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Chapter 7 – Establishing E Company 5th (Co Londonderry) Battalion, The Ulster Defence Regiment

 

 

Prelude to Terrorism

 

There were two phases of civil dissent preceding the 1970–2005 Loyalist and Republican terrorist campaigns. The first phase involved a short-lived civil rights campaign. This was followed by a series of left-wing confrontations and then the terrorist campaign started.

   The first phase can be traced back to 1962, just after the failure of the last IRA murder and sabotage campaign known as Operation Harvest (1956–1962). The IRA leadership reappraised their strategy and moved from murder and sabotage campaigns to political action. This led to elements of the IRA attending a planning conference in August 1966, which then led to the formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) on 9 Apri1967.

   Those attending that first conference included Cathal Goulding, who was the Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), (Coogan, p 482), several protest group leaders and various politicians. The IRA as an organisation was dormant at this time but there were Republicans involved who believed that the non-sectarian civil rights movement could be used to ‘subvert Unionist power in Northern Ireland’ (Smith, p81).

   In order to influence civil and human rights reforms in Northern Ireland the NICRA adopted the non-confrontational methods used by Dr Martin Luther King Jr in the USA during the early 60s. Both Protestants and to a greater degree Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland had genuine grievances and both communities stood to benefit from any such reforms.

   The first protest march in August 1968 was a peaceful event. It contained a good cross section of Northern society with university students, Roman Catholics, Protestants, left-wing militants and IRA activists all enjoying the day out. By August 1968, the peaceful protests and the singing of ‘We Shall Overcome’ were antagonizing more and more Protestants. Many viewed the song as threatening rather than a Roman Catholic desire to overcome institutionalised discrimination. Paisleyite and Unionist groups started to organise counter demonstrations. This in turn led to the banning of many protest marches and an increase in sectarian conflict.           

   By October 1968 the second phase of the descent into terrorism started. The objectives, composition and the approach of the NICRA protests started to change. The non-sectarian ethos disappeared and the protests became more provocative. This new radical approach appeared to be more influenced by the French student riots of the 60s than the Dr Martin Luther King Jr protests. Within the next two years many of the reforms such as the disarming of the RUC were lost when sectarian violence undermined the civil rights campaign to a degree where civil rights and Irish nationalism united.

   The civil rights demands then became nothing more than a smokescreen behind which left-wing activists and Republicans pursued the destruction of the state of Northern Ireland through confrontation. This confrontational approach would evolve over the next thirty years into the Adams Republican ‘cutting edge’ philosophy (O’Doherty, p98). Confrontations and terrorist attacks were used to promote Republican propaganda and to remind the world ‘that there is an unresolved problem to be dealt with’ in Ireland.

   During these early protests the policing problems were compounded by Unionist politicians who ignored the opinions of senior RUC officers (Doherty, p76) Political interference constantly forced the RUC, the Ulster Special Constabulary and the army on some occasions to confront the sustained and coordinated civil disobedience campaign with inappropriate and repressive tactics. This destructive Unionist interference continued until Direct Rule was implemented in 1972.

   Then on New Years Day 1969, the left wing students group called People’s Democracy (PD) organized their infamous march from Belfast to Londonderry via Burntollet Bridge. This march proved to be as contentious as the  ‘Love Ulster’ parade planned for Dublin in 2006. The belligerence of the ‘marchers’ was apparent from the beginning, as many were later found guilty of assault when they kicked their RUC escort party to the ground and trespassed onto the Overend Farm in Bellaghy. The RUC are often accused of failing to protect the ‘marchers’ at Burntollet but the Bellaghy assault proved that they were under strength and incapable of dealing with serious incidents.

   As expected the 1969 coat trailing affront through many Protestant areas with tricolours flying created many bloody confrontations. During the follow-up riots in Londonderry city several phone calls went out from the left wing agitators requesting supporters to start similar confrontations throughout the province. (Wallace, 1969). This tactic was designed to stretch the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) beyond their capacity to cope. The tactic worked and in August 1969 troops were sent to Northern Ireland to support the exhausted RUC. The stage was now set for the third phase, the 1970–2005 terrorist campaign.

