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Heroes Past & Present

Transcript Needed.

Steve McLaughlin

Interviews with heroes

Northern Ireland Personal Tales

Bernard was born in teeside and had a hard upbringing.  He decided the prospects were not very good.

‘I got my dad drunk so he signed the papers for me to go in the army, but he didn’t know he had done it.  I went to middlesborough and did a test for the army and passed, then I got a sworn in date.  From there nobody realised where I had gone because I just left.  I was sixteen it was 1966,  I ran away from home.  I got to junior leaders, did my training.  Then I went to first battalion the grey in hounds.  Everyone else had their family there, I had no one so it was hard.  Then I went to my regiment in 1969, stationed in Minden.  1969 is when the trouble started and I was in the prince of Wales first regiment, we were shipped out there about 11pm, arrived in Divis street, Belfast and got onto the streets and we had nowhere to stay, we had £50-60 worth of kit in our bags, they had no accommodation for us, so ended up staying at the bus depot but we had to be out at 5am every morning otherwise we would have got gased by the buses,we  slept on the buses.  Eventually we went to a big factory.

They would put you anywhere they could.  The first night I got there, I was allowed to go to sleep for 2 hours, and woke up next to ?.  I didn’t realise because it was dark.

Our regiment the grey in hounds, they called us the fallen plates, because we lost that many in different locations.  We were in all the bad places like Cross Mcglyn, Forkhill,  Ardoyne, Lower Falls, Whiterock, Ballymurphy, Belfast.

I did 6 – 7 tours in different places.  We moved to County Down.  I was put in the GPO, undercover and I met a fella there who was ?? but he was actually in the UVF, so I used to get my information from him and pass it back.  I was supposed to be a cleaner.

Then I went back to the search team which was an eye opener because..... you’ve got to understand terrorism, it took me a long time to understand, because you’ve got people that want to just live.  But the IRA would say to them if you do not move this ammunition or move these rifles then you are not going to see your husband tonight, it was fear, terrorism is fear, that was how they used to live.  I’ve been in a lot of gun battles especially on the border.  When we were in Belfast, The Lower Falls is a bad place, its 100% catholic.  When I first went there we were there to protect the Protestants from the Catholics, then we ended up in the situation where we were protecting the Catholics from the Protestants.  

You used to have lollipop patrols in the Protestant area, where the kids went to school in the Catholic area.  We had to take the kids across the roads.  One of my best mates was shot on lollipop patrol (in front of the children?) yes.  We had to break the kids arm to get him out because he had been holding his hand.   He was shot in the head and he went down.  As he as crossing the road he was shot in the head.

The IRA in all their wisdom, it was a very bad situation, it was politics and religion, then you started getting mercenaries coming in from Yugoslavia, Russia, they were paid to kill soldiers, they higher the rank the more money.

My job when I was out in the search team was to observe for movement of ammunition, you’d get ladies out with prams pushing from one area to another area , they were forced to do it.  A lot of them weren’t forced to do it, they’d be carrying riffles and ammunition, we had to stop them.  I remember one day I stopped this old fella, he had a wooden leg, I used to think it was queer, every day he was going from one area, in Jamaica street.  He used to speak to us every day, then one day I took his leg off him and it was full of ammunition.  We used to get situations like that.

On Jamaica street we always used to get fired from a certain house and every time we went in the house we couldn’t find any ammunition.  I went upstairs this day and there was this little old lady minding her own business they said get her out of bed and there were the two rifles.  People were firing them from her house and putting them underneath her.

In northern Ireland the north and south divide was the north and south divide.  And you go into the prodistant area and you’ve got the UVF, UDA, and on the walls there’s UVF banners and things like that.  Then you go into a catholic area with the IRA, Sinn Fein, Jerry Adams.  I captured him in 1969.  He was an out and out terrorist, his situation was that if you had to die you died.  Mark Mcginess, was in charge of Londonderry, he was another terrorist. They are both polititians now, I disagree with that.  They won’t swear allegeiance to the queen, i had to swear allegiance to the queen.  They are getting a good wage out of it.

What led up to his arrest?  He was visiting Jamaica street and at the bottom of the street there was an IRA club, they were using it for terrorist activities.  It wasn’t known as an IRA club, was just called a social club.  We gained information and watched who was going in and out.  They were dedicated, they were gunman, a lot of them were ex army, you had to be one step ahead of them all the time.

