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Chapter 14 – Women in the UDR




Photo 34 The ‘Greenfinch’

  After a campaign spearheaded by the UDR commander, Brigadier Harry Baxter, the first women were recruited in 1973. This preceded the Regular Army by almost 20 years in integrating fully female soldiers. Women were totally integrated into the Regiment. There were two main reasons for establishing the women’s element in the Regiment.

  First, the weakness of the Stop and Search tactic employed by the UDR was that male soldiers could not search females and children. For three years the terrorist had enjoyed a relative degree of freedom by using women and children to transport their munitions, documents and incendiary devices.

  Second, males were not enrolling or staying in the UDR long enough to achieve the Regiment’s established strength.


“I joined the UDR in September 1981, although both my grandfathers and my father had seen action in the world wars, my father and brothers went the way of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the 70s. I, on the other hand, followed the older family tradition and choose to be a Greenfinch which was what the females were called who joined”S46.


Code Names

In order to preserve the identity of individuals or units in radio transmissions, the radio operator would use code words or Appointment Titles. For example, the Appointment Title for a commander on the ground was ‘Sunray’, all infantry units ‘Foxhound’ and the UDR ‘Greentop’. The Appointment Title selected for the women soldiers was ‘Greenfinch’ and for senior female UDR commanders ‘Goldfinch’. The authorship of the title ‘Greenfinch’ was chosen by Harry Baxter (R Doherty, 2007).



The Greenfinches were recruited locally and placed directly into the Regiment. This was the first case of complete integration of males and females in a British military unit and it proved to be a very successful model. (British Army Review 1975 p30).

   It is difficult to assess the extent to which the integration of the UDR has been influential as a model for female integration in the other branches of the armed forces. The time lag of introducing innovations, which have a gender specific component, is reflected in the fact that, although this model was introduced into Northern Ireland in 1973, it did not become a mainstream model for the Army until 1992.

   It could be argued that integration works in Northern Ireland because both male and female soldiers were in a constant combat situation and so bonding into cohesive units happened easily. Soldiers have to rely on each other whether they are male or female as they each have their roles to play. It remains to be seen whether integration in the rest of the British Army will be as successful (Logan, 1992, p58).


Greenfinch Strength

The initial publicity attracted over 530 female applications and enlistments into the female UDR, starting on 16 Sept 1973  (Defence Vol 2 No3 p18).

In those early years there was an establishment for just over 700 female UDR posts. This consisted of a section of eleven female UDR for each of the fifty-nine province wide UDR companies. Another six female UDR posts were created at each of the eleven Battalion Headquarters.

    By 1986 the female UDR establishment had increased to 738 to cover both full-time and part-time duties in all Battalions, HQUDR and the UDR Training Depot.

   In 1991 the female UDR strength remained roughly the same. The women formed ten per cent of the Regiment. From these figures 269 were full-time and 467 were part-time (Northern Ireland Office, 1991, p44). Full-time and part-time uniformed female soldiers were required to be on active service alongside their male colleagues both day and night. The part-time element was required mainly for night and weekend duties.


Domestic Responsibilities

 In the early years married women had to submit written permission from their husbands before joining the Regiment. They all had to confirm that,” their duties would not interfere with their domestic responsibilities” (Defence Vol 2 No3 p18).


“Of the women interviewed only one had children prior to her recruitment and she recalls having to sign a declaration on her childcare arrangements in the event of a call-out” (Logan R 1992, p67).


“Like all parents I tried to keep the more worrying parts of the job from my family. My family knew not to answer the door to strangers, not to tell anyone over the phone where I was or in fact what I did at night. They seemed to take it all in their stride and enjoyed the social side of the UDR – the kiddies Christmas parties, family barbecues and the like.


It was not until the Enniskillen bomb on Remembrance Day when my son saw a Greenfinch on the television, wearing the same uniform that I had been wearing that morning when I left the house (I was on parade locally that day), clambering over the rubble to help someone. That’s when he started asking questions and became concerned about what I was doing.

   In some ways it was a strange existence, many of the people in the small village I grew up in knew what I did but they never asked any questions and I never said anything. We just carried on with life trying to make an abnormal situation as normal as possible as that was the only way to survive” S46.


The Initial Role of Women in the UDR

The females in the UDR were fairly untypical in that women were specifically deployed in a military campaign against other women. Greenfinches were deployed in patrols with the aim of denying the terrorists the capability of using women to carry out paramilitary activities. Their search role made a significant contribution in the fight against terrorism (Logan, 1992, p58).

The new intake of females allowed more men to be released for operational duties. The women were trained to take over clerical, catering and storekeeping duties as well as staffing the Operations room and Intelligence cell.

   At the company level the unarmed female UDR operated alongside the men on patrol operations. They were used to drive patrol vehicles and search females and adolescents for explosives, weapons and documents. The freedom from carrying a weapon allowed the women to operate as searchers, signallers and interviewers while on patrol operations. A dedicated ‘Coverman’ protected the women whilst they carried out these operational duties.