   The Provisional IRA formally established itself on 11 January 1970 (Smith, p83). This was followed in July the same year by the inaugural meeting of the Woodvale Defence Association (Wood, p1). Many other Loyalist organisations went on to raise similar defence units throughout Northern Ireland.

   The murder of Northern Ireland citizens by these self appointed guardians escalated in 1971 and by the year 2001 the Republican terrorists had murdered 863 Protestants and 408 Roman Catholics. The Loyalist terrorists murdered 197 Protestants and 704 Roman Catholics (wesleyjohnston.com. 2007). Compared to the Republican terrorists, the Loyalist terrorists had a relatively minor role in the murdering of the real guardians of the Northern Ireland community. To their tally they added the lives of three UDR soldiers as well as the first and the last policemen to be killed in the current murder campaign, Constables Arbuckle and O’Reilly.

 

Perfidy

 

The major deceit exercised by the Republican and Loyalist terrorists was that of perfidy. That act is defined as wrongful deception or as the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it, a deliberate “breach of faith, treachery”. For all the security forces of Northern Ireland, perfidy was the major problem. Under Article 37 of the Geneva Convention the act of feigning civilian, non-combatant status is prohibited.

   The ‘Heroes of Ulster’ and ‘Irish Freedom Fighters’ declared war and always broke the Geneva Convention by not dressing in the soldiers uniform. Take the typical example of the midnight murders of Constables Armstrong and McLean on 11th April 1987 in Portrush. On that date two Republican terrorists exercised their murderous skills on the RUC for the 240th time by firing handguns into the backs of the Constables heads.

   All the terrorists fought a dirty war that did not require direct confrontation or holding the ground for extended periods. The attacks made on E Company in County Londonderry included the murder of off duty soldiers in front of their families that sometimes included the murder of their children, Loyalist infiltration of base locations, the use of car bombs, roadside and culvert bombs as well as ‘shoot and scoot’ attacks against the back of vehicle patrols and foot patrols.

   Despite the blatant disregard for international rules of warfare the Republican and Loyalist terrorists caught and convicted were always claiming that they were not ordinary criminals but political prisoners or even prisoners of war.

 

Recruiting for the Ulster Defence Regiment

 

In November 1969, one month after Major George Lapsley had retired from the Coleraine Battery (Territorial Army) as Battery Commander an army officer friend from England wrote to him asking him to join a new army unit being formed in Northern Ireland to replace the B Specials. It was to be called the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

   George travelled over 900 miles within the next four months recruiting all over the Province. On one occasion he swore in a group of volunteers from the Bogside, all Roman Catholics. Let there be no doubt that even in those dark times there were many brave people in Republican and Loyalist terrorist controlled areas prepared to serve their community until they were either murdered or intimidated out. Take for example the Royal Enniskilling Fusilier veteran Bobby Boyd. He originally came from the Creggan and joined the Regiment in those early days. He was still serving in 5 UDR when Republican gunmen murdered him at his front door in 1985.

 

The Role of the Ulster Defence Regiment

 

On the last day of March 1970 the B Specials were stood down and replaced by the Ulster Defence Regiment. The mendacious tactics used by nationalist politicians to denigrate the B Specials were then applied relentlessly on the UDR for the next three decades.

   The UDR was known as the largest infantry regiment in the British Army but it also met all the criteria of a militia. It was a locally raised unit of volunteers who were tasked to defend their immediate area and population from internal dissent. It contained part-time, full-time, male and female volunteers who resolutely faced terrorism for the benefit of the whole community of Northern Ireland for the next three decades.

   The initial role of the Regiment was defined in the Battalion Standing Operational Procedures (SOPs) as, “to support the Regular Forces in Northern Ireland, should circumstances so require, in protecting The Border and The State against armed attack and sabotage”.

 

The method of fulfilling that role was always restricted to:

 

Regimental Structure

 

Just like the Militias raised one hundred years before, each Battalion of the UDR was responsible for a specific area of the Province with at least one Battalion in each county. The Battalion was sub-divided into a Battalion Headquarters base and a number of Companies of 100 men. Each were spread throughout the Battalion area with their own base locations.