We lost a lot of men, I lost good mates, Derek Hatton, he was shot by a ? a 4 inch by 2 inch ?, he was shot by an ex soldier, a mercenary.  We were on the same duty.  It does affect you.  We were the fallen police, we went in hard and we suffered the consequences.  I go to his grave now.  6 of them were blown up.  Cross mcglen is a horrible place because half is in the south and half is in the north.

It is a difficult situation because its terrorism so everything is freer.  In cross mcglen we lived in wooden huts in the police station compound.  What we had to do to get out of cross mcglen was to crawl out about 200 yards and assemble we had to assemble ourselves as a platoon.  We had crawl in and crawl out because of the danger.  We hardly ever used the main gate.

Every Sunday morning at 11am they used to go to church.  When they were all in the church you knew you were going to get a gun battle.  You weren’t allowed in the church, they used to shoot from in the church grounds but we couldn’t do anything.

I could be talking to a person like you then half an hour later you are shooting at me.  They never wore uniforms, the only time they wore uniforms was at funerals.  I used to call them cowards.

It wrecks your head, you are living on your nerves all the time.  Christmas day you come back and get an egg sandwich and a few chips, you missed your Christmas dinner because you were on patrol.  I was thinking, what am I doing walking these streets.

I remember in Lower Falls walking round the corner into a shindig on a Saturday night.  Big flat cars with all the mics singing IRA songs, drunk.  And we used to have to walk past.

I remember one morning about 3am, walking around the corner and theres a lady hung upside down from a lamp post.  She’d been tarred and feather, she was alive.  There was a big sign saying ;rat’, she had spoken to the army, probably just had a conversation and said hello.  They picked them up and took them to a place and covered them head to foot in hot tar.  Takes about 6 weeks to get it all off.  Sometimes they would take all their clothes off them tar them and then feather them which makes it even harder to get off.

I remember one night we got called out in Cross Mcglynn about 3 or 4 o clock in the morning.  In Cross Mcglynn, there was a fella getting black and deckered (what does that mean?), they used to use a black and decker drill, to take his elbows and knee caps out.  When we got out there he was layed on the floor, I couldn’t touch him because he was booby trapped.  I had to lay next to him and pass cigis to him and try and calm him and tell him not to move and wait for the bomb disposal unit to arrive.  They used to shoot them at one time. But the army are very good surgeons and used to patch them up.  You can imagine the smell of being black and deckered, the smell, just smells like burnt pork.

In northern Ireland you go out on patrol and you never know what the situation is going to be, you are loosing different people all the time.

Do you think its made worse by the streets looking normal?  Yes, sometimes you can go out on patrol and nothing would happen.  And you could go out next time, did you hear about the lads in Ligoniel, they were all cousins, they went to a disco.  the IRA came and shot them all, there were 6 of them all shot in the back of the head, all cousins and relations from the same regiment, the girls got them to the lare and offered them sex or whatever and the IRA were waiting for them and shot them all, tied their hands behind their backs and just left them in the road, all dead.

In NI, I did 6 tours and an unofficial tour for 2 years.  It was all hush hush I had long hair I had a beard, I was flown in and flown out for different situations.  So you were spying?, yes basically. But I couldn’t tell anyone.  I wrecked my head.

The women were worse than the fellas, i’ve been spat in my face, had urine thrown all over me, human excretion thrown at me.  Situations like Cross Mcglynn, Lower Falls, Aardoyne, the ladies used to have a bin lid, they used to bang the bins lids when the patrols were about. So if the IRA were doing anything, they knew when there were patrols in the area or if they wanted the shoot anyone or have a gun battle they knew they had to set up to do it

After tours of duty, I was posted to Warminster to do a small arms course, then I got posted to the army youth team where I was explaining about rubber bullets and different things like that.  Such as, we used to have 3 cards white, yellow and red.  If someone was shooting at you, you were supposed to hold your white card up and say hold hands up still and ? , if they carried on shooting you were supposed to get your yellow card up and say hold your hands up, stand still, I am now preparing to fire. If they carried on shooting at you, you were supposed to hold your red card up and say hold your hands up, stand still, I am going to fire, and fire.  But I ripped them all up and told my patrol to rip them all up, I got into trouble for it but my policy was if someone was going to fire at you, you don’t mess about (with cards).  It’s like the rubber bullets, they were a waste of time.  I can’t understand why they gave me rubber bullets when someone is firing real bullets at me.  I asked at the corporate enquiry about it and they said the policy had changed and they were just to be used in a riot, to slow them down and arrest them.  In a riot you had the rubber bullets but you had to fire them at the ground so that they would bounce and hit them, you weren’t allowed to aim directly.  It was pointless, we used to fire direct at them.