“With most people working all day at their civilian job and then doing a patrol from 8pm until 4am, by 3am on the third or forth night of the week we would all be quite tired. One particular patrol commander would, when he saw the first soldier in the patrol suffering from the ‘nodding dog syndrome’, get the driver to stop and make me get in and drive the Landrover for the remainder of the patrol. For some strange and inexplicable reason as soon as I got behind the wheel everyone became extra vigilant: I am not sure exactly why, as I always made sure at least two of the Rover’s wheels were making some kind of contact with the ground when cornering”S46.


Female UDR Training

The female UDR received regular training during their army careers and, like their male counterparts, they had to complete annual skills tests in order to retain their skills grades and related pay grades.

   Most of the training was focused on their operational role in Northern Ireland. As part of the basic training the female UDR were taught military etiquette, Regimental history, rank structure, foot drill and dress regulations. They were also trained in various subjects such as person and vehicle searching, first aid, map reading, signals, personal security and terrorist recognition. They received fitness training and were encouraged to maintain a high level of personal fitness (Logan, 1992, p56).


Female UDR in the Front Line

The female UDR could be compared to female soldiers in combat in that they were recruited specifically to serve in Northern Ireland. Although not armed they carried out operational duties alongside their male counterparts, and were subject to the same risks during terrorist attacks. The female UDR were in the front line from 1973 until 1992 when the UDR was amalgamated with the Royal Irish Rangers. They then became the Royal Irish Regiment where they continued to serve until 2007.

   However the front line in Northern Ireland was different from the front line in conventional warfare. In the latter case, personnel could be up to two hundred miles behind the front lines and still be at risk from long-range missiles. In Northern Ireland the danger of terrorist assault was much closer with sniper attacks and culvert bomb attacks, becoming a very real possibility to each patrol regardless of whether the patrol had female members or not (Logan, 1992, p57).


“I met people from all walks of life, some had different views to me and different outlooks on life but when we were out on patrol, we gelled together and covered each others back as we tried to do as professional a job as we possibly could.

In hindsight, I enjoyed the patrols best of all and ‘many we had’ in the UDR. Although it could be bitterly cold and wet and some people were quite hostile and hurled bottles, stones and insults at us regularly, there was something about knowing you could depend on the people around you with, literally your life that made it much more than just a job” S46.



It was standard practice for pregnant women to be discharged from the UDR in their fourth month of pregnancy. If the soldier returned to duty after this enforced maternity leave they had to attend their Battalion Recruits Course. Again, to add insult to injury, their previous service did not count towards medal entitlement or promotion.

   In 1990 the European Court ruled against the Ministry of Defence policy towards pregnant women in their employment. Seventy-eight former female UDR received compensation.


An E Company Greenfinch Story

“The family documentation shows that my great grandfather and all his three sons served the Crown before and during the First and Second World Wars. One of my great grandfather’s brothers, a Private in the 1st Battalion Royal Enniskilling Fusiliers, died on the Somme on 8 July 1916. My granda’s brother served in the Coleraine Battery during WWII.

   My father served in the Royal Navy during WWII. His family originally came from the Killowen area and my mother originally from Belfast came to live in Coleraine. After WWII ended my parents lived in the prefabs in James Street in Coleraine they then moved to the Calf Lane area. My father’s first job was at the Coleraine gas works in Hanover Place. The last job of his working life was at Sperrin Textiles on the Ballycastle Road.

   I was born in 1959 in Coleraine and my first school was Millburn Primary, which was close to my home. I then went on to Coleraine Secondary School and finished my education at Coleraine Technical College.


Joining the UDR

I joined the UDR when I was twenty-four years old and single. My career in the UDR lasted four years, from 25 Oct 1984 until 12 Dec 1988. Many of my neighbours were in the Regiment at that time and that was the main reason I joined. There was no change in the attitude of my neighbours when I joined the Regiment. I usually relaxed within the UDR camp and made use of the bar facilities there. I made many close friendships in the UDR and I have maintained most of these. I became so involved in both the social and operational activities of the Regiment that I lost touch with many of my personal friends.


Dress and Equipment

The reality of our commitment set in when we were issued with our ‘Dog Tags’. They were stamped with our Army number, Name and Initials, Religion and Blood group.

   I personally feel that in some respects that females in the UDR were never properly catered for as far as dress and equipment went. We were dressed in lightweight olive green trousers that did not keep you warm. The men had the benefit of double layered camouflaged combat trousers. These were designed to protect the soldiers from petrol bomb burns.


The body armour issued to women was the same design as issued to men. When you sat down the shoulders were raised up to cover your ears. The body of the armour was too long to suit the female torso.

The berets issued to the UDR were standard issue. When you first tried them out they looked more like soup plates balanced on your head. They had to be soaked and shaped to sit on your head properly.


Patrol Preparation

When you were out on patrol you were expected to carry many different items of kit. The list was so comprehensive you had to be inspected quite regularly to ensure you were carrying these items. This included a tube of camouflage cream, pens for writing reports and taking car details, and special pens for marking up maps.