   For the first year of the establishment Lieutenant Colonel Davidson, an ex-B Specials veteran, commanded 5 UDR.  After that, the command structure of 5 UDR was always similar to that used in many Colonial defence forces. Posting a locally born officer to a role senior to that of Company Commander did not happen too often. Some talented officers did receive figurehead postings as Colonels or else were given Staff Officers jobs at Regimental Headquarters or Brigade HQ for a few years before retiring.

   With rare exceptions, the Battalion was always under the Command of a Regular Army Commanding Officer (CO). The Battalion Second-In-Command was usually the most senior part-time officer and this prevailed until 1991 when the post was designated to a Regular officer, usually the Training Major. The Quartermasters Department were normally under the command of a Regular Army Officer. The Senior Non Commissioned Officer (SNCO) posts of Communications, Chief Clerk, Intelligence Cell, Armourer and the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) were always filled by the Regular Army personnel on a two-year posting.

 

“This was always a prime area for successful working relationships or otherwise depending on how Officers and SNCOs got on with the various Commanding Officers and other ‘blow ins’ and vice versa.

    Usually we were fortunate to have career minded and highly motivated Commanding Officers, Training Majors (TISOs), Quartermasters (QMs) and RSMs over the years who introduced new and better operational procedures and higher training standards while there were a few who managed to make little impact on our war with the terrorists.

   Some of the Commanding Officers tried to ‘reinvent the wheel’ and there were times when the Company commanders and the Battalion Second-in-Command had to use their influence to ensure ‘new’ tactics worked. Lt. Cpl. Hugh Tarver was one of the few Commanding Officers who went out on patrol with the part-time soldiers at night. He usually sat in the back of a Landrover and joined in any task allocated by the Patrol Commander. There were many occasions when he stayed out on patrol until 4am and was at his desk in Battalion Headquarters again at 8.30am” (Hamill, 2007).

 

 

Photo 16  Lt Col Hugh Tarver

 

 

   There are two possible reasons for the limited career prospects of the local officers. The first could be labelled ‘The Application of The O’Neill Principle’. Before the Plantation it proved detrimental for the English to train and promote the native born Hugh O’Neill to a position where he was able to compromise the political and operational control of the native militias in 1590. Second, there were no individuals from Co. Londonderry with the necessary credentials or commitment to fill the more senior posts.

 

Base Locations

 

   The 5th (Co Londonderry) Battalion of the UDR had a HQ base in Ebrington Barracks, Londonderry City. The Battalion was made up eventually of seven companies. Two of the companies were located in Londonderry city. These were, A Company on the West Bank, B Company in the Waterside, C Company at Claudy, D Company at Shackleton Barracks in Ballykelly, E Company at Laurel Hill House, Coleraine, F Company in Magherafelt and G Company in Maghera. These companies opened, moved or closed down on the whim of the ever-evolving recruiting figures and operational requirements.

   From its inception the Regiment required full-time soldiers for administration duties and to guard the Battalion and Company HQ bases throughout the day. The full-time soldiers were called Conrate, referring to the fact that they were paid consolidated rates of pay, a similar pay scale used for the Permanent Staff soldiers employed in the TA Centres (Potter, p39). After 1977 the Conrate were referred to as Permanent Cadre (PC).

   The part-time element did not operate until after normal industrial and commercial working hours and the week ends. The UDR, although part of the Regular Army, was classed as a Home Service Regiment and all other army units posted over to Northern Ireland were known as Regular units and were staffed and manned by Regular officers and soldiers.

 

Formation of E Company 5 UDR

 

 

Photo 17 Major George Lapsley 

 

After the initial recruiting phase George Lapsley was given the task of forming the company to be based at Coleraine. One of the officers sent over from England to form the Regiment was Brigadier Logan Scott – Bowden, Commander UDR. Staff from Headquarters Northern Ireland (HQNI), Lisburn, conducted the actual vetting and recruiting. The HQNI staff were responsible for losing many good recruits particularly in the Coleraine area. Take for example, the Sub-District Commandant of the Aghadowey B Specials.  Although he was a bit old, he had the command and respect of all the men in the Aghadowey area. He was informed that he was too old and would be unable to ‘hack it’. But the recruiter was talking indirectly to all the B men and they all thought that if the government didn’t want their Commandant they would not get any of them.

