Joins Up – Soldier

“I was born in the lowlands of Scotland, in Galloway. As a boy soldier I went straight from secondary school into the British army, I was fifteen when I signed on and sixteen when I arrived at the army apprentice school. Most of my family were in farming and I didn’t really want to do that. There wasn’t much other work and I suppose I fell for the adventure, sport, travel the world. I had fairly conservative views. I believed all the stuff about Queen and country.”

Northern Ireland

“I did an exercise in Northern Ireland, near Antrim. Again I suddenly discovered when you go into town there’s Catholic pubs and Protestant pubs. And you’ve got a division of population, just like Cyprus and other places like so, what is happening here?”

Leaves 1968

“I started to become quite political, going up to London for the anti Vietnam war demonstrations. I used to take these posters for the next demonstration and sneak out at night and put them up in the camp which caused a bit of consternation. I got an interview with a commanding officer ‘we think you are a subversive, if you went to a trouble spot the first thing you’d do is get in touch with the people we are supposed to be fighting’ he says!”

“I just said ‘well Sir, don’t you think in that case if I put in to buy myself out, wouldn’t it be a good idea if you let me go?’ And he said oh, yes it probably would be he said. So I could pay £200 and I was out of the army.”


Joins up – Protester

“In 1969 things started happening in Northern Ireland they started using British troops on the streets, because I had been in the army across there for a very short period I’d got an interest in the place, so I started to become involved in that. The early organisations that I was involved with were the Irish Civil Rights Solidarity Campaign, the Anti Internment League and then the Irish Solidarity Campaign. all of them probably dominated by political people from Ireland.”

TOM is born

“A number of people who were interested in Ireland started to meet through the summer of 1973 in west London and British troops were really very much to the forefront on the streets. British troops repressing Nationalist areas and the fight back by the IRA against the troops. it was causing quite a bit of consternation because quite a lot of British soldiers were getting killed, so, at our meetings in West London we started to say we have to have a movement about the troops that’s keyed into this dissent that’s started to spring up. I was pushing this should be seen as a movement of the British people. Irish people will be very welcome and no doubt a large part of the organisation will come from the Irish community and support would come from the Irish community but it should be seen as a British organisation. So, we organised this meeting in Fulham Town Hall, towards the end of 1973. That proved to be a huge success. Then Troops Out started to be organised across Britain and we started to have branches up and down the country.

We were never more than in the hundreds, It might have got up to around a thousand but all you need is a few activists in places up and down the country and you can put in place fairly large demonstrations.

Over ‘74, ‘75, into ‘76, TOM had the potential to become a very large organisation and it was continuing to grow. The British government was under quite a lot of pressure for withdrawal – there were quite a lot of soldiers getting killed. What they decided to do was Ulsterisation which was a bit like what the Americans did in Vietnam – Vietnamisation – it which means they use indigenous forces right rather than the troops.

Ulsterisation started to have an effect on a movement that was concentrating on troops here. Gradually the effectiveness of the TOM started to wane.”

Information on Ireland

“In ‘78, we decided to set up another group just to do publications called Information on Ireland. The first publication we did was British Soldiers Speak Out On Ireland and that was very successful.

When the North erupted and that there was a phenomenon on British TV, all these comics started telling anti Irish jokes. It was all about how the Irish are stupid. And we looked this up in history and found that and every time there’d been a conflict between the British and the Irish there’d been a wave of these Irish jokes. It was obviously partially propaganda but partially it was a way that people rationalised what was happening. They didn’t want to think that the British were oppressing the Irish so it was much easier to think that the Irish were stupid and they fought among themselves.

So we decided to do a book on it and called it ‘Nothing But The Same Old Story’ to show that this has happened time after time, we sold a huge amount of copies.”

Visiting Ireland – and British Troops

“I wondered as an ex–soldier and also being British what reaction I would get but I never had a bad reaction from anybody across there. In Belfast sometimes you get stopped by the soldiers and I got into a chat with one or two of them about the TOM and what are we were trying to do, and they would say ‘well do you think we want to be here? I hope you are successful because we want to get out of here’ ”

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