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I do not intend this to be an in-depth post on the RUC - although I do think there is room both for this Force and the original Royal Irish Constabulary to be examined in more detail from the historical point of view. Peter Mc., Ulsterman and Prosper + all of our other Irish members will all have their point of view - let's hope we can keep within the framework of the Forum when it comes-up. I am waiting for some better pictures of an RIC carbine and bayonet to come from the collection in the UK and then we can see how best to approach the subject?

Meanwhile, posts of two very rare decorated truncheons for the RUC - in fact the famous - or, infamous - 'B' Specials. They were (all Protestants ?) and the Specials of the Force and seem to have kept the tradition of painting truncheons long after it was given-up on the Mainland. Looking at them it does seem to have had a political purpose. I'm afraid I won't be able to answer a lot of questions on them - to be honest, I had forgotten I had them until photos were sent over. Still, if necessary I can have them re-photographed in greater detail. One of them seems to have a divisional or, district name - does anyone recognise it ?

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The Red Hand of Ulster was in fact the titled family who had that part of the country - I can't think of their name - perhaps someone will add.

Both of these truncheons will - in all probabablity - date from the 1920's or, 1930's.

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The Red Hand of Ulster was in fact the titled family who had that part of the country - I can't think of their name - perhaps someone will add.

Both of these truncheons will - in all probabablity - date from the 1920's or, 1930's.

The Red Hand is part of the coat of arms of The O'Neill.

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The B Specials were disbanded in the Spring of 1970. Their primary focus was to deal with the IRA and its supporters and they weren't too gentle about it. They were almost 100% Protestant.

The activities of the Bs were one of the factors (some have said these activities were exaggerated for political ends) that led to the riots of 1969, especially in the cities.

I interviewed Admiral Hezlett several times in 1988 about the Bs and coincidentally came across his tapes yesterday whilst rummaging for Halloween decorations in the attic.

What does the truncheon say on it?

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The lower one seems to say - 2nd. Brigade and then North D.... Will try to get some additional photos. Pleased to see a disbandment date - wasn't too sure on this. Would be interesting to learn if your interview with the Admiral gave you any relevant info. that would help us understand the situation from today's standpoint ?

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The lower one seems to say - 2nd. Brigade and then North D.... Will try to get some additional photos.

Mervyn - are you sure its Brigade and not Battalion? This may be a memento of the 2nd Battalion North Down Regt of the UVF, elements of which were involved in the landing of arms for the UVF at Donaghadee, Larne and Bangor in April 1914.

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Mentioning "the landing of arms" reminds me - I have an 1871 Mauser, which I believe was one of the main weapons involved in the Howarth landings(?)

It has Chinese characters stamped on the side of the butt, & I believe the 1871 was one of the main weapons of "The Boxers".

Used by the Chinese, reclaimed by the Germans & later landed in Ireland (& "found" in a bombed out house in south east London by a kid during WWII is something I've heard)?- or did my grandfather pick it up during his decades of nautical wanderings around the South Chine Seas et al?

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Leigh - I've not heard of any Chinese markings on a Howth Mauser before. May be worth checking with the National Museum of Ireland as to what their example is like, as a reference. However I think your latter assumption is probably more likely.

Edited by Peter Mc

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Peter - looking at it again, you may well be right - it does look like UVF at the top. This makes it even more interesting - they couldn't have had too many made ? Do you think they also served as 'B' Specials ? I am hoping to have additional photos in the next few weeks - but, please tell us something about these landings ?

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14/6/1914, 900 rifles wth ammunition were landed at Howth for the Irish Volunteers, on the coast near Dublin, delivered by Erskine Childer's boat "Asgard". They were purchased in Germany before WWI started, & were the main weapon used ny the Nationalists during The Easter Rising.

The 1871 Mauser is an 11mm single shot, black powder, although not the first bolt action (that was the Dreyse?)it was the first Mauser to be adopted by any country. A lot were sold to smaller nations around the world, along with the 1871/84, which is basically the 1871 but with a 9 x round tubular magazine - the 1871 has a round nosed bullet, the 1871/84 a flat nosed one.

25,000 rounds were purchased from DWM & landed with the "Howth rifles"

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Peter - looking at it again, you may well be right - it does look like UVF at the top. This makes it even more interesting - they couldn't have had too many made ? Do you think they also served as 'B' Specials ? I am hoping to have additional photos in the next few weeks - but, please tell us something about these landings ?