   Another ex-B Special Commandant, Jimmy Simpson, managed to get into the Company despite his age. That was why Coleraine had so many B men in the Company in those early years.

 

Photo18 Jimmy Simpson

 

 

In the initial stages of forming the Coleraine Company just over forty men were recruited. One of the first problems facing the new company was the fact that there was no armoury in Coleraine. The nearest armoury was located in Ballymoney at the North Irish Horse base in John Street, which by then had become B Company 1 UDR. Because of this the Coleraine volunteers had to travel to Ballymoney to report for duty.

 The Part-Time and Full-Time soldiers of E Company were drawn from every walk of life. They included, architects and accountants, company directors and plumbers, labourers, bank staff and the occasional undercover operative from the various intelligence units. Sometimes bosses as private soldiers were under the command of their staff who were Corporals or Sergeants. There were volunteers from both the Roman Catholic community and the Protestant community, some had King Billy tattoos and others had Tricolour tattoos. Despite the convolutions in civilian status, religious conviction, political orientation, ethnic origin and army rank the company merged into a cohesive working unit and carried out their duties in an impartial manner.

 

Company Structure

 

Each company contained a Company HQ with a Major in command and a staff consisting of a civilian Pay Clerk, an Administration Warrant Officer (AWO), a Permanent Staff Instructor (PSI, usually a Colour Sergeant), a Company Sergeant Major (CSM), a Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS), a Guard Commander (Sergeant) and a Base Guard of ten soldiers, a civilian storeman and a Motor Transport Corporal in charge of maintenance.

   The main body of soldiers were in the three platoons of 28 men each with an officer (Platoon Commander) and a sergeant (Platoon Sergeant) in overall command. The platoons were sub-divided into three sections of at least eight men each with a Corporal and a Lance Corporal in command. For patrol operations the sections were split into two teams (or ‘Bricks’) of four. Women were recruited into the UDR in 1973 and these female soldiers were usually attached to the platoons or staffed the company Operations Room.

   E Company contained four Part-Time platoons and generally speaking, each platoon drew its members from specific areas of Coleraine town as outlined in Table 1.

   The majority of 21 Platoon were volunteers from the Portrush and Portstewart (The Ports) and the Windyhall areas. Volunteers from the east side of the Bann manned 22 Platoon and 23 Platoon was known as The Heights Platoon. Garvagh and the surrounding areas was the main source for the platoon located in Garvagh RUC station, 24 Platoon.

   Twenty-three and 24 Platoons were usually tasked to work together when required and the other two platoons also operated together when required.

 

Table 1 Company Structure

 

Regimental HQ Lisburn

5th Battalion HQ (Londonderry)

‘E’ Company HQ (Coleraine)

21 Platoon

The Ports

22 Platoon

East Bann

23 Platoon

West Bann

24 Platoon

Garvagh

No1 Section

No2 Section

No3 Section

No1 Section

No2 Section

No3 Section

No1 Section

No2 Section

No3 Section

No1 Section

No2 Section

No3 Section

 

Dress and Equipment

 

“Everything seemed strange at the beginning; being sworn in, being issued with your kit (which usually didn’t fit) and learning what to do with various items of kit, such as the poncho, puttees and webbing, not to mention those terrible looking berets! Finally, being issued with a .303 rifle and ammunition, which you took home with you when off duty because we didn’t have an armoury in those days. The rifle, ammunition and the rifle bolts were all hidden in different places in your home until you were going back on duty” S Brownlow.

 

Catering

 

“When we reported for duty we travelled with our uniforms and weapons and usually carried a small pack with a flask of tea or coffee and sandwiches or bread and jam. Sometimes we shared with men who had no personal rations with them and sometimes we were lucky to have rations issued from Battalion Headquarters via the Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS).

   I recall watery stew was often on the menu and by the time it reached us it was invariably cold but we usually ate it along with dry bread. This was followed by rice pudding and jam washed down with a mug of sweet tea. Conditions were primitive in the extreme during the first couple of years but improved greatly in later years as the standards rose.

