If you don’t change those bloody boots you
are wearing, the IRA will annihilate you” S4.
was a Monday night and the Part 2 Orders had just been posted on E
Company notice board with news about my promotion. The Platoon
Commander congratulated me and then gave me my first job as a
junior Non Commissioned Officer (NCO).
What had happened was on the previous Sunday there had been
a Regular army exercise where they had allowed a 4-ton truck to
become bogged in above Eagles Rock at Ballyhacket in Castlerock.
The army had tasked the Royal Engineers to tow this vehicle out
with a heavy-duty recovery vehicle and this was bogged in as well.
Next they tasked another recovery vehicle from Lisburn and
there were now three vehicles bogged in at Ballyhacket. The only
way this was going to be resolved was to fly a Chinook helicopter
in from Germany to lift all this equipment out of the bog.
In the meantime a Permanent Cadre patrol was on sentry duty
on top of Ballyhacket looking after all of this equipment. At 8pm
it would be my job to change over with them until 4am the following
morning. All I had to do was send in a radio check on the hour
every hour. That was to be an easy duty although it was a cold
night. I had to sign out four hand torches, four Bardic lamps and
four heavy-duty parkas to keep out the cold. The parkas were great
items but very expensive and had to be looked after.
We did the duty and the PC turned up again at 4am. I
gathered up all the equipment ensuring nothing was left behind
because I would be held responsible and have to pay for any losses.
we returned the Platoon Commander was waiting for us in Coleraine.
He asked us how we had got on. I informed him that it was an easy
duty and we had brought all the store equipment back. The Platoon
Commander then asked me if I was sure I had brought everything
back. I assured him we had everything back, the torches, the
Bardics and the parkas were all accounted for. He then said,
‘Where is your SLR (Rifle)?’ ‘Hell’s Bells,’ I thought,
‘I’m in big trouble’. ‘You are very lucky’, he said,
‘The patrol commander has been in touch with me and said he would
bring your ‘item’ back with his patrol’. I was lucky that
time as there were no disciplinary charges against me. I was almost
promoted and demoted within one day” S20.
UDR patrols fell into the trap of operating in the same way for
weeks on end. They would establish VCPs on the same stretch of
road. The terrorists were always monitoring patrols for predictable
patterns of behaviour. Once they learned what you did or where you
stopped and started an operation, they would either ambush you or
plant a land mine to catch you out” S24.
a period of service in the Regiment I was promoted to Lance
Corporal and then to Corporal. I had my own section in 22 Platoon.
It consisted of men from the East of the Bann such as Millburn,
Harpurs Hill and the Ballysally Estate. In the early years we were
on mobile patrol in Kilrea one evening. I was in the rear seat of
the second Landrover and the Platoon commander asked for two
volunteers to check the Telephone Exchange.
The rest of the patrol was going to continue on through
Kilrea and then collect us on the way back. I volunteered and asked
Wee Dan to come with me, which turned out to be very lucky for him.
As the patrol passed the Marion Hall in Kilrea they were ambushed
and one of the bullets lodged in the Macralon armour plating where
Wee Dan had been sitting! Thankfully no one was injured and
needless to say Wee Dan has thanked me a few times since” S
one occasion I was part of a foot patrol going through a village in
South Derry. I tried the door handles of all the businesses as I
walked up the street. I found the door open at one of the local
bars. My patrol commander was not happy with this situation
especially when he found that the back door was also open.
We woke the bar manager and informed him about the
situation. He of course promised to sack the bar staff for their
At that time it was common practice for the PIRA to inform
the business owners to leave the front and back doors open in order
to perform a ‘Shoot and Scoot’ attack on the army patrols. This
was particularly true for attacks against mobile patrols. After the
second Landrover of the patrol passed, two gunmen would come out of
the premises and kneel on the road to shoot off a full magazine
between the two red taillights of the rear Landrover. With at least
three people in the back of the vehicle there was always the chance
of a kill” S25.
the months of January and February in 1973 many of my Platoon would
go up to Londonderry city to operate alongside the City Regular
Battalion. We went up on a Saturday and returned to Coleraine on
Sunday night. One of the duties was on Derry’s Walls where they
had the sangars and checkpoints. We also did static duties on the
old bridge. There were a colossal number of checkpoints in those
areas and the Coleraine Platoons took these over on many occasions.