Absolutely!! I met old B men who were in the UVF (then and now) in the early 1980s. Not a few had served in the 36th at the Somme. In the 1940s and 1950s their tendency to "thump first and ask questions later" led to a lot of resentment, but their overwhelming use of indiscriminate force heped snuff the IRA campaign of the 1950s and kept the IRA in check for decades. I think there was ONE(!)Catholic B Special in the 60 years the Bs existed.

That truncheon is worth a LOT of money by the way.

When they were older and times changed, they became a political liability. Most British were appalled at their brutality when it was on their t.v. screens. Their baton charge in Londonderry was the undoing of Stormont (the first time) and led, ultimately, to direct rule by London.

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On Monday - hidden in a corner of the shop, we found a reprint of a 1911 arms catalogue. This shows both the rifle you mention and the ammo. Will add it to the thread. I had heard of this event but didn't know the details - interesting, and of course, Nation changing in their own way.

I find all of this police history - both for the RIC and the RUC is of importance - I didn't attempt to cover it in the book as I thought it too complicated for just a chapter. However, I hope we can add as it all gives a clearer picture of events at the time.

Edited by Mervyn Mitton

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These truncheons are beautiful.

Absolutely!! I met old B men who were in the UVF (then and now) in the early 1980s. Not a few had served in the 36th at the Somme. In the 1940s and 1950s their tendency to "thump first and ask questions later" led to a lot of resentment, but their overwhelming use of indiscriminate force heped snuff the IRA campaign of the 1950s and kept the IRA in check for decades. I think there was ONE(!)Catholic B Special in the 60 years the Bs existed.

That truncheon is worth a LOT of money by the way.

When they were older and times changed, they became a political liability. Most British were appalled at their brutality when it was on their t.v. screens. Their baton charge in Londonderry was the undoing of Stormont (the first time) and led, ultimately, to direct rule by London.

Broadly true, but I think it's truer to say that the IRA were kept more or less in line by the Dublin authorities and security forces in the 1950s. The B Specials were effective to a point but certainly became a liability as television made a wider audience more aware of their general conduct. It is worth pointing out or, at least, reminding people that the British public in general had a proud tradition of disapproval of the way in which Irish Catholic subjects of the Crown were sometimes treated, from the Great Famine to Lloyd-George's unleashing of the Black and Tans. And yet, for all that, not every Black and Tan nor every B Special behaved like a mindless thug. There were plenty who behaved very correctly indeed, no matter what Republican propaganda claimed. The truth is always somewhere between the poles.

It is probably also worth clarifying the difference between the UVF as referred to in the news since 1969 and the original UVF. The former was - and still is - a terrorist organisation with links to all sorts of extreme rightwing groups around the world whereas the original UVF of which many older B Specials had been members was in fact the Ulster Volunteers, a Unionist militia established in 1912 to resist Home Rule for Ireland, a process interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1914. There were almost a quarter of a million male members and the UVF was armed in April 1914 by the Germans, who shipped 20,000 rifles and 3,000,000 rounds of ammunition over to the UVF, which was preparing to fight the British Army on the issue of Home Rule.

The Irish Volunteers and, shortly afterwards, the Citizens' Army were formed in response to Protestant Loyalist and Unionist aggression. In any event, most of the UVF militiamen enlisted in the British Army, as did many Irishmen who wanted Home Rule. The 1916 Uprising is history, as is the Anglo-Irish War and the Irish Civil War that followed the political compromise that saw the industrial north retained by London, with the dirt-poor south becoming a Free State. Some of the former UVF men who came home from the Great War formed the cadre of the Ulster Special Constabulary, known as the B Specials. They saw action in the final stages of the Anglo-Irish War and were also deployed during the Irish Civil War. Some of them behaved very badly. Others behaved correctly.

They were very hard times.

PK

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"Broadly" huh?

Well, Seamus Twomey himself once told me the reason they called off the 1950s campaign was because the IRA was afraid the Bs were going to be "unleashed". I still have the cassette tape of the interview which I later gave to both the CIA and MI5 AND I sold parts of it as background to Simon Winchester, who was kicking around a follow up book after he finished his 'Outposts of Empire' book.