   It was always very good to go on joint operations with the troops stationed at Kilrea or Londonderry as not only did we contribute to the tasks but also we enjoyed ‘egg banjos’ and other tasty snacks after patrols” (Hamill, 2007).

 

Ballymoney Company Transfers

 

“I was one of the 50 or so men who transferred from B Company of the 1st (Co Antrim) Battalion based in Ballymoney to the 5th (Co Londonderry) Battalion in late 1970. The aim was to form a new Company based initially at Macosquin, a few miles outside Coleraine. As we had already been deployed on operations in County Antrim and Belfast, we were keen to get on with the tasks in our new operational area, which included Londonderry City and County.

   This was an important change, as we believed the Londonderry border with County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland would become part of our new territory and so it was to be.

We also wanted to get to know our new Battalion, which had its Headquarters in Londonderry at the former naval base, HMS Sea Eagle at Ebrington Barracks (1840)” (Hamill, 2007).

 

The Macosquin Base

 

“Eventually common sense prevailed and in 1971 the Company was relocated at the former B Specials’ Drill Hall of the Englishtown Platoon in Macosquin. This had been purpose built in 1966/67. It had a reinforced roof and there was a .22 range at one end of the hall.

   It was very bare and spartan and totally different from the facilities and organisation we had become familiar with in Ballymoney. There were no offices, stores, armoury, sangars or guardroom, just a few chairs in an empty building with a five-barred gate outside at the entrance, and so we quickly got on with the job of making this building our new Company Headquarters.

   This was pioneering soldiering at its best and we all felt determined to work well with our new Company Commander, Major George Lapsley who quickly recognised our strengths and weaknesses, the old and bold, and the experienced, dedicated soldiers who were keen to make their mark.

   Initially, I suspect the locals in Macosquin were somewhat intrigued and bemused at the Army’s comings and goings in their sleepy village community but soon accepted our presence. It was to become a very busy place as the pace of our operations increased and various essential improvement works were carried out. Before long we had a suite of Portacabins for offices and the base became more military like and fit for purpose”(Hamill, 2007).

 

Company Duties

 

The duties and operational tasking were planned at Battalion HQ. After that the OC E Company was expected to task his men to cover these duties. A couple of weeks before the start of a new month he would sit down in front of his table and read out the duties to the four platoon sergeants. They had the loyalty of the men in their platoons. The OC would say, “Red 2, next Monday night”. That was a duty requiring twelve men. One of the Platoon Commanders would put their hand up. Next the OC would call out for the Power station, the Telephone exchange and other places that were under threat. Hands would go up for each duty. Then the Platoon Sergeants would go and detail off the men to cover that particular duty.

   Eventually the Company strength was large enough to parade a Company Headquarters, four full platoons and a Base Guard. At that stage a coded duty sheet was issued to every man in the Company so that they knew when to parade for duty. The company was able to carry out duties on every night of the week as well as the weekends.

 

“The first operational tasks we had at Macosquin were foot patrols in the Macosquin area. We had no transport to move us around so we carried out Lurk patrols. That was a tactic where we would go out on foot patrol and stay hidden in the hedgerow, stopping the occasional car, just as we had done in the ‘B’ Specials. Many months later we did get our own vehicles. Prior to that we had to borrow our transport from other army units when we wanted to expand our patrol base. Usually we managed to borrow two soft-top Landrovers and a 4-ton truck. Thanks to the generosity of all the local Army units.” S11.

 

“The company was also responsible for guarding the Bushtown electricity sub-station and other static key installations in the immediate area. After Bloody Sunday when the terrorism escalated we also went on to guard RUC stations, including Kilrea RUC station. In later years we carried out guard duties at places further afield including Coolkeeragh power station near Londonderry city” S11.

 

Pay Days

 

The Company was at Macosquin for one year before moving to Laurel Hill House in Coleraine. On one occasion at Macosquin the Army had run out of ready cash and was unable to send us our weekly pay. George Lapsley went and explained the problem to a local businessman. The man trusted George implicitly and allowed him to draw £400 from his safe. The next day the Commanding Officer of the Battalion went out of his way to visit the businessman and thank him because he could not believe that he had allowed George to go into his safe and help himself.

