The Royal Marines in Northern Ireland
This article does not attempt to address the issues of the political or sectarian divide in Northern Ireland, nor does it offer solutions, it is purely a record of the role played by the Royal Marines in the Province.
The Royal Marines involvement in Ireland goes back several centuries. During the campaign to capture Cork in 1690, Lt. Townsend became the first recorded Corps 'sniper', when he climbed the spire of the church of St. Finne-Barre, which overlooked Fort Elizabeth, and shot the fort commander, Colonel O'Neil. However, it was in response to the events of the early years of the twentieth century that deployments in the latter decades of that century are linked.
On 27th April 1916, as part of the response to the so-called 'Easter Uprising', a RM battalion was landed at Queenstown, county Cork. The Haulbowline Dockyard and Admiralty House were secured whilst a detachment proceeded to Galway to guard the naval establishments. Another detachment landed at Fenit near Tralee to protect the naval base there. Signal stations were particularly vulnerable so a section was sent to the stations at Sybil Head, and Cahirmore nr Berehaven. During the evening of 1st May the signal station at Sybil Head was attacked, and three Marines were wounded. The attackers were counter-attacked and although met with a heavy return fire, escaped. The detachment at Galway made landings on some of the islands in Galway Bay, and, in conjunction with the RIC, (Royal Irish Constabulary), rounded up suspects. Garrison duties continued until June 1920 when the newly arrived 8th RM Battalion, which landed at Cork, reinforced them. They provided detachments for the protection of coastguard and signal stations around the coast. A typical post was at Buncrana on Lough Swilly, (County Donegal), which was "to be defended to last man" if attacked. The Corp's involvement ended during the spring of 1922 following the establishment of the 'Free State'. It was to be over 47 years before they were back, when 41 Commando arrived on the streets of Belfast in September 1969.
41 Cdo were based at Bickleigh Camp, just to the north of Plymouth, when the CO got the order at 0950hrs on a Sunday. 'Four-One' were 'Spearhead' and within 5 minutes Tac HQ and 'G' Company were paraded and briefed to move. Three and a half hours later the leading elements of 'Four-One' were heading for RAF Lynham and 24 hours later, on 28th September, they arrived in Belfast, where the leading elements took up temporary lodgings at King's Hall, Balmoral, complete with ice rink! Within hours of the rifle companies arriving they were located to such places as the Corporation Cleansing Station and McClelland's Brewery, the latter of which issued the new arrivals with 3 bottles of beer per man per day. Over the following week 'Four-One' became responsible for areas around 'The Shankill', 'The Falls' 'The Divis' and the 'Boyne Bridge'. These places have now become familiar, but then they were new names, and nobody thought that over 30 years later soldiers would still be patrolling them. Like other units they were faced with a complicated IS, (Internal Security), situation but these 600 men were absorbed fairly easily into the 1,000 square metre labyrinth of endless back-to-back houses interspersed with dead end alleys and gutted buildings - victims of the then notorious petrol bomb.
Tac HQ was located in Hastings
St. RUC Station, while outside, on the streets, the Marines were adapting
to their duties. A certain officer was given the name the 'Sheriff' by
the vigilantes of the Shankill, due to his correct, polite, but firm and
no- nonsense approach. On the Divis call sign 59 - the 'Sheriff' patrolled
ceaselessly into the early hours nosing out trouble before it happened.
One particular incident summed up the Corp's attitude in those early days. 'Four-One' like the rest of the Corps was made up of Marines who signed for a 9-year engagement. Many had served throughout the sixties in places like Borneo, Radfan and Aden. The older hands had seen action in Cyprus, Suez and Malaya. The really old hands sported Korea or even WW2 medal ribbons so the environment they entered did not intimidate them.
In one particular incident this 'self assurance' came to the fore. During a street battle, 'Sunray Minor' with a small Tac HQ advanced up the centre of riot-torn Moore Street; the little group then went calmly straight into, through and out of the thick of it and, in the process, so amazed the hostile crowd, the snipers, the resident Army troops and the RUC by their audacity that everyone gave up and dispersed quietly to bed!
