Belfat, ’69 on, The Troubles, The Royal Ulster Constabluary, Part timers

I intended writing about the RUC sometime, but do so now, not as a rant, but to draw attention to the reports we had at the time of the Gulf War and currently of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where my relatives and friends are being asked to fight without the proper means and support. The details are in the Press daily, but there is little action by the Authorities. I can vouch, being at a disadvantage, unnecessarily, is frustrating, dangerous and stupid.

In the 70’s, aged 50, with a large staff, and responsibility for a number of Civil Engineering projects, I would have been silly to volunteer for service with the Police, part time, at night. I was aggravated by the IRA calling shooting old men in the back, as ‘legitimate Targets’, whose sole selection was they performed a menial, civilian task in a police station. – the Press called them ‘soft targets’ – they were unarmed and unsuspecting. I believe, an ‘army’, means fighting head on, not one or two civilians, bombing and shooting indiscriminately. In Armagh a young police woman, merely carrying documents was shot in the back and killed. This was the last straw – the police were under severe stress, working incredible hours and the shootings and bombings were at their height. The police woman, part time, was married with children. I joined up, primarily to relieve one professional at least, from standing guard duty, something I could reasonably do. He could get on with policing.

A new world, new procedures, a new uniform, and more study. We had to understand the Law as applied to policing, shoot a Walther, 9mm automatic (007’s choice), accurately, and mostly stand guard duty at the barracks, a judge’s house, or ride around in an armoured Land Rover, going to ‘incidents’ at speed. The average policeman, unsurprisingly, was like any other serviceman, interested in guns, his job, football and so on. There was, naturally, the odd bad apple. Sometimes I had to stand at the gate of the barracks, checking the traffic and watching all those places where a sniper could shoot me with equanimity – no chance of being caught. I was amazed no one had ever had a pop. One night, we were drinking coffee and eating buns at ‘break’ when there was a call. We shot off at speed, but when we arrived at a house which had been shot up by a speeding car, the Army and another patrol were already there, so we stood in a group, under a street lamp discussing. I wondered if it had been a set-up, and casually pointed out that someone in the nearby wooded Cave Hill could shoot several of us easily and get away and that we should disperse. It was met with derision

Sometimes we sat in a small hut at a judge’s house singly or in pairs, or manned street barriers looking for arms; then I rushed to keep guard in the hedge with the Stengun, my Golf Club was nearby and I didn’t want to nab a friend for drink-driving. Once, a car entered the drive of the judge’s house with two young people in it, when they saw the uniform and the Sten they reversed hurriedly. Another night a regular copper asked me what I would do if I was in a pub and the IRA made a hold up. I said I would have a go. He pointed out that, presupposing I shot the raiders, I would be standing there in civvies, holding a smoking gun, if the army came running, they would shoot first and ask questions after. Some weeks later that scenario was played out in a garage in N. Belfast and a part-time policeman in civvies was killed. The most hairy part of being a policeman, for me, was during office hours when I had to supervise work in ‘No Go Areas’, where the IRA were receiving protection payments and I, a copper, was carrying a gun.

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