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Chapter 21 – Extra Curricular

 

All duties carried out by UDR units were based on the number of soldiers available within that unit. Extra curricular activities such as charity work, shooting teams and band parades were done in the individual soldier’s own time. Operational and training duties always came first and had to be completed by every individual. Even so, E Company took part in many events that promoted the image of the UDR as a professional force.

 

The Regimental Drum Major

“In 1974 HQNI staff applied some forward thinking and decided that the Regiment would form a Regimental Band of Pipers and Drummers. A couple of soldiers from my section decided to join the Battalion Band, which was established in the camp at Maghera RUC Station.

   Before I joined the UDR I had been a Drum Major with a civilian band. I must have impressed the right people because I was asked to fill the new post of Battalion Drum Major, which in all innocence I accepted.

   This post increased my commitments because at that time the job of Drum Major was in addition to my duty of running an operational platoon. The Regimental Band duties were mostly at weekends. The 5th Battalion Pipes and Drums took part in weekend competitions organised by the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association throughout every summer. Eventually the band became World Champions and was the only Regimental Pipes and Drums to make an audio recording during the lifetime of the Regiment.

   I viewed the Pipes and Drums as a Public Relations boost for the Regiment in those early days. While I was still fulfilling my operational commitments as a part-time Platoon Commander I was promoted to Regimental Drum Major. The band not only took part in many prestigious events but also smaller village fetes when the Battalion attended Annual Camp. The major events included the Service of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall and Beating the Retreat on Horse Guards Parade in London in front of the Queen Mother.

   I can look back with fond memories of my time as Drum Major and I am very proud of all the people who served with me, particularly the members of the Pipes and Drums” S34.

 

The Shooting Team

“I was a student at college most of the time in the mid 70s so I was only able to do duties at weekends or during school breaks. I joined the Battalion Shooting Team and I also started doing all the Army Personal advancement courses including First Aid, Map Reading and a Junior NCOs Cadre. I was in charge of the Battalion Shooting Team, which was really a part-timer’s job. The full-time soldier was not available for the continuous training that was required to be a top class competition shot. Along with my civilian job as a lecturer I was also the Shooting Team leader and fulfilled my operational duties. If it were not for the part-time soldiers, 5UDR would not have had a shooting team.

   We entered the Bisley Army competition on many occasions. One year we decided to try for the Sniper Cup. That took a bit of organising because the UDR were not allocated the sniper rifle. We won the close range and the long-range sniper competition for three years in a row” S18.

 

The Nijmegen March 1978

The Nijmegen March was established in the year 1909. Originally, its purpose was to increase the long distance marching and weight-carrying ability of the Dutch infantry soldiers. With the passage of time the march has developed into a prestigious international annual non-competitive event.

It is a four-day march where the participants are expected to cover 30 miles each day. The route takes each team of entrants through the towns and villages surrounding Nijmegen. The event has about 40,000 entrants from all over the world. Before, during and after the march Nijmegen town always hosts a huge festival.

   In the past the event organisers have invited WWII allied veterans to help celebrate their participation in the liberation of the Netherlands from German occupation. As part of that liberation the Coleraine Battery were posted to the defence of the Nijmegen Bridge in 1944.

 

Photo. Battery Files Nijmegen Bridge

 

John Trussler recalls, “In November 1977 the Company Commander of E Coy and myself had an interview with the Commanding Officer 5th Battalion. We wanted to enter a team for the 1978 Nijmegen March. The Commanding Officer gave his approval with the proviso that neither the event nor the training would interfere with our operational duties.

   The OC and myself established a team comprising of 10 volunteers from each Part-Time Platoon. Training commenced in November 1977. The training started with small walks around Coleraine town on Monday and Thursday nights and at weekends we walked to Ballywillan and back. As our fitness developed we walked a route that took us to Garvagh, Portstewart and back to camp. Later on our route covered Bushmills, Portballantrae, Portrush, Portstewart and back to camp. We hill walked the Antrim Hills and the Mourne Mountains. By the end of March 1978 our feet were hardened and we became leaner and fitter than elite athletes; we were all fitter than required for the Nijmegen March.

   On these training exercises Sergeant Gordon Taylor and his helper came behind us in a Land Rover as protection, to provide the tea as necessary and pick up any casualties.

   As well as training for the march, the volunteers had their other operational and training duties to fulfil in their respective platoons.

   The local business community gave the training team a lot of support. One shirt factory in the town designed and supplied the team shirts at no cost. Another business gave the team a donation, as we had to pay for our travel and food.

   The team left N. Ireland in late June for Nijmegen. When we arrived we were well cared for.  The accommodation was a large Marquee in a large wooded area just outside Nijmegen. One of the officers had been detailed as the bicycle orderly. It was his job to cycle ahead of us on the march and ensure that everything was ready for our arrival. That included our first aid and cups of tea. This was the same routine for all teams. The bicycle orderly would rotate through the team. Anyone wanting a rest from walking could cycle along and the orderly took his place in the teams.