41 Cdo were relived by 1 Para on 14th November. At that time no one thought that this would be the beginning of over 30 years of blood, sweat and tears, in which Her Majesty's Royal Corps of Marines would, by June 2002, have completed 40 tours of duty.
|41 Cdo 28/09/69 -
45 Cdo 01/06/70 - 31/08/70 Belfast
41 Cdo 01/09/70 - 11/11/70 Belfast
45 Cdo 10/08/71 - 01/09/71 Belfast
45 Cdo 17/10/71 - 18/02/72 Belfast / Newry
42 Cdo 28/10/71 - 18/01/72 Armagh / Dungannon / Bessbrook
40 Cdo 14/06/72 - 18/10/72 Belfast
45 Cdo 10/07/72 - 28/07/72 Belfast
42 Cdo 27/07/72 - 01/09/72 Belfast
42 Cdo 15/02/73 - 16/06/73 Belfast
40 Cdo 16/06/73 - 17/10/73 Belfast
42 Cdo 14/02/74 - 14/06/74 Belfast
45 Cdo 02/07/74 - 06/11/74 Bessbrook / Newry / Crossmaglen / Forkhill
42 Cdo 30/09/74 - 14/10/74 Bessbrook / Newry / Portadown / Armagh.
40 Cdo 24/02/75 - 24/06/75 Belfast
42 Cdo 06/10/75 - 05/11/75 Portadown / Armagh /Glen Anne /Aughnacloy
40 Cdo 16/08/76 - 15/12/75 Newry / Bessbrook / Forkhill / Crossmaglen
42 Cdo 27/02/76 - 24/06/76 Belfast
45 Cdo 22/06/77 - 19/10/77 Belfast
41 Cdo 27/02/78 - 21/06/78 Belfast
42 Cdo 16/07/78 - 14/11/78 Bessbrook / Crossmaglen / Forkhill
45 Cdo 06/08/78 - 14/08/78 Belfast
40 Cdo 05/03/79 - 15/03/80 Ballykelly, (Residential Tour).
41 Cdo 16/08/80 - 31/10/80 South Armagh
45 Cdo 07/07/81 - 14/11/81 Belfast
40 Cdo 03/01/83 - 06/06/83 South Armagh
42 Cdo 03/07/84 - 13/11/84 South Armagh
45 Cdo 02/07/86 - 12/11/86 Belfast
42 Cdo 29/05/87 - 19/07/87 South Armagh
40 Cdo 23/02/88 - 18/07/88 Bessbrook, Crossmaglen, Forkhill
42 Cdo 22/06/89 - 14/10/89 Belfast
45 Cdo 19/10/90 - 12/03/91 South Armagh
42 Cdo 01/11/91 - 09/05/92 Fermanagh
40 Cdo 06/11/93 - 07/04/94 Belfas
42 Cdo 29/09/94 - 30/03/95 Bessbrook, Newtownhamilton, Crossmaglen, Forkhill
45 Cdo Apr 95 - Nov 95 Fermanagh
40 Cdo Dec 95 - May 96 East Tyrone, Dungannon, Cookstown, Aldergrove
42 Cdo Sept 98 - Mar 99 Crossmaglen, Forkhill, Bessbrook.
40 Cdo Apr 00 - Sep 00 Belfast, Portadown
42 Cdo Mar 02 - Newtownhamilton, Bessbrook, Crossmaglen, Forkhill
We shall remember whilst
the light lasts
And in the darkness we shall not forget
|Lennerd Allen 22 Mne 40
Cdo 26/07/72 Unity Place Belfast
Anthony David 27 Mne 40 Cdo 17/10/72 West Belfast
Graham Cox 19 Mne 42 Cdo 29/04/73 New Lodge Road, Belfast
Derek Reed 28 Sgt 652 Sq AAC 18/05/73 Knock Na Moe Castle, Omagh
John Shaw Mne 40 Cdo 26/07/73 Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast
James Macklin 28 Mne 42 Cdo 28/03/74 Antrim Road, Belfast
Dennis Leach 24 Cpl 45 Cdo 13/08/74 Crossmaglen, Armagh
Michael Southern 20 Mne 45 Cdo 13/08/74 Crossmaglen, Armagh
Neil Bewley Mne 45 Cdo 12/08/77 Turf Lodge, Belfast
Robert Miller 22 Cpl 42 Cdo 17/08/78 Forkhill, Armagh
Gareth Wheddon 19 Mne 42 Cdo 21/11/78 Crossmaglen, Armagh
William Corbett 34 Sgt 45 Cdo 23/08/81 West Belfast
Andrew Gibbons Mne 40 Cdo 28/05/83 Camlough Lake, Armagh
Adam Gilbert 21 Mne 42 Cdo 15/06/89 New Lodge Road, Belfast
Michael Ball 21 Mus RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
John Cleatheroe 25 Mus RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
Trevor Davis 39 B/Cpl RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
Richard Fice 22 Mus RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
Richard Jones 27 Mus RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
David McMillan 26 B/Cpl RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
Christopher Nolan 21 Mus RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
Dean Pavey 31 B/Cpl RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
Mark Petch 24 Mus RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
Timothy Reeves 24 Mus RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
Robert Simmonds 34 Mus RMSM 22/09/89 Deal, Kent
Many tales, some good, many bad, have come out of this troubled province. For me one of the most moving is that of a young Marine who, after suffering the trauma of extreme injury, rose up to become the victor.