The Regulars were starting to dress in Disruptive Pattern
(Camouflage) combats that year and the UDR were still in their
olive green combats. About July 1973, during the summer school
break a couple of us used to go up to Londonderry for a week at a
time and operated with the Royal Artillery (RA) troops. Eventually
we dressed the same as the Royal Artillery in Disruptive Pattern
combats and the Artillery blue cravats instead of the UDR black
cravats and on a few occasions we used the RA cap badge.
I was on duty the night that the Walker Memorial was blown
up. There were many shooting attacks that night and none of the
patrols noticed what was happening at the Walker Memorial.
When we patrolled Londonderry there was an individual who
followed us around and when he blew a whistle it was a signal for
the ‘Derry Yobs’ to start attacking us. On one occasion the
patrol identified one of the ‘Derry Yobs’ and spent some time
talking to that individual in a friendly manner. This raised a
question mark against his loyalty and reliability with the ‘Derry
Yobs’. He went on to prove himself by trying to murder an RUC
officer in Portrush, but fortunately his gun misfired and he was
arrested and jailed” S18.
used Garvagh RUC barracks as a stop for a meal break at times. One
particular person in that station seemed to have a down on the UDR.
He even went as far as to alter the Day Book in an attempt to
incriminate our patrol. We proved him wrong on that occasion. He
came to Laurel Hill House to carry out an interview but after his
opening statement, ‘I know you are guilty and I’m going to
prove it.’ I had him escorted off the premises. I was always very
careful driving through Garvagh in my civvies after that” S47.
remember well having to watch the station officer’s wife as she
hung out her washing and also going out to watch over her child as
she played at the back of the station officer’s accommodation.
On another occasion Bruce, the Kilrea RUC station guard dog,
attacked me just after I fed him my sandwiches. I was so enraged I
forgot to shoot him but chased him around the barracks with the
intention of clubbing him to death. Three police officers prevented
me from completing my mission” S47.
many a night in 1973 I would be trying to study at home and there
would be a knock at the door. It would be people like Sandy Baxter
with a Sterling Sub Machine Gun (SMG) round his neck and Albert
McAfee sitting outside in a Shorland looking for me to go on duty.
Sandy would say, ‘Its Kilrea tonight and we are short as there
are only the two of us. Can you cover?’ I usually said, ‘Give
me five minutes.’ Just long enough to get changed, grab a few
textbooks, grab my rifle and jump into the Shorland and head off to
Kilrea RUC station.
At that time a barbed wire fence and a sandbagged
emplacement protected the station. In the early 70s Kilrea was one
of the most bombed towns in the province with shootings taking
place every other day of the week. Through the day the station was
guarded by eight Regular troops. They had a General Purpose machine
Gun, SLRs and SMGs. There were three of us with two SMGs and a SLR
between us for the rest of the night.
We were supposed to be relieved by the Regulars at 4am but
that never happened. They were accommodated on the Portglenone Road
so I had to drive the Shorland to their base, get them out of bed
and drive back to Kilrea. They would appear over an hour late on
most occasions” S18.
and BRUDR Operations
Province Reserve UDR (PRUDR) operations provided us with the
opportunity to plan and execute Company level operations outside
our Brigade area. Sometimes we lived in the field for a weekend and
on other occasions we operated from Army bases and RUC stations at
Dungannon and Aughnacloy. These operations were highly beneficial
as they raised our operational standards and ability. E Company
always rose to the challenge and we became a much sought after
asset to many Regular units” Victor Hamill, (2007)
we were deployed as the Brigade Reserve UDR (BRUDR). On this
tasking we were sent to reinforce an area within our Brigade TAOR
that we did not normally patrol. I only served in 5UDR but there
were some Saturday mornings the Company would go to Londonderry
city to be attached to the resident regular army Battalion. We
would be employed in patrolling the city or manning the static
Vehicle Check Points (VCPs) and covering the Searchers in the
Waterside area of the city” S3.
first BRUDR weekend took me to Strabane. As we carried out a foot
patrol in the town I passed an old pensioner who spat at me. I was
shocked by this display of open hostility from a senior citizen who
I believed I was risking my life to protect. But overall there were
more good memories than bad.
