Soldier

Early Life

“I was brought up in Chester; my father was a clergyman. Dad had been a War time infantry officer. I was three-years old and we saw the Cheshire Regiment coming back from an operational tour in Malaya, and they laid on a demonstration, of what they had been and I thought, ‘That looks jolly good fun! I’d like to do some of that!’ And from that day onwards, that was all that I ever really wanted to do.

I went to Sandhurst aged eighteen, was commissioned at nineteen, before going to Oxford aged twenty–one, I re–joined my regiment after that and carried on.”

History Lessons

“I certainly had a very lively interest in Irish military and Irish social history before serving over there.

The fact is that every twenty-five years or so, there is a rebellion of some sort, dating from about Wolf Tone, and the British or English make a good or bad fist of dealing with it every time. For instance, we had every potential and ability to get the 1916 right, and by executing people, we got it wrong. In 1975, I think we probably had beaten the IRA but we were just coming out of internment fiasco, and what internment did for the 1969 set of troubles, is what the executions did for the 1916 set of troubles. It prolonged them, intensified them and deepened them.”


Heat of the Battle

“In 1978 I went to West Belfast and that was difficult, violent, confrontational and very, very high tempo... from the Army’s point-of-view. There was a lot of shooting, a lot of bombing, and a lot of contact with a very difficult and violent local population You’d frequently come back from patrols cut and bruised, teeth loose and all that sort of stuff.

I don’t think I really challenged it at the time - I’m sorry to say. It was such fun for a young twenty–year–old, with a group of highly enthusiastic regular soldiers behind you. It was, hoodlumism from our opponents met with disciplined hoodlumism, if that’s the right phrase, from the Army. The trouble was that somebody needed to say, ‘Stop! Stop the crazy merry–go–round of violence!’.

But if you’re being assaulted, by twelve or thirteen rampaging lunatics and half–past five or five in the morning, who are throwing plates, crockery, furniture at you – kids to teenagers, with a mother and father, screaming and shouting and all the rest of it – it’s quite hard not to meet that with violence.

It’s a very different thing to stand back and say, ‘Well, why were you going in at five in the morning, smashing the door’ of course we didn’t need to do it like that. Would I do it again? – No. Did I do it then? – Yes. Is it something of which I am proud? – No. Was it sensible and strategic tactical policy?... It was bloody demented!

When I was responsible for strategy in Northern Ireland, ten or fifteen years later with the maturity of a number of tours and considerably greater experience in the place, I think we were much wiser in how we dealt with it. By which time, of course, the damage had been done.”


Occupiers?

“I hesitate to use the phrase, but I’m afraid it’s correct: if you were in the Catholic ghettoes, we were occupying. Yes, the boot was firmly on the throat. Their behaviour was disgraceful, but if we hadn’t of been there, there would have been no need for them to be disgraceful. The trouble was that our tactics aided and abetted turning the stone–throwers into gunmen. Unless you understand what these people are trying to achieve – unless you can emphasize with them, and possibly sympathize with them – you stand no chance of diffusing the situation.

It’s grieved me to watch, ordinary decent Catholic folk, and I spent the majority of my time, around the Catholic estates, coming to regard us not as their Army, but as an Army of occupation. I didn’t like that – that hurt me. I believe in my country and I believe in the values of my country – and it grieved me to watch a minority in that country being disaffected.”

Protester

The Tactics of Sinn Fein and the IRA


“I was not a member of Sinn Fein, so I did not have to make the type of choices that they had to make which were similar to the choices faced by Nelson Mandela and those who worked with him in South Africa. It’s a liberation struggle, so people do what they believe they have to do. Those of us living over here were in a privileged position because we did not have to make those types of decisions.

The British left can be a bit imperialistic: there was a lot of telling the Irish what to do by very small left wing groups. I think there was a real contradiction when they profess that they recognised that it was a national liberation struggle and yet they failed to listen to what Irish people were telling them.”


Hunger Strike

“I went on a couple of Hunger Strike marches, which were attacked by fascists. One at least ended up close to Waterloo Station where the fascists were waiting in the underpasses to attack marchers as we separated to make our way home.”


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