 

The Company Sergeant-Major

 

While the Company was at Macosquin it was growing in strength and needed a good Company Sergeant Major (CSM). A Company can’t function efficiently without the guiding hand of an experienced CSM.

 

Photo  19  Sergeant Major John Kerr MBE MM 

 

Sergeant Major John Kerr MBE MM

 

 

The OC first met John when he went to Garvagh to seek his help in forming the new E Company. He had heard from various sources about John’s military career and other work John had done in the past. After talking to him for a couple of minutes the Officer Commanding knew that he was the man for that challenging task. John Kerr was one of the finest men you would ever meet. He had a presence and men under his gaze knew to obey instantly. But in their hearts they all knew they had a dependable friend as well.

   At that time John worked for TBF Thompson in Garvagh. When TBF learned that John was about to depart he immediately offered him an inducement of £20 a week.  That was a very substantial pay rise in the early 1970s. But John had given his word and, in truth, he was looking forward to a return to army life.

   In the Sergeant’s mess men would listen enthralled as he talked about his experiences on the Anzio landings in 1944. On one occasion he was nearly shot by the German officer who captured him. John rebuked a young sergeant for expressing a ‘Gung Ho’ attitude towards dealing with terrorists. John looked the unfortunate Sergeant in the eyes and asked, “Have you ever killed anyone? It’s not a nice experience you know”. He continued, “One particular day at Anzio I was bayonet charging across a farm yard and the Germans counter charged us. I pulled the trigger on my rifle and a young German soldier fell to his knees in front of me. He was about the same age as me, 18 years old. He looked at me and he knew he was dying. I knew he was dying. I ran on and we won that day”.

   That story appears in Fitzgerald’s (1949) ‘History of the Irish Guards in the Second World War’. The book outlines the last battle of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards at Carroceto on 6 Feb 1944. Page 308 describes why John was awarded the Military Medal:

 

“Guardsman English, a Bren gunner and Guardsman Kerr, like terriers after rats, shot and bayoneted their way through every stable and up into the lofts”.

 

What this version failed to convey was the haunted look on John Kerr’s face as he told his story to a very chastened young Sergeant.

   Many of the senior officers who visited Laurel Hill were surprised to meet the man who had trained them years before at the Officer Training School, Warminster.

John only had one week’s holiday a year; he always went to Annual camp. That was the time when John and his Merry Band: Albert, Hugh and Kitty would enjoy life in relative safety, sometimes commandeering the Company Commander’s vehicle as their taxi. His ashes now rest in Coleraine Cemetery and you can be sure he often looks across the river Bann towards Laurel Hill.

 

 

 

Photo 20 Albert McAfee                           Photo 21 Hugh McQuilken                                        Photo 22 Kitty McConachy

 

 

 

Laurel Hill House

 

It was not until 1972 that the Coleraine Company was based in Coleraine town. Up until that time George Lapsley was second in command of the 5th Battalion (Co. Londonderry) UDR. He requested and was granted the post of Company Commander E Company (Coleraine) and was then addressed as the OC E Company.

   As the OC E Company George Lapsley was not happy with the former USC Drill Hall in Macosquin. He spent a lot of his limited time travelling around the Coleraine area looking for a suitable base location for his Company. He eventually met Mr Noel Henry who bewailed the fact that his planning permission to use Laurel Hill House as a hotel had been turned down. The agreed price between George and Noel was £24,000.  

Laurel Hill House

   The Army Property Services department were suspicious as to how George could get the property for such a low price. They did not have to wait long to find out. Because of a combination of wet and dry rot it took over £100,000 to repair the house and then more to convert it for the Company’s use.

   Laurel Hill House is located on the high ground to the west of the town. It overlooks the River Bann and was an imposing gentleman’s residence with extensive grounds. The Kyle family inhabited the house since 1711; hence the road outside the estate was named Kyle’s Brae. The last Kyle to own it was Henry, the son of Rev Arthur Kyle, the minister of First Coleraine Presbyterian Church from 1761 to 1808. Henry died in 1878.