I do recall happier occasions where the locals would offer
you hot drinks in the winter. I can remember patrolling Portstewart
promenade when we were met by one of the local characters that
offered us cold potatoes and whiskey. We declined both offers of
always enjoyed the BRUDR operations because we could be posted for
a long weekend of operational duties in another county. This
tasking was designed to add resources to other army units and allow
them to mount a major operation. It gave us a chance to meet up
with other units and it was a welcome change from normal
are some areas of Northern Ireland where it is impossible to patrol
after last light. If the ground has a series of steep hills, high
hedgerows, valley streams, barbed wire fencing and very little moon
light there is a tendency for the patrol to become disorientated.
Terrain like that is best left to locals who know the area well and
have patrolled it in daylight.
day the platoon got permission to take a civilian bus with half the
platoon on board. We were all dressed in civvies as he was going to
take us over the route we had travelled the previous night.
The bus stopped at exactly the same spot where the VCP was
held on the previous night so that the riflemen could have a good
look around. What was most remarkable to me was the way night
driving disorientates you.
I thought I knew the territory well and there should have
been no house near one of the VCPs. But there were two houses right
beside the spot we had stopped the previous night and we were all
unaware of them.
At some locations the VCPs were set up in totally unsuitable
terrain that was hazardous to the patrol and the general public. We
may have been familiar with the people and the area in daylight. At
night without the benefit of moonlight this knowledge was of little
value. These familiarisation trips helped us to operate better at
of the worst things about operational duties was the lack of
continuity. If you left an incident before the operation was
completed, you never met up with the relieving unit to see how the
situation was resolved” S24.
we used a Shorland on our patrol operations. This was a well-armoured
vehicle that we could send off on its own to patrol an area close
to the VCP operations. The VCP operations were always pre-planned.
It was the job of the Shorland crew to cover the high ground or
possible ambush positions and thus protect the VCP.
The Shorland would be used on the high ground before the VCP
was set up in order to monitor and cover the operation. You always
felt confident when an officer took the time to plan mutual
protection operations like this” S24.
Headquarters staff were very fond of using the numbers game. They
believed the only way to fight terrorism was to go out on the road
and stop as many cars or people as you could on any night. You
would leave a patrol briefing at the start of the night with the
phrase, ‘I want you to stop 100 cars tonight’ ringing in your
ears. The platoon used to get very angry at this dumb request. The
patrols were no longer being selective, pre-emptive and pro-active.
The patrols were simply out to stop many innocent people by playing
the numbers game.
All this was done to satisfy some smug Base Rat who would
produce the impressive figures at a conference the following day.
We ended up stopping ordinary people of all persuasions. We felt
that we were criminalizing the general public by employing these
tactics. It was the wrong way to win hearts and minds” S24.
greatest problem on operational duty was the weather. There were
some nights we had to cope with rain, snow and fog. Then there were
the mists that can descend early in the mornings.
We could only crawl along at a walking pace on those nights
so we had to take the weather into consideration for the return
trip to the Coleraine base.
Initially the standard of clothing in the UDR was poor and
did not meet the demands of the Ulster weather. Many of us used to
wear extra civilian clothing below our uniforms. We even had to buy
batteries for the hand torches they issued us with. For a limited
period one of the Commanding Officers made us strip down the
Landrovers and we travelled around without the side or back door.
That way we became just as vulnerable to bombs and bullets as the
weather. Eventually the doors were replaced. ” S24.
members of UDR patrols were travelling around the country totally
exhausted from doing a full-time job and then volunteering for
night patrols. Every third night was an operational night but in
between you were expected to meet your training commitments.
Sometimes other platoons were short of men and volunteers were
always being called upon to ensure that the patrols were up to
strength. It’s not surprising that some people made mistakes.
On one occasion I was driving the rear vehicle when I saw
the front vehicle start to swerve a little bit. We approached a
bend on the road and the front vehicle went through the hedge. It
did not stop until it crossed the bend and reached the road again.
It stopped there until the rear vehicle caught up. When the patrol
commander spoke to the driver and the crew none of them could
recall going through the hedge. None of the crew believed what had
happened until the patrol commander took them back to the scene of
the’ short cut’. Sheer tiredness caused this accident but
luckily no one was injured” S24.
night we were on a country mobile and finished off the night with a
VCP at Ringsend. I was doing Coverman in the hedge and when it was
time to go the patrol packed up and headed for Coleraine. It was
only when they reached Coleraine that someone noticed I was
missing. The patrol headed back to Ringsend to find me fast asleep
in the hedge! This incident highlights the extent to which we
pushed ourselves physically”. S Brownlow
night there were three of us in the rear Landrover. Usually there
were four soldiers in the vehicle. This included the driver and the
vehicle commander in the front and two riflemen in the back. I was
sitting in the back half dozing on my own and I heard someone say
VCP. That was my cue to leap out and act as stopper (the traffic
stopper) so that the VCP could be set up.