    Our main problem was the fact that we did not have a bicycle. We tried shopping around but the town was sold out. The team leaders decided to retire to the nearest bar and hold a crisis meeting on the subject. The landlord listened to our plight and his wife offered the loan of her bicycle for the four days. After a celebration meal and a few drinks, we returned to the camp with our bicycle.

   The first day of the march we were up early for breakfast and then reported for the march. The weather was fine and sunny. On return to our tent Sergeant Taylor had our warm footbaths ready, which was welcome. Day two was just as arduous; our back up was a great support. Sergeant Taylor did an excellent job of looking after us while we were out on the march. It was also his job to sort out our beds, and tidy up the camp area after we left.

   Day three started off fine but after the first twelve miles it started to rain quite heavily. We unrolled our Ponchos (ground-sheets) and carried on marching. This was all to the amusement of the other teams. They thought we were all mad dogs and Englishmen out in the midday rain.

   On the final day after completing the march, we had to change into our best marching order for the March Past in Nijmegen town. Sergeant Taylor was there on hand to make sure this went smoothly. The OC led us on the March Past. We felt proud of our achievement. That evening we returned the bicycle to the Landlord’s wife and presented her with a 5UDR plaque as a ‘Thank You’ gift.

   On our return to N. Ireland we were given a great reception. Not only had we been presented with individual medals, we were presented with a team medal for completing the march. The Commanding Officer 5UDR congratulated us for a job well done”.

 

Marathon Man – Coleraine to Nepal

“After leaving the Operational Platoon in Coleraine I transferred to the Intelligence Section (Int Sec) at Battalion HQ. That made me very lazy and within one year I was paraded in front of the Officer Commanding, Terry Patton, for failing my Basic Fitness Test (BFT). He left me in no doubt that my army career depended on me passing the BFT retest within the next month.

 

I started some serious training that day and soon passed my BFT. Within a couple of months I had trained myself to a higher standard than the BFT demanded. I eventually went on to become the Combined Services Champion Marathon Runner.

   One year the Battalion sponsored me to enter an international event, the Nepal Marathon, as the British Army representative. The sponsorship helped to pay for my food, accommodation, travel and clothing. All competitors were required to do acclimatisation training before going to Nepal and I completed my training in Kenya. That training paid off because I achieved sixth place in the Nepal marathon.

   After that I stopped competition running and became responsible for training the Battalion Cross Country Team. Our best result was in 1988 when the Battalion Team was placed third in the Army half marathon event” (S61).

 

The Cambrian March

In 1979 the UDR had been in existence for nearly 10 years during which time it had become the largest infantry regiment in the British Army. With almost a decade of continuous operational duties the Regiment was building a good reputation and gaining the respect of other Regiments with whom it served in the Northern Ireland arena.

 

“E Company had been selected to represent the 5th (Co. Londonderry) Battalion in the Cambrian March Competition, which was held each year in Wales. Having trained hard for three months our team went to Wales and came away with a great result, which further enhanced the reputation of the Regiment. It was also a personal achievement for each of our team members to have competed against the best of the NATO forces including the Parachute Regiment and to have finished in fifth place overall.

   The Cambrian March is the toughest test of infantry skills to be found in the NATO calendar. It is marched over 40 Km by patrol teams carrying full equipment and weapons. In addition to the march the patrol teams are faced with unexpected tests of military skills.” Visor Magazine 28 Sept 1979 – Edition 287.

 

The Programme

Day 1 started with a night navigation exercise, followed by a communications test and a patrol ambush. The day ended with a tactical river crossing and a night shoot.

   Day 2 commenced with a 12Km speed march along rough tracks through the Brecon Beacons and included a first aid test on arrival at a serious incident with multiple casualties, a race against time paddling a metal assault boat along the Brecon Canal, and a search operation. The day concluded with a falling plate shooting competition.

   E Company, 5UDR took fifth place of 18 and it was a great source of pride that the Ulstermen had carried off top marks in the falling plate shoot and were only beaten into second place on the night shoot.

 

The Visor magazine went on,

“With the knowledge they have gained on the 1979 Cambrian March the UDR will be better prepared to win the competition and Headquarters Wales have been warned of a UDR take-over within the next few years. With training and experience the Cambrian March is a competition ideally suited to the Ulster Defence Regiment.”

 

   My favourite memory of the competition was the way our team performed in the falling plate shoot, taking first place. On arrival at the range we were briefed that our patrol would be split into a rifle group and a gun group. The gun group on the Light Machine Gun (LMG) were to engage their own targets and the rifle team could not engage their targets until the gun group had put down their plates.

    On the Range Officer’s command the gun group ran forward to the 300 metre firing point, got down and after a few bursts of the gun their plates were all down which was the signal for us to run to the 200 metre firing point where we engaged our own targets.

We had been issued with five rounds each and had two plates each to knock down. I have never seen plates fall as quickly as they went down that day – not even in training. But on the day the adrenalin was pumping and our “eye was in”.

   What a performance – we had the fastest time and we handed back more live ammunition than any other team. First place against the best in NATO, a result we were very proud of.

   Our team was made up of full-time and part-time UDR soldiers. To this day it is still a source of pride that we had trained well enough not only to compete with the best but to achieve the best results” S77.  

 

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