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Chapter 15 – Recruiting


Those males eligible for service in the UDR were normally resident in Northern Ireland between the ages of 18 and 40 (in certain circumstances up to 55) and could apply to join the UDR. All volunteers were expected to attend twelve days training and twelve two-hour training periods each year. Female recruiting did not start until 1973. Initially the volunteer was expected to enlist for periods of one, two or three years with opportunities to extend their service beyond the three-year point.

E Company always focused on attracting Roman Catholic and Protestant volunteers who would serve the whole community without prejudice.

The initial target set for the Regiment on 1 April 1970 was 6,000 soldiers. This was surpassed quite easily. During 1973 the strength of the Regiment declined from 8,900 to 7,500 (Potter, 2001 p112). Four years later that figure rose again to 7,660 but that can be attributed to more soldiers enrolling for Full-Time service.  Potter has remarked that the Part-Time element continued to decline.

  Some of the decline in numbers can be attributed to the catastrophic interference of the Unionist Party in RUC and army operations. This resulted in the withdrawal of support for the security forces by nationalist politicians and the loss of many Roman Catholic soldiers. The IRA targeted the few remaining Roman Catholic soldiers and that action dissuaded potential Roman Catholic recruits from volunteering.

  One senior officer stated that only three per cent of the Northern Ireland community eligible to enrol had taken up the challenge (Clark, 2003, p130). Another accused Ulstermen of taking the easy way out by finding excuses for not joining the Regiment (Defence, 1973, Vol2 No3). The death toll of the Regiment had reached 39 in 1973. That may have been a mitigating factor for the ninety-seven percent of the eligible people who did not apply to join the Regiment.

  The selection procedure was far from perfect. There were many good men who waited months to join only to be rejected without a clear reason being given. Once they found out they had been rejected many people re-applied. They changed their addresses, used their middle names and briefed their referees on how to respond to questions.

  There were other factors that must have made the Regiment an unattractive prospect. Perhaps people were not prepared to commit themselves to a demanding job that would interfere with their civilian employment.

The constant denigration of the UDR by nationalist and Republican politicians did nothing to improve the Regiments image. The Scandinavian Public Relations team hired by the nationalist politicians in the early years appears to have trained them well.  They always managed to squeeze out the maximum damage from every incident. Slurs, allegations, persistent maligning, open hatred and the use of half-truths appeared to be the stock in trade of any nationalist elected to speak on security matters.



Regiment recruiting also suffered irreparable damage from the activities of the minority in the ranks who broke the law or became involved in terrorist activity.

   Treachery is also known as betrayal. In the early years, the screening of potential recruits was flawed and several individuals with Loyalist or Republican paramilitary connections were later identified. These treacherous individuals were always told to resign before they did any damage. But some did ‘get it right once’.

   There were many occasions when the nationalist politicians highlighted the depravity of the Republican and Loyalist terrorists. But the constant criticism by nationalist politicians of the Regiment because of the behaviour of a few traitors within the ranks was disproportionate.  No other social institution in Ireland has ever faced the same venomous tirade. Had that been the case, the magpies would have picked over many bones long ago.

   In Northern Ireland society there are many strands of Republicanism, Nationalism, Loyalism and Unionism. In order to understand the source of Loyalist treachery it is worthwhile studying the work of Todd (1987) referred to by Bruce (1994 p1) who describes the Unionist sub-categories in Ulster. From the main group, Ulster Unionists, there were two offshoots. These are called the Ulster Loyalist and the Ulster British.

   The Ulster Loyalist group could be sub-categorised into the working class and the evangelical. The gunmen of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) were located in the working class group and their loyalty to Ulster came first. This group always believed they were fighting for the survival of the Ulster Protestants. They also believed that the British government was going to resolve the ‘Irish Problem’ by engineering a United Ireland. Their fears were well grounded on many occasions and they always reacted violently to every government-sponsored process directed towards Irish Unification.

   Members of the UDA, UFF and UVF were publicly encouraged by their terrorist leaders to develop their military skills by infiltrating the UDR. This publicity always gave the mendacious nationalist politicians more ammunition than they needed to sustain their barrage of half-truths and allegations against the Regiment.

    The Ulster British also had their working class and middle class elements. Their first loyalty was to the Crown so they were more suitable for enrolment into the Regiment. The main problem for the British government with the Ulster British was the fact that they were not ideal either. The government was always looking for recruits who would reply, ‘Not Really’ to the question, “Would you mind if there is a United Ireland tomorrow?”


E Company Recruiting

“Recruiting was in a healthy state apart from the long delays caused by the vetting procedures. This was a problem, which we often complained about because some men who were interested in joining lost interest because of the time taken between applying to join and being accepted for enlistment. Naturally the vetting had to be effective. A special vetting unit was set up at HQNI for this purpose.


   There was an interesting cross section of society in the Regiment including quite a few from the Roman Catholic community and they were well accepted in those early days. Sadly that was to change as the IRA successfully terrorized many causing them to leave. We had ex-B Specials, plus many ex-Regular soldiers and some ex-Royal Navy or Royal Air Force personnel as well as the young and inexperienced like myself, enthusiastic, interested and very willing to learn” (Hamill, 2007).