   During WW2 Laurel Hill House accommodated elements of the American army. Recent renovations unearthed a detailed map of Europe on the wall of the former Sergeants’ Mess. This drawing outlined the progress of the Allied Forces in Europe during WWII. The map has been carefully preserved.

The Pink Lady

 

The house was supposed to be haunted by the ghost of the ‘Pink Lady’ and several brave souls swore they saw her in the early morning hours. But that was usually after some social occasion. On one occasion the company mascot, a Great Dane called Swain, was taken into the house but as soon as it reached the bottom of the stairs, its hackles went up and it refused to climb the stairs. That story only embellished the legend. There were some soldiers on guard duty from time to time that refused to enter the house after midnight!

 

The Renovations

 

The house and grounds required much renovation to convert to a Rifle Company base and during the initial months while the necessary work was underway the company had to make do with quite a few hardships in accommodation and facilities but it was much better than Macosquin.

   The accommodation was not custom built but it was made very accommodating and comfortable. In the outbuildings the Round Tower became the Guard Room and Armoury while the adjacent shed and yard space was ideal for the Motor Transport (MT) Section where the MT Lance Corporal soon established his workshop and office. The cow byres beside the MT were cleared out and transformed into a 25-metre mini-range.

 

 

Photo 23 The Guard Room

 

 

 

   In the main house the first floor contained the Warrant Officers and Sergeant’s Mess, a lecture room, the Company Sergeant Major’s office, Company stores and the Training office for the Permanent Staff Instructors.

   Upstairs there was space for the Junior Ranks’ Bar and the Officers’ Mess and the Pay Clerks office while the Company Commander’s office looked out over Sandleford Bridge. The original Company Operations Room was also on the first floor.

   Various other improvements were carried out on a number of occasions to improve the gate sangars and perimeter fence including building a Pipe Range where the tennis court had once been. A snooker room was established below the Guardroom and this was put to good use on many occasions.

 

“The Junior Ranks Bar was open about three nights every week and after a training day. It was a great place to relax and have a drink without having to worry about your personal security. Unlike public bars, there was discipline built in and no fights or serious confrontations ever took place.

   To liven the nights up our platoon commander organised a live band. There was Jimmy McCluney on the accordion and Scrapper O’Neill on the drums along with the four of us who were in a local band. The craic was always good, particularly on a Thursday night. That was the Company night when the whole of the administration block was open for training, stores issues and exchanges, administration and discipline. After the administration was sorted everyone retired to the bar and relaxed” S20.

 

“The rule was that if your platoon was on duty that night, the duty platoon was denied use of the bar facilities. The platoon duty came first. On one memorable night a particular sergeant took it upon himself to relax in the Sergeants Mess as opposed to patrolling with his platoon. I took over the OC’s office and had the offending Sergeant marched in. I gave him a severe ‘talking to’ and reminded him about the basic ground rule and not to repeat his indiscretion. I carried on and completed my paperwork before proceeding to Ballykelly to take command of my platoon from the Battalion Operations Room. There was a knock on the office door and in popped the Sergeant’s wife. She was in tears and complained about the way I had spoken to her poor husband for not reporting for duty” (H Jamieson, 2007).

 

“A helipad was built within the grounds and before long helicopters were landing and taking off much to the delight and surprise of the neighbouring residents and their children who peered through the fence in amazement. Eventually a drill hall was built beside the helipad. The drill hall was fitted with a bar facility and on many occasions each platoon held their own social functions there, including children’s Christmas parties.

   All in all the company now had a Headquarters, which had character, and purpose and everyone was very proud of the facilities at Laurel Hill House” (Hamill, 2007).

 

   The Company Sergeant Major

 

When the company became established in Coleraine town, WO2 J Kerr MBE MM was appointed Administration Warrant Officer (AWO) of the Company and the duty of Company Sergeant Major (CSM) passed on to a series of part time SNCOs including the late Roy Marshall. He had served in the Enniskilling Fusiliers from his teenage years and had seen much action around the world, including Kenya, Cyprus, and Kuwait.

