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    'Operation Banner.' The longest campaign in British military history

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    'Operation Banner' was the longest campaign in British military history. Out of all the campaigns which have taken place over the past 50 years it is probably the one that attracts the least amount of discussion amongst military historians. Every year I sell poppies for the RBL, and I am often asked what my medal is for. And when I say 'Northern Ireland' it never ceases to amaze me the amount of ignorance shown by people on the subject. Many seem to have the this idea that not much really went on over there. They are under the impression that only a 'few' soldiers lost their lives.

    There were often multiple casualty incidents - such as Warrenpoint on the 27th August 1979. In a double bomb blast, 16 members of the Parachute regiment, along with two other soldiers from another unit lost their lives. Our enemy didn't wear a uniform. You could be ambushed one moment and have the same person walk past you the next. Your enemy looked just the same as your friend. And yet this 'war' wasn't classed as a war by the British Government. It was merely 'Civil Unrest.'

    There were no homecoming parades through the streets. No repatriation ceremonies with guard of honour for our dead comrades. They were just quietly brought over without causing a fuss. There was none of this talk on the news of the latest casualty being 'the best' or 'an inspiration to his comrades.' It was usually just a case of... 'Another soldier was shot dead today by an IRA sniper while on patrol in Belfast. His family have been informed.'

    We are supposed to have been at peace now since 2001. But when I wrote a book about my experiences in Northern Ireland, and it was submitted to the Ministry of Defence for clearance, I was advised to change peoples identities 'Due to the on-going security situation in Northern Ireland.' It doesn't sound like much of a peace if events of 40 years ago can still be a security problem does it?

    There must be other former soldiers who like me served in Ireland, and also use this forum. I would be interested to hear their opinions on why our efforts to keep the peace on the streets of Northern Ireland have never got the recognition we so richly deserve.

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    Possibly because many of the "old hands" are still around-and in positions of political power. There are still more than a few fanatics on both sides who would be more than happy to start it all up again, despite the huge changes that have occurred in Ulster over the past 20 years.

    I read a Masters' thesis the other day about how the UDA and UVF's "philosophy of shared responsibility" (promoted by Andy Tyrie) was a catalyst for the transition to peace. There is some truth to that notion, but I reckon MI5 and some sandbagger types in the NIO had a lot more to do with it. THAT sort of stuff won't be made public for 100 years.

    If you were there than you remember the battalion Intelligence Officers' office with all the photos and note cards on the walls. Most of those guys are still alive and more than a few are still volatile.

    The nightmare was always that what happened in Sarajevo could happen in Ulster if the troops went and the campaign was expensive, bothersome and hugely painful.

    Better to let sleeping dogs lie.

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    I still have many of my 'wanted' lists of pictures which we all carried around in our granny-books. I still have my diaries which I kept too. And now I am being told that some of the things I experienced didn't happen. I guess I must have made it all up. You try to forget some things, but they have a habit of coming back to haunt you in later life.

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    • 8 years later...

    Am currently reading The RUC a force under fire by Chris Ryder.


    On page 110, there is an interesting paragraph, that I’d never considered before. I wonder why it was dismissed and why the default setting was to send the army?


    On the 8 August (1969) a meeting took place between Chichester-Clark and James Callaghan, about the worsening situation in Northern Ireland. It was said that there was no question of British police being loaned to Ulster.





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    Bear in mind that British soldiers were sent there as peace keepers instead of Police, and during those early months they were welcomed with open arms by the Catholic community. It was only when certain members of the Official IRA wished to take up arms against the British soldiers that the situation started to turn ugly and soldiers started to be killed. I was there (Andersonstown) at a time when the violence against the troops was at its greatest... November 1971 to March 1972, and again in June 1974. I kept a record of both my tours, and these were later turned into two books. The second one (and the best) came out in 2015.




    IMG_20150727_0001_NEW (461x640) (381x572) (381x572).jpg

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