The Northern Ireland Troubles,5

The Royal Ulster Constabluary, Part 2 At that time I was a member of Fortwilliam Golf Club, and not entirely innocent of drink driving. We, a mixture of Regulars and Reservists, would shoot off in the Land Rover and at the whim of the Sergeant in charge, we would stop, set up a control point, ostensibly be looking for terrorists, but I always suspected it was more a case of increasing the drink-driving arrest statistics. This left me with a queasy feeling of being poacher turned gamekeeper, and as many of the points we set up were blatantly on the route home for carousing golfers, I took the precaution of being the first out of the car with the Sten and into the hedge, where I hid as back-up, while the others questioned the motorists. I had no wish to have to choose between duty and friendship.
One day, when we had set up on the entrance to the motorway, I had, as usual shot off to be back-up and the others were doing the questioning when I saw a woman passenger, seeing the police check-point, cover her face with her hands. I realised something was up, nodded to my comrades who went to question the car driver. The latter put down the foot and roared off down the motorway, the rest rushed into the Land Rover and after him, leaving me, on my own, stranded on a motorway, with no back-up. It turned out they had quite a chase and he was drunk, not a terrorist. Ultimately, when all else had been taken care of they remembered they were one short.
I never really managed to understand the strategy of the terrorists. They must have had access to technical knowledge and yet they seemed never to get the best out of any situation. I used to stand at the gate of North Queen Street Station on guard, and I could see several vantage points where a good sniper could have picked me off and got away Scot free and yet they didn’t. One night, when I was part of the Land Rover crew we were having a break for coffee and sangers, round about midnight, when there was a call that there had been a shooting in North Belfast. In fact, we were legitimately off-duty, but the degree of boredom was such that we all tumbled into the Land Rover and with siren wailing, cornering on two wheels, adrenaline high, we roared off to the scene to find a police car, another Land Rover and an Army unit there before us. The police from the car had the matter well in hand. The rest of us all stood gossiping under a street light, an ideal target for a sniper less than half a mile away on the Cavehill slopes, there was no way he could have missed and no way he could have been caught. If it had been a set-up, it would have been an unqualified success.
There were times when we suspected terrorists in a vicinity and had to creep as quietly as we could down dark alleys, in my case, full of apprehension, there were occasions when we roared off siren squealing, adrenaline high, on a false alarm, but mostly it was tedium, the same as I had experienced with the Guards and the Navy – not surprisingly.
Having worked peripherally with the RUC, I know that apart from the odd idiot, in every sense, and odd in a ratio of about five percent – a natural aberration, and taking into account it was an almost totally Protestant force being whittled down weekly by a sectarian organisation bent on mayhem, there was a level of even-handedness and compassion I found not so much surprising as reassuring. They are not the thugs they are painted, they are mainly average young family men doing a unique job in difficult circumstances. There is no doubt that in the heat of an engagement, no matter what form it takes, that adrenaline will run high and it is inevitable under those conditions some degree of indiscipline can creep in to those of a more volatile disposition, but the RUC is normally not singular in this respect, and examination of all the World’s security forces will not only substantiate this, it will show there is above average restraint, because there has to be.
I resigned after I considered I had paid back the cost of the uniform because I considered we, the Reserve, were being used as a cheap alternative to either recruiting more regulars or paying the current Force overtime. The edge had gone off the emergency and they were standing some men down in preference to the Reserve doing onerous security duties, added to which the pressures of nights out and all day at work were beginning to pall. Nonetheless, with hindsight, it was an experience I would have been sorry to have missed.

Categorized as General

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