 

 

Photo 24 CSM Roy Marshall

 

The Base Guard

 

Once the company was located at Laurel Hill House, a Base Guard had to be established. The Full-Time soldiers employed on the base guard at Coleraine were still referred to as Conrate. The two Base Guard sections worked on a weekly rota. One week they would cover three, sixteen-hour shifts and the following week they would cover four, twelve-hour shifts. Full-Time soldiers through the day did this from 4am until 8pm.  

Guard Commander-Sgt Gordon Taylor

   The Part-Time soldiers covered the Base Guard at night and some of the weekend duties. The Full-Time soldiers usually worked a forty-eight-hour week. The Full-Time soldier’s pay was very poor at this time and the rota gave them the opportunity to earn money in civilian work.

   Later on in the 80s the Part-Time soldiers were allowed to do the base guard at Coleraine. This allowed the Permanent Cadre soldiers to go on leave or courses.

   Building new gate sangars became the subject of much debate. Many ‘expert’ opinions were presented and dismissed but it was usually the Royal Engineers who had the last say.

   One day the Guard Commander was tasked to cut down one of the trees in the yard. The tree was hollow but it came down without any problems. The next task for the Guard Commander that day was to collect all the confidential documents and incinerate them. We did not have a proper incinerator at that time so the Corporal decided to use the hollow tree as an incinerator.

   He piled in all the documents and sprinkled the pile with a bottle of petrol from one of the Landrovers. Then he asked me for a box of matches to light the papers. It was a windy day and he had a bit of trouble starting the fire. He then went into the hollow and tried again despite all my warnings.

The petrol fumes went off with ‘whoosh’, his beret came flying through the air and then the Corporal emerged from the tree hollow with his face burnt red, his glasses and eyebrows gone.

 

E Company Strength

 

“Within six months the 40 Volunteers from the Ballymoney camp became 100 men then 200 and then 289 men and 9 officers by the time I retired.

Females (Greenfinches) were then recruited into the UDR in 1973. They did an excellent job alongside the men out on patrol and in the bases.

   We had one of the best companies in the whole of the UDR – it was showcased and we won many competitions and were visited by many VIPs. There has always been a great notion of service and volunteer spirit in Coleraine. There were many Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Army and ex-B Specials and there was great respect for all these men – they were looked up to” (Hamill, 2007).

 

“Our operational capability progressed and increased as the terrorist threat grew. It was quite normal for most part-time soldiers to carry out a minimum of three operational duties per week with training fitted in at weekends. Much emphasis was placed on weapon training and shooting and we spent many training days and nights at Magilligan, Portballintrae and Eglinton ranges.

   Other infantry skills for counter terrorist operations were practised too and we took it all in our stride as we knew the situation in the Province was deteriorating fast. The atmosphere was terribly exciting and demanding – there was a camaraderie that I had never experienced; the comradeship was infectious.                

   There was a real “can do” attitude and a determination to make the Regiment, the Battalion and the Company a success. There was strong motivation to raise the professional standard and to do the best we could. Men volunteered readily for all operational tasks and there was never a problem in filling the duty roster. Platoon Commanders organised and practised call-out procedures. Section Commanders and Platoon Non-Commissioned Officers became more responsible for commanding guards and patrols and it was very satisfying to see the command structure working as the Company continued to grow in strength and capability”(Hamill, 2007).

 

Frank Pancott

 

“Frank Pancott was quite a character. He had served in the regular army in WW2 with quite a distinguished career. He had been a Permanent Staff Instructor with the B Specials and eventually found himself in the post as store man to E Company 5 UDR. In the course of his duties as store man he had to attend conferences with the Quartermaster (QM) of 5 UDR.

   At one of these conferences there was a long and heated discussion about losses. Frank never had any losses; in fact I thought Frank had surpluses. No losses were ever recorded while Frank maintained the stores at E Company ‘and my lips are sealed’.

   As well as the store men attending this conference there were other QMs from other units. One QM had lost a Parka Jacket. These were valuable ‘starred items’ and had to be accounted for throughout their service. It was frowned upon if you ever lost one of these items. On this occasion the QM was being told off for incurring the loss. Another QM thought this was hilarious and started laughing. The Commanding Officer turned to him and said, “What are you laughing at? I will be with you in a minute because I want to know what happened to the boat which appears to have gone missing from your account” S4.

 

 

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