Service of closure for the Army

I’d never heard of Operation Banner before it ended – it seems somehow diminishing to have the tumultuous experience of 30 years of the Troubles described in one of those curious military labels like “Operation Market Garden” for the Arnhem landings. The military – and that also means thousands in NI connected with the UDR and part-time RIR – have held an official ritual of closure in a commemorative service in St Paul’s Cathedral. For me, this is not the time for yet another audit of the Troubles but a moment to recall the humanity involved on all sides. Naturally there was not a single note of triumphalism. The bald facts of this side of the story is that 300,000 personnel served in the province since 1969 and a total of 763 were killed. Attendance at the service by the establishment was mandatory , The Prince of Wales, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher. And what the army would call the rank and file and local people were present too, quoted by the BBC

“Mary Moreland served in the Ulster Defence Regiment with her husband John, who was shot dead in 1988. “Every day is a remembrance for people that suffered, and I think what we have to do is not live in the past, but remember it. Don’t let us rewrite history, let us remember it how it was, and let us move forward.”

Steve Norman, who served on three tours of NI with the Royal Anglian Regiment, was shot and wounded in the Creggan estate in Londonderry in 1973. “To a great extent, a lot of British soldiers do feel a bit let down or ignored or the sacrifice has not been recognised, but today goes a long way to redress that,” he said.

The MOD maintain a Roll of Honour website which is an absorbing browse..
See the first soldier to die in the Troubles, Robert Curtis February 1971. One simple comment
“I was a boyhood friend of Bobby we were both the same age he joined the RA whilst I the Royal Army Pay Corp ironically I was attached to an RA Regt in Germany when I learnt of his death each Remembrance Day I have a special prayer for him he was a great Lad”

“The last soldier” to die almost exactly 26 years later. A corrective from Stephen Restorick’s mum
“Stephen was not “the last one ever killed in service whilst on duty in Northern Ireland”. That was Cpl Gary Fenton killed on duty at a VCP in Crossmaglen in 1998. However, Stephen was the last soldier killed by the IRA. Thank you for remembering Stephen.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London