Marine Tom 'R' was serving with 42 Cdo in Belfast during February 1973. On the 20th the patrol, which he formed part of, was ambushed and three Marines were wounded. Marine 'R' lost a leg, with the other very seriously injured. He was removed to the Royal Victoria Hospital and lay in the Intensive Care Unit where doctors fought to save his remaining leg. His mother was flown out to be by his side. During the next day, as she sat by the bedside of her son she received a telegram from the local residents where Tom had been injured that read, "We hear your son has lost his leg, well we hope he looses the other one." He did!
Later that year a letter
appeared in the Corps magazine 'Globe & Laurel', from a young woman
living in Belfast, it read:
" In the school I used to attend, the Careers Dept. got the 'Globe & Laurel' every time it was issued, and now that my sister works at the school she has access to these magazines. She brought the June 73 issue for me to look at and on the back cover was a picture of Marine Tom 'R'. Well I just felt I had to sit down and write to you to ask how he is. It is such a tragedy that such a nice person should be injured in such a way. Where I work I see a lot of soldiers injured or otherwise, and I would love to be able to speak to just one, but I am afraid to. One never knows what will happen if one is too friendly with members of the security forces. A few boys I went to school with are in the Royal Marines and they think it is great. I would love to know how Mr. 'R' is and to wish him a speedy recovery and to thank him for all he did while he was here in Northern Ireland".
One year later Tom 'R', dressed in 'Blues' (uniform), walked up the aisle of his church on 'new legs' and married his fiancée. Tom beat his injuries and beat his assailants, but most of all he beat the cowardly scum who sent that telegram to his mother!
There have been many atrocities carried out by terrorists 'outside theatre', three of which have had a direct impact upon the Corps.
Admiral of the Fleet, The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, uncle to HM The Queen and Life Colonel Commandant to the Royal Marines, was murdered on 27th August when a bomb exploded whilst his family were on a fishing trip at Mullaghmore, County Sligo. The Earl's elder daughter's mother-in-law, the Dowager lady Brabourne died later in hospital. Others killed were the Earl's grandson Nicholas and a young local boatman, Paul Maxwell. Nicholas's twin brother Timothy and his mother and father were critically injured. The INLA, Irish National Liberation Army, claimed responsibility.
On 17th October the then Commandant General Royal Marines, (CGRM), Lt. Gen. Sir Steuart Pringle Bt. KCB started his car outside his home in Dulwich, South London. He had only gone a few yards when a bomb, attached to the underside, exploded. His first concern was that a secondary device might injure people who had rushed to his aid. One of the first questions he asked was, "How's my dog?" His dog, Bella, was unscathed; however, the general was not, for he lost a leg from the injuries he sustained. As the IRA was claiming responsibility, letters and cards of sympathy and support were starting to be sent to the injured Marine that eventually totalled over 2,000. Six months later General Pringle, still CGRM, was seen welcoming home his repatriated Royal Marines of Naval Party 8901 following their capture, after the Governor of the Falklands ordered them to lay down their arms during Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands.
On 22nd September the IRA bombed the Royal Marines School of Music, (RMSM), at Deal. The effect was devastating and 11 bandsmen were killed and others injured. This cowardly act provoked many reactions from all members of the serving and non-serving Corps. In addition there was a feeling of repugnance towards some members of the news media who, in their anxiety to portray the events, paid scant sensitivity to those most immediately involved.
On 29th September, one week after the bombing, the Band of the School of Music marched again through the streets of Deal. As they marched they were applauded by thousands of members of the public who had turned out to show their support. In the ranks of the band were eleven empty places; spaces where the fallen should have been.
In 1992 a memorial bandstand was unveiled and dedicated to the memory of those who died on that fateful day. It stands on an ancient capstan mound on Walmer Green, and on eleven of its 12 faces are the names of those talented musicians, 'who only ever wanted play music'.
Awards for Northern Ireland were first published in the London Gazette of 29th March 1971. Additional awards were published in 1971, (June, Oct & Nov), all with citations. In 1972 citations were omitted when the gazette was published on 15th Feb. Since then the policy of not including citations has continued, except in the case of the four George Crosses. Between 1972 and April 1984 quarterly lists were published, after which half yearly lists were introduced, a policy that continues today. General Officer Northern Ireland Commendation, (GOC NI Com), awards are made for either gallant or meritorious services. They are not published in the London Gazette. Reference to these has been extracted from the Globe & Laurel, regimental magazine of the Royal Marines.
QGM, (Bar) 1
BEM, (Bar) 1
QCVSA, (Air) 1
GOC NI Com 95