When we were in gun battles or a riot situation you had officers that weren’t qualified.  They used to bring them out of Sandhurst with 16 weeks training and you’ve got lads that have been in the army for 4 or 5 years and they try and tell them what to do, they were clueless, absolutely clueless.  Loads of education but no common sense.  When I got a new officer I used to tell him, you go in the office and sign the paperwork and leave the rest to me.  If I thought they were worth taking out with me I’d take them out, if it was a bad situation they stayed in.  Because you had to worry about him plus your 32 other men and if you were in a sticky situation you had to worry about your 3 sections.

Northern Ireland runs Seargants, Corporals and Lance Corporals and Officers but a lot of the Officers didn’t have a clue.  It;s alright having an education but you’ve got to have your wits.  I had an officer who shot himself in the foot.  

I went to my GP, I was diagnosed with combat stress.  When you are in the army you are kept busy but when you come out they don’t want to know you.  I still have nightmares, I get up in the night and search the house still after 15 years.  I don’t trust anyone.  When I first came out of the army I was drinking heavily and got myself into a lot of problems and I couldn’t understand why but then I got diagnosed with combat stress.  I don’t trust people now, my wife puts up with alot.

I can’t watch war films, it brings back situations.

I went into the bank and I said to the bank manager, I’ll give you my date of birth but I want you to sign this thing to say you won’t give it to anyone else.

How long have you recognised that you have post traumatic stress?  about 4 years.

I’d go back tomorrow.  Because of the comradeship that you haven’t got in civi street.  People don’t understand the way the situation works. Because for instance if you were in barracks and you had no money or a clean shirt one of the lads would see you and give you a clean shirt or if you couldn’t go out because you’ve got no money the lads would say come on don’t worry about it. It wouldn’t happen on civi street.  Its a close knit situation that you don’t get here.  You could be sitting on the bones of your backside and no one would care about you.  I live in a culdesac and there are 3 or 4 old dears and I always make sure they’ve got their papers, make sure they haven’t got any problems.  They won’t let anyone in the house unless I’ve said its ok.

I get these bouts where I don’t want to go out, I don’t go out.

I need to be active in one way, I need to get out to speak to people but I won’t trust people.

I shot two 14 year old kids in lower falls.  They had thomson machine guns, one was 14 one was about 13, but you don’t know that.

They used to get £5 for starting a riot.  The women banging the bin lids got paid.  The IRA used to look after them.  They were paid to be terrorists.

The army nowadays, once you are out they won’t help you.  I can do my cv and apply for jobs but as soon as you mention combat stress they don’t want to know.

‘The army was the only place where I felt safe.’

Why did you leave?  ‘ I’d had enough, my head was wrecked.’

‘I used to think oh I’ll top myself but then I’d think I’ve got my family.’

Derek Leggot

“I had to kill some people in Northern Ireland and I still have to deal with that. I have friends who were injured in Northern Ireland and they have to deal with that.

There is a place down on the border in county Fermanagh called Garrison - a beautiful little hamlet. The river Erne goes through it forming rapids so it looks like a fairytale bridge. It’s beautiful.

We were patrolling there at about 11 o’clock on a stormy autumn night. Everybody has got their weapons up, everybody’s cocked and ready, you’ve got your safety catches on just in case because this is bandit country.

The Post Office had been robbed by the IRA a week before so are making a presence. We are going across the bridge and we can’t hear a thing because of the wind in the trees and the water in the rapids. A friend of mine, Oggy Sanders, he’s the brig leader and he’s at the front – steps onto the bridge and properly stands on the tail of a black cat. The cat goes “Yeow”, Oggy’s rifle banged to the right, Oggy’s flak jacket went off the back, Oggy’s beret flew over the turret into the river and Oggy was seen disappearing up the road shouting “Mum!!” That’s Northern Ireland for you!!”


Transcript Needed.

Darren Ware



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