“E Company was fortunate in being able to recruit more members from the Roman Catholic community than most other Companies in the Regiment. As Officer Commanding E Company I worked hard to ensure our ethos was as non-sectarian as was possible” (Hamill, 2007).


The Company Recruiter

“For a limited period I was employed as the company recruiter, Sandy Baxter. Before Sandy could interview the recruits it was my job to present them with a welcome pack and gather their personal data for the recruiter. I would give them promotional booklets, tell them what the job entailed, the pay rates and what was expected of them.

   Unfortunately there were some lovely young lads and lassies I expect would have turned out well but they had a minor criminal record for some stupid thing they had done years before applying. I had to warn them that their criminal record would stand against them in the final assessment of their suitability for the Regiment. That decision was never taken by anyone in the company as HQNI Lisburn always had the final say in the matter

   At that time most of the recruits were genuine people. In many cases it was a family tradition to serve the Crown. Perhaps their father had been in the B Specials or they already had a brother in the Regiment.

Then there was the other type of recruit. The pay rates for the UDR had increased dramatically and this made the Regiment an attractive form of employment even for the part-timer who wanted to earn some pocket money.

   At the time of the pay rises the basic training standards also increased. You still did the two weekends and two evenings basic training but before any recruit could go operational they had to attend a seven-day residential recruits course at Ballykelly” S20.


The Enrolment Experience

“I joined the UDR in 1974. A friend who worked with me in my civilian job was a member and he suggested I should join.

   I was not particularly politically minded but like most people I listened to the news and was aware of the problems and how members of the UDR and RUC were being targeted and even killed. My parents of course were aware of the situation and were uneasy about me joining because of the risks but were not going to stand in my way.

   I can remember my excitement when the letter came through the letter box confirming my acceptance and asking me to report to Laurel Hill House to “sign on”, which I did on the Thursday evening of that week. Arriving at the gate that evening I was escorted to the “Big House” where a number of other new recruits were waiting. We were then marched into the Company Commander’s office. We were all “Sworn In” and the administration work was completed. I was not to know how this was to shape my life in the future or how the experiences and friendships would stay with me and have such a positive influence on my life.

   The following Saturday we reported again to Laurel Hill and eight of us were taken in a civilian van to Ebrington Barracks in Londonderry to be kitted out. We left Ebrington Barracks Quartermaster Stores with everything from long johns, shirts, combat smock, tin helmet, webbing, boots and these things called Puttees all packed into a big kit bag. We signed for everything we received and as I later discovered you signed for everything in the UDR.

   I arrived home with my kit bag and that evening spread the contents out on the living room floor. I was fortunate as my dad had been in the RAF and was familiar with most of the contents and together we managed to put the webbing and ammo pouches together. Unfortunately when I tried on the trousers, shirts and combat smocks they literally drowned me. They were small sized but I was five foot four inches tall and of light build and was never going to fill these garments! Fortunately my sisters worked in a shirt factory and we spent all Sunday fitting and pinning the shirts, trousers and combat smocks and they managed to tailor these to fit on their sewing machine” S39.



“My first memory of the terrorism affecting me personally was when my friend’s brother had been blown up on Portballintrae Range. He was not seriously injured but some of his colleagues were. When my friends and I heard about this we vowed that we would join the UDR when we were old enough. At that time we were still at school.

   Time passed and I noted that many of my neighbours were in the UDR. I would often see them being picked up and dropped off by a Landrover at their homes. I eventually asked one of them for an application form and I was eventually accepted into E Company, the 5th Battalion UDR, based at Coleraine.

   I presented myself at the Laurel Hill base one Saturday morning. From there I was shouted and bawled at by some very scary people. Big John Kerr and even Wee Dan the store man shouted at me for not knowing my beret size and of course there was getting past Percy and his guard dog” S28.


“I joined through having an argument with my workmates. A new man started working at my civilian employment. Both this man and his wife were in the UDR. One day the works van was stopped at an army road check. One of my workmates said, ‘What good do those boys do anyway?’

   Our new workmate decided to bring in the application forms for the UDR and dared two of us to find out what good the army did for ourselves. We filled in the forms and joined the UDR. The yearly bounty was £25 and the night’s pay was only £2.30. I did not join up for the money ” S24.


“Prior to joining the UDR I had been in the Army Cadets. We practised a lot of drill at the Calf Lane TA Camp. Our instructor was Sergeant Major O’Grady from Birr, Co. Offaly who had settled in Londonderry city.  He had a voice that carried for miles. The cadets also took part in lots of sporting events as well as the weekend training camps at Magilligan.

   The main reason I joined the UDR was because I wanted to do something worthwhile for the country. My wife found my first application form and tore it up. I managed to complete the second application form and was eventually accepted into the UDR” S25.


Family Traditions

“I had a box of plastic soldiers I played with as a wee fella. I still have them. They’re collectables now. It was never Cowboys and Indians with me. It was always the army. You see I come from a military family – there were seven of us in the UDR at one time. My mother’s side was in the army. My uncle is buried at the Somme in France. My father was in the merchant navy.

   I had been in the B Specials. The big difference from the UDR was that the men recruited each other into the B Specials. I was invited to join and there was great loyalty among the men. There was a far nicer calibre of men in the B Specials. The UDR was government recruited and it took a long time to build up relationships” S01.

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