   We also had to carry our field dressings in our top left pocket so that everyone knew where to locate it in the event of being injured on patrol.

   Then there were all the cards we had to memorize and carry with us at all times. The MOD 90 was your army identity card. The Green Card (The Green Cross Code) explained what to do if you accidentally crossed the border. The Pink card was an aide memoire for dealing with terrorist explosives. The Yellow card explained the rules and procedure for opening fire. Finally, the Blue card explained your powers of arrest and how to carry out an arrest.


Basic Training

“My basic recruit training was conducted in the Coleraine Base at Laurel Hill House. The recruits trained for a couple of hours each evening. After our initial issue of kit we had to learn how to dress ourselves. For example, we were issued with WWI vintage cloth puttees, these looked like long green bandages that were wrapped around our ankles. They bridged the gap between our boots and the tucked-in legs of our trousers.

   The final week of our training was completed at the Battalion Training Wing in Ballykelly. That training was a bit more advanced and we learned how to ‘make safe’ all types of infantry weapons. This formed part of our First Aid training. We had to be competent at handling and clearing weapons in case soldiers were injured during terrorist attacks or in traffic accidents.


Photo 35  ‘Greenfinch’ Skill at Arms Training


   We were also trained in Map Reading, Field Craft, Signals and Voice Procedure. This was a whole new world to me but I found the training enjoyable. We even learned how to cook our emergency field rations on the Hexamine solid fuel burner. There was much more to learn than I had expected.


Advanced Training and Pay

The pay rates in the Regiment were very good compared to my previous jobs.  The pay was not only related to the number of operational and training duties you completed, it was also related to your individual skill levels. When I first joined the Regiment I was classed as Grade 4. I was then expected to advance my military skills up to Grade 1 within two years of joining. If you did not maintain your efficiency and training at your qualified grade you were automatically downgraded. This resulted in a wage drop as well.


Weapons Training

Later on I trained for the female UDR shooting team. I trained on the SLR converted to take the .22 round and also trained on the 9mm pistol. At annual camp in 1988 I took the opportunity to fire the SA80 rifle. That was the year the SA80 replaced the SLR.

While I was in the UDR I attended two cooking courses. That qualified me to cook meals and cater for the officers and soldiers when required.


Operational Duties

I remember taking part in my first operational patrol just after I had finished my training. I was part of the OC’s ‘Tac Crew.’  This was basically the mobile base for the OC or the Platoon commander. A soldier was always detailed to look after my security so I always felt safe. Sometimes when I knew the areas the patrol had to travel through I was afraid but nothing untoward ever happened to me. The work was totally different from anything my friends were doing and I enjoyed the experience.

   The craic in the Regiment was always good. For example, one of the platoon sergeants always finished off the monthly duty sheet handouts with the comment, “If you fail to turn up for duty you will be on OC’s interview. I am serious”. He was called Sergeant Serious after that.


Personal Security

I do believe that my parents worried about me being out on patrol more than I did. My family lived close to the TA Camp and woe betides any one who came to the door making enquiries about the camp. The whole family would give the individual a grilling.

On some nights two female UDR personnel from the company base were employed in Battalion Operations room from 8pm until 4am. The female UDR in our area were never allowed to carry weapons for their personal protection. We also expected to travel between our base and Battalion HQ in our own personal cars. It was a very lonely journey having to travel from an army base at 4am in all kinds of weather, not knowing who was watching or waiting for you.


Civilian Employment

I was employed by the MOD and they were aware of my Part-Time UDR work. This would keep me out to 4:30am. For that reason I was allowed to start two hours later in the mornings so that I was rested.

   Tiredness was a problem when you were out on patrol but the temperature in the back of a Landrover was so low you never nodded off to sleep.


Charity Work

I took part in some of the Charity work organised by the officers and men in E Company. I was on the Junior ranks entertainments committee and we used to organize at least one charity event each year. The OC E Company also coordinated at least one charity event each year. For example in 1987 I took part in a sponsored run around the TAOR. That was over forty-eight hours of running in relays. Each platoon in the company took twelve hours where two people were out running at all times. That year four local charities benefited from our efforts.


Resigning From the UDR

I was asked to resign from the Regiment because I was pregnant. I was seven months pregnant at the time and I did not want to leave the Regiment. My last night on duty was spent in preparing a buffet for a 17 Platoon function. The platoon commander invited me upstairs for a farewell but I was too upset to attend.

This policy of discharging pregnant UDR soldiers was the official policy of the UDR. It was not strictly adhered to at all times but in the end you had to go. The Battalion HQ staff gave me some stipulations on how they would allow me to rejoin the Regiment after six months’ maternity leave. They refused to give me this in writing so I had no alternative but to resign from the UDR under protest.

I took the MOD to the Belfast High Court for ‘injury to feelings’ and ‘unfair dismissal’. The case was so protracted I decided to settle out of court and get on with my life.


Final Points

Serving in the Regiment was a privilege. It was the only job I enjoyed and believed was worthwhile. When I look back on the experience I will always remember the comradeship. We were a family” S26.


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