You might wish to look at the BBC and the London Times recent stories on the 1950s campaign as well. Others on the Army Council seem to say the same thing. Of course they were also short of ammo. and guns (and probably men too).

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For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with Irish history, Seamus Twomey was an IRA hardliner who served twice as Chief of Staff, his second term ending when he was arrested by Irish security forces in 1977 and given five years in gaol. Twomey was one of the founding members of the Provisional IRA following the schism in 1969. He remained on the GHQ roll until his death from heart trouble in 1989 and visited the United States for fund-raising and publicity purposes. He was fervently against the Peace Process and was a believer in sectarian violence, believing, pretty much, that the only good Protestant Unionist was a dead one.

I am impressed that you managed to interview Seamus Twomey. Normally, a man of his status and stature and his minders would have insisted upon journalists of the calibre of, say, David McKittrick but I suppose the criteria were relaxed if they were on a publicity and fund-raising trip to the US. All the same, the fact that you later sold extracts from the interview to Simon Winchester and that both the CIA and MI5 were interested in the interview suggests something more substantial than a couple of hurried questions while the man was leaving the building after a speech. You obviously managed to get a 'sit-down' with him. Did you ever publish it in its entirety?

The IRA were always short of men and materials. The Border Campaign of 1956-1962 was a case of tilting at windmills for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact that they were also hampered by their memories of the ferocity with which the Dublin government had suppressed previous campaigns. By the late 1940s, the Irish Army's intelligence service reckoned there to be no more than a couple of hundred operational IRA members. When the so-called Third Border Campaign was launched in 1956, the Dublin government - with which the IRA had considered itself to be at war since the signing of the Treaty in 1921 - reintroduced internment and just to be seen talking to a a suspected IRA man was to risk years of imprisonment without trial.

When you report old IRA men as saying or implying that "they called off the 1950s campaign because the IRA was afraid the Bs were going to be 'unleashed'", you are of course right but only to a point and it is important to view such statements in their proper context. Practical popular support for the IRA was much stronger in the Catholic areas of The Six Counties of "Ulster" than it was in the thirty-two counties comprising the Irish Republic. Many outsiders have fallen into the trap of mistaking drunken singing by maudlin Irishmen in pubs of "rebel songs" for support of the IRA but the IRA did not enjoy the kind of widespread popular support in the Irish Republic that is essential for any guerilla army or movement. One of the reasons for this was the risk of being marked down as an IRA sympathiser and thrown into prison.

So when the threat arose of a deployment of the B Specials, a deployment that would have involved a lot of aggression against the general Catholic population of Ulster, the Army Council realised that they would very quickly lose the popular goodwill essential to operations in the North and, sensibly, they ended the Third Border Campaign in 1962. However, they remained "at war" with Dublin - regardless of the political hue of governing parties - until the fairly recent ceasefires. But we don't need to go into all of that here as we are confining ourselves to a discussion of the B Specials, whose fabulous truncheons Mervyn has shown us.

The threat to turn the B Specials loose with a free hand in Ulster recalls Lloyd-George's threat to the Collins delegation in 1921, about sending a million men-under-arms into Ireland, the likely consequences being a massive reduction in popular support for the war of liberation against Britain. So, whatever anyone thinks of the B Specials, they were nothing if not an effective weapon against Republicanism. However, they also demonstrated the two-edged nature of turning forces like that loose on civil populations because they became a public relations liability once people around the world saw them at work on television.

PK

Edited by PKeating

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14/6/1914, 900 rifles wth ammunition were landed at Howth for the Irish Volunteers, on the coast near Dublin, delivered by Erskine Childer's boat "Asgard". They were purchased in Germany before WWI started, & were the main weapon used ny the Nationalists during The Easter Rising.

The 1871 Mauser is an 11mm single shot, black powder, although not the first bolt action (that was the Dreyse?)it was the first Mauser to be adopted by any country. A lot were sold to smaller nations around the world, along with the 1871/84, which is basically the 1871 but with a 9 x round tubular magazine - the 1871 has a round nosed bullet, the 1871/84 a flat nosed one.

25,000 rounds were purchased from DWM & landed with the "Howth rifles"

In Tim Pat Coogans (in my view) definitive Collins Biography he relates a story that Michael Collins himself was in fact at Howth on the day of the landings. He had a safe house in the area and at least one volunteer later swore that he was there.