I thought the vehicle was preparing to stop so I leapt out.
The vehicle was travelling too fast and I rolled up the road. I
finished up sitting on the ground with the Bardic lamp between my
legs and my rifle was still slung on my back. I did not have a clue
where I was or what had happened Luckily I still had my 10p piece,
which everybody carried for an emergency. But I was unsure of the
area I was in and could not risk knocking on any doors to use their
I elected to hide behind a large tree at the roadside until
I got my act together. Luckily the Bardic lamp was still working
and I was able to retrieve my ammunition, magazine and beret. I
settled down behind the tree and recharged my magazine. There was a
stop sign at the end of the road I had landed on so I waited there.
Very soon the Landrovers came back, I waited until the
second vehicle drew up beside me. I jumped on board and scared the
life out of the two rear passengers. What had happened was the
vehicles had changed around so that the rear vehicle had the lead
and was able to retrace the ground where I most likely fell.
After that incident it was always said that you weren’t a
UDR soldier until you fell out of the back of a Landrover. In the
following years more people admitted that this was a common
occurrence. Many people became hypnotized by looking out of the
back of a Landrover at the road. Sometimes you were unable to tell
if the Vehicle had stopped moving. The constant supply of petrol
and diesel exhaust fumes that billowed into the back of the vehicle
also contributed to this condition” S24.
was once out on cordon duties with a bodybuilder. He was built like
a tree trunk with massive arms. There had been a shooting incident
in the area and we were part of the cordon. It was a rainy day so
for the first shift I took shelter in a doorway of a derelict house
to cover the man on the road.
We changed over our positions and he then took up his
position in the shelter of the doorway. It was hardly a minute
later that he came thundering out of the doorway and said that he
was OK and didn’t need a break. He never looked for a break that
night and kept looking back at the derelict house to where I had
We were then posted to another part of the cordon and I said
to him, ‘I’m glad to be away from that derelict house, it was
spooky’. ‘You better believe it’, he replied, ‘Did you see
the size of them spiders in there?’” S24.
was out one night when there was a gun battle taking place between
the Republican terrorists and an army unit. We did not have time to
get dressed properly for the patrol. The base guard had our
vehicles and equipment ready. All we had to do was sign for our
equipment and head out to the scene of the ongoing battle.
Our first task was to clear the immediate area to the north
and warn all householders to stay away from their windows and doors
until the battle was over. We were then tasked to do a foot patrol
on the edge of the battle area to ensure no one was trying to get
in or out of the immediate area.
I found myself alone in a field moving along a hedgerow
parallel to the road. Suddenly I felt hot breath going down my
back. Someone must have crept up on me. Here I was with my knees
turning to jelly in the middle of a gunfight, not knowing what was
about to happen. Just
as I was contemplating the worst the horse snorted and moved off”
night we were in a contact where our vehicle was shot at. As I was
the driver I was detailed as cover man for the Greenfinch. So when
the vehicles stopped I told her to stick close to me and move along
with me if I moved.
The Patrol Commander told me to put up an illuminating
rocket in order to illuminate the possible terrorist firing point.
These rockets always went off with a loud ‘wooshing’ noise.
Because I was driving I did not have to wear webbing so my jacket
was loose fitting. Anyway, after I set the rocket off the
Greenfinch had gone up my back with her head and shoulders buried
inside my jacket” S24.
Galore – Or Not
some years in South Derry I was transferred to the battalion HQ at
Ballykelly. It was there that I received a telephone call from the
RUC Station Sergeant in Dungiven. He had just received a complaint
from a local resident. It was alleged that one of our patrols had
stolen a bottle of whiskey belonging to her.
Reports of alleged theft by patrols were extremely rare and
I asked for more information. The story that was related to me that
day was strange by any standard.
was informed that a lady of mature years made a weekly visit to
Dungiven town to acquire her groceries. Each week she also
purchased a large bottle of whiskey. On this particular day there
was snow on the ground and in places the snow had drifted.
Returning home with two bags of groceries and a bottle of
whiskey turned out to be an arduous journey for the lady. Some
distance from her home she decided to lighten her load by hiding
the whiskey in a snowdrift.
