Northern Ireland (Pre-Amalgamation)

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The campaign in Northern Ireland dominated the Regiment’s life from 1969 to 1992; The Queen’s Regiment deployed on a total of thirty-six tours in the Province and Royal Hampshire Regiment were to clock up nine. The majority of the deployments were of four to six months duration; however the total includes seven resident eighteen months to two-year tours. The latest round of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland broke out in 1968, as the enmity between the nationalist and loyalist populations came to a head. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed to reverse the anti-Catholic legislation in Northern Ireland and began a campaign of peaceful marches and demonstrations. Violence and rioting, however, began to occur, as extremists on both sides of the community clashed. The Northern Ireland Government was not seen to be impartial in its handling of the situation and began to lose control. The crisis came to a head during the annual protestant Apprentice Boys’ March on the 12th August 1969, which resulted in three days of savage fighting within Londonderry and the spread of violence and Catholic ‘No-Go’ areas around the Province. On the 13th, The Northern Ireland Government asked Westminster for troops to assist to keep the peace.

The first troops deployed onto the streets on the 13th August 1969 and they were followed two days later by The 2nd Battalion The Queen’s Regiment (Queen’s Own Buffs), which was on a resident tour in Holywood at the time. The Battalion deployed to West Belfast, whilst in the same month The 1st Battalion (Queen’s Surreys) deployed to Londonderry and The Royal Hampshires arrived in Belfast. At first, all of the troops were warmly welcomed, particularly by the Roman Catholic population and most military activity was directed at placating and separating the two communities. However, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) began to establish its support amongst disaffected nationalists as it aimed to achieve a united Ireland by violent means. The Provisional IRA (PIRA) launched its terrorist campaign against the security forces, the population and the Government, whilst the Official IRA (OIRA) also maintained a campaign up until 1972. The 3rd Battalion of The Queen’s Regiment, which was beginning a resident tour of Ballykinler, joined the 2nd Battalion in West Belfast in 1970, as the troubles worsened. The first British soldier was killed in February 1971 and the Regiment’s first fatality was Private Carter of The 2nd Battalion The Queen’s Regiment, who was killed by IRA gunmen on the 14th September. What is sometimes forgotten is that in fact Private Brimblecombe of the 2nd Battalion died on 23 June 1969 while on operations guarding a key point against attacks from loyalist terrorists and before troops were actually officially deployed onto the streets in August. A total of 11 Queensmen, including one attached chef were killed while on active service in Northern Ireland or as a result of terrorist action.

This article does not intend to develop the history of the recent troubles in Northern Ireland, but forebear battalions were to continue to serve in the Province, as rural or urban based units right up until the latest amalgamation. In May 1991, The Royal Hampshires completed a resident tour of Londonderry, whilst The 2nd Battalion The Queen’s Regiment finished a six month tour of East Tyrone in April 1992.