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The lower one seems to say - 2nd. Brigade and then North D.... Will try to get some additional photos. Pleased to see a disbandment date - wasn't too sure on this. Would be interesting to learn if your interview with the Admiral gave you any relevant info. that would help us understand the situation from today's standpoint ?

Vice-Admiral Sir Arthur Richard "Baldy" Hezlet, KBE, CB, DSO and Bar, DSC, Legion of Merit (United States) hailed from your neck of the woods, born in 1914 in Pretoria, although the family were from County Derry, where he went after retiring from the Royal Navy in 1964. I don't think he had anything to do with the B Specials as such. He was, amongst other things, head of The British Legion in Ulster. He died in 2007. He was a very interesting character. His 1972 book The B Specials: A History of the Ulster Special Constabulary was reprinted by The Mourne River Press (Belfast) in 1997. I read it many years ago and it is a must-have for anyone studying the subject. Secondhand copies sometimes appear on the market. There's nothing on Bookfinders right now but there are seven original hard cover editions from 1972 on Amazon from just under $15.00 and three of the 1997 paperback re-editions from just under $10.00. There is a more expensive alternative for over $30.00 here: http://imprimaturbooks.com.au/index.php/Irish/7938-The-B-Specials-A-History-of-the-Ulster-Special-Constabulary.html

While Hezlet's history is honest, another historian worth reading for an alternative view and an insight into how many people, including well-educated "West Brits", is Constantine Fitzgibbon, an American of Irish-American extraction who served with the British Army and US Army intelligence in WW2. Some members with an interest in German history of the Third Reich era would doubtless know his work. He moved to Ireland in 1965 and was a friend of my parents. He published Red Hand: The Ulster Colony (Michael Joseph - ISBN 7181 0881 7) in 1971. His paragraphs about the B Specials, on pages 328 and 329, border on polemic but are valid, nonetheless, coming from such a distinguished historian and man of letters.

The Ulster Special Constabulary was disbanded in 1970, following the Hunt Report. In the early stages of the recent Ulster Troubles, after the deployment of the British Army to protect Catholics from Protestant mobs, the B Specials were confined to patrolling Protestant districts and soon upset the locals when they tried to prevent them from attacking Catholics. Republican literature of the period fails, of course, to note this. Those former "Spahshuls" who failed to hand over their weapons to the new Ulster Defence Regiment were not pursued and where those who complied with the order are concerned, several historians point out that an unusually high number of firearms licences were issued by the RUC in the months following USC disbandment. The Orange Order also assented to the formation of a lodge called the Ulster Special Constabulary LOL N° 1970. LOL N° 1970's banner was flown in London as recently as 2007.

Anyway, it is an interesting subject albeit an emotive one and it is very gratifying to see that it can be discussed here in an orderly manner without histrionics and bitterness, even though I am sure there are people with differing views involved.

PK

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I knew Hezlett too-his daughter was at college with me. he was a classic old British navy officer. He said he tried very hard to be accurate and fair in his book, but he was Unionist to the core.

He was also a bit of a medal collector and liked NGS medals. he wrote an excellent bio on Britains' ace submariners in WW2.

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Just to clarify, my parents knew Fitzgibbon, not Hezlet. I imagine that he was Unionist to the core but his book was indeed fair. I must read it again. Did you grow up in Londonderry or did you meet Hezlet through his daughter? He must have been interesting. What a life! Coming back to Twomey, it would be interesting to know which of the Ard Fheis - pronounced 'Ard Esh', like the French region - or, rather, Ardfheiseanna (Plural) he attended, given the schism. Was it the regular Sinn Féin conference or the dissident Republican Sinn Féin conference? When you mention that the Cambridge connection helped in terms of access, were you representing Varsity. I know that the Republicans were prepared to talk to journalists if they felt it might be to their advantage but it's interesting that someone like Twomey gave you enough of an interview that you were later able to sell it to Simon Winchester. Winchester doesn't seem to have written a book on Northern Ireland. If you have a transcript of the interview, I'd be interested in reading it. I might even be able to place it for you, given that this is the twentieth anniversary of his death.

PK

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Simon Winchester did write a book on NI, it was published in the 1970's, I can't remember what it's called but I have a copy somewhere.

The only thing I can remember from it is a comment about 1 RRF not being a "gas-happy" battalion, with reference to the tendecy of some British army units to loose off CS in public order situations.

Edited by leigh kitchen

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