After returning home and depositing her groceries the lady
retraced her steps to pick up the whiskey. A UDR vehicle checkpoint
was now operating near the location of the hidden whiskey. Not
wishing to approach the patrol, the lady waited until the patrol
moved off. She then made her way to the snowdrift but all she found
was a set of army boot prints in the snow and a hole in the snow
where the ‘firewater’ had been secreted. On finding that the
“bird had flown” she returned to Dungiven and reported her
dilemma to the police. A strange tale indeed.
The Battalion Operations Room always kept a detailed record
of all our VCP locations. These revealed that there indeed had been
a patrol at that location. The patrol was recalled to base and I
questioned them about the whiskey. It was to their credit that they
admitted to “finding” a bottle of whiskey. To them it seemed
‘A gift from the gods’ that would be reserved for the platoon
party. In that respect they were to be disappointed. The bottle was
returned to the lady in question with the suggestion that in future
the finder might not be honest enough to own up and recovery would
be unlikely” S4.
my time as Ops Officer in Magherafelt I had many experiences and
encounters with the RUC. As the Operations Officer I was there to
support the RUC in whatever they wanted done. I received a very
interesting phone call from Sidney Jackson who was the Assistant
Divisional Commander in Coleraine.
Sidney said to me, ‘We would like your help’. I said,
‘Well I will do whatever I can to help you.’ He then said,
‘There has been a lorry load of chickens hi-jacked in Swatragh.
We would like you to send some of your boys down there and try to
recover them’. In my ignorance I thought this was Moy Park frozen
chickens on their way to hotels in Portrush and Portstewart. So I
said to Sidney, ‘I’m afraid every deep freezer within three
square miles of the incident will be full of frozen chicken at this
There was a short pause and then he said, ‘I rather doubt
it. For these birds are still on the hoof’. As I later discovered
they were perched on the headstones of Granaghan Chapel graveyard.
said to Sidney, ‘I’m sorry. Chicken roundups are rather out of
the question’. But we still remained good friends” S4.
incident occurred about the same time in Swatragh when some yobs
hi-jacked a council bin lorry. They burned it out at the Hibernian
hall. The Ops officer in N Londonderry at that time was Terry
Patton. Terry loved to play soldiers and he thought that the burned
out bin lorry at the Hibernian hall would show the natives how
efficient he really was.
He persuaded the Commanding Officer of 5UDR to allow him to
conduct a clearance operation on the bin lorry. I was horrified at
this idea so I phoned the RUC Divisional Commander in Coleraine,
Reggie Spears. Reggie was quite a small man for an RUC officer; he
and I had common interests. I phoned Reggie and asked him if he
knew about the bin lorry incident and told him about Terry’s
As soon as he realised this meant closing off the main road
between Swatragh and Garvagh, Swatragh and Maghera and rerouting
all traffic through Kilrea for two days his language became
unprintable and he asked me what was the best alternative.
advised him to get in touch with the council and ask them to remove
the burned out shell. ‘Leave it with me’, he said.
In the meantime Terry arrived and demanded a helicopter to
do an air recce of the bin lorry. I persuaded him to have a cup of
tea and to settle down before the air recce. Eventually Terry set
off and the Operations Room went into quite a flap when Major
Patton came on to say that the lorry he planned to play with had
He came back and said, ‘That beats all, the lorry’s
away’. I said, ‘Has somebody driven it off?’ There was
nothing there but the scorch marks. ‘Don’t be silly’, he
said, ‘Somebody must have moved it’. ‘Well’, I said,
‘That seems to have ended the clearance operation almost before
it started’. Of course he never knew that I had arranged for its
patrol was involved in a terrorist incident where we had to return
twenty-seven rounds in our defence before we suppressed the
terrorist fire. This was close to a South Londonderry village. As
soon as the situation was resolved the patrol continued.
When the patrol returned to Garvagh RUC station that morning
all our weapons were taken from us by the Military Police SIB and
then ‘tagged and bagged’. I asked the officer what they were
doing and he said that because we returned fire there was a
possibility that someone was injured or killed. If anyone had been
killed in the incident the patrol would be charged with murder so
it was his job to start collecting the evidence. They intended
identifying who had fired the fatal rounds or any rounds fired that
That was as close as I ever got to trauma counselling after
being the victim of a terrorist ambush. The priority in any
incident was never focused on the welfare of the patrol members”
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