'Why?' - A pamphlet published by the Ulster Special Constabulary Association (1980)
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This book is a tribute to all ranks of the Ulster
Founder of the Ulster Special Constabulary
Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, 1943-1963
Patron of the Association, 1970-73.
Patron of The Ulster Special Constabulary Association.
The object of this booklet is to provide a composition and survey of events which led to the disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary and the coming to life of the Ulster Special Constabulary Association. It is written by ex-members of the USC whose love for Ulster gave them a unique intuitive expertise in interpreting the happenings of that time. It gives the reader a glance into the "storm centre" with which Ulster has always had to contend.
I am therefore proud to have been asked to write this foreword, and to be given an opportunity to record an appreciation to the wonderful loyalty and devoted service which the Ulster Special Constabulary gave to Northern Ireland from 1920 to 1970. It is impossible for the people of Ulster to really pay an adequate tribute to this fine force.
When these dedicated and faithful men decided to set up the Ulster Special Constabulary Association, they did so in order to preserve that dedication to God and country and to the oath they had taken when first sworn in as Special Constables, through continuing to meet regularly in comradeship and concern for the future of Ulster. In so doing they set an example to all.
My husband, the late Lord Brookeborough, was a founder member of the USC and the first patron of the USCA. He often said to me "the Ulster Special Constabulary and the Ulster Special Constabulary Association are one large family of loyal subjects." It was a matter of pride to him that he had been asked to become the first patron of the Association, and he was always ready to give guidance and to respond to any request made of him.
I cannot, nor ever will, be able to show how very honoured I felt when the USCA asked me to take my husband’s place as patron to such a marvellous and wonderful body of men: I only trust that I shall be long able to follow the example which he has set me. I feel that many people do not fully realise the tremendous contribution made by this fine force towards maintaining the peace in Northern Ireland, not only through the long and arduous patrols at night but also their watchfulness when at work and in the fields.
I would pay a special tribute to their wives and families, who have had all the anxiety whilst the husband or son of the family was on duty, and have had to bear the additional burden of work and the responsibility of family care during their absence. No praise is too great for the womenfolk who stood so firmly behind the men who served in the Ulster Special Constabulary.
Finally I would like to say to those who have suffered in any way, particularly through the loss of a dear one, that I would remind them of the words of Helen Steiner Rice:
"Somebody loves you more than you know. .. . and will always be with you wherever you go!"
I am sure you understand that the Government’s acceptance of the main recommendations of the Hunt Committee Report meant that the duties of the Ulster Special Constabulary would be taken over by the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve, and that consequently the Force would no longer be required.
In these circumstances, being the person on whom the onus falls of terminating your service under the Ulster Special Constabulary (Appointment and Position) Regulations, 1950 (S.R. & O. 1950 No. 179), I now write to give formal notice that your service in the Ulster Special Constabulary will end on the 30th April, 1970.
In so writing in order to comply with the law, I also wish to convey to you my deep appreciation of the invaluable service which you, and your colleagues have given to the country; an appreciation which, I know, is shared by all members of the Government.
The place of the Ulster Special Constabulary is secure in the history of Northern Ireland, and, now that changes have been found necessary, it is the wish of the Government and myself that those eligible who have already served the country so well will continue to find an outlet for their devotion and public spirit in one or other of the new Forces. In so doing, they will aid greatly in moulding them to the same high standards which were attained in the Ulster Special Constabulary and thus ensure to the community a service in which all can take pride.
ROBERT W. PORTER.
AT 4 p.m on the 14th of August, 1969, after days of continuous rioting in Belfast, Londonderry and Newry, the Government authorised a general mobilisation of the Ulster Special Constabulary. The police force was near to exhaustion and the Province was on the brink of Civil War.
The order for the men to report to their local police stations for duty was broadcast on radio and television, and in some towns, particularly in North Down, crowds gathered in the streets and cheered the men as they reported in. It was apparent that the call out was being interpreted as a sign that Stormont had at long last come to its senses, and the spirits of the men and the law abiding community were high with hope that the new found courage of the Government would restore law and order. Hopes were soon to be dashed and the courage was found to have little substance. By 6.30 p.m. that evening the mobilisation was complete, and some 10,000 men were standing by in their stations to be briefed prior to moving forward into riot areas to restore order.
From the middle of July, as the riots and civil disturbances gained momentum, the Staff Officer of the USC had asked the Security Committee, presided over by the Minister of Home Affairs, to authorise the use of the USC in riot areas and for general security duties throughout the province. The committee would not, however, concede that the USC should be used in that way, and the request of the Staff Officer was repeatedly refused until the 14th of August, by which time the situation was beyond containment by the RUC alone.
County Inspectors of the RUC were given discretionary powers as to the use of the USC, and platoons were placed at their disposal. In Dungiven, Dungannon and Coalisland, the Specials were moved in to restore order, and in each of those areas they were attacked with petrol bombs by hostile Republicans intent on taking life and destroying property. The USC, who were not issued with riot shields, were in an extremely perilous situation, and all other measures having failed, they were obliged to fire warning shots over the heads of the rioters, and, coupled with determined baton charges, succeeded in dispersing the mobs.
(These measures were condemned by the Scarman Tribunal, but it is significant that the tactics employed by the USC were subsequently used by the Army and the Police, who now have greater liberty in the use of firearms to the point of "shoot to kill.")
Shortly after 9 p.m. on the 14th August, the USC in Newry were detailed for anti-riot duty in the town, and were instructed to lay aside their firearms and to re-equip with batons, helmets and riot shields. Their first duty was to restrain a very angry Protestant assembly, who were threatening to attack Republican rioters in violent confrontation with the RUC. The Special Constabulary managed, by force of argument, and more than a little flexing of the muscles to reinforce the strength of that argument, to get the Protestants to disperse. They were then detailed to give assistance to the RUC, who up until then were no more than holding the Republicans at arms length. Side by side with the RUC the USC gave a much needed fillip to the now tiring regular force, and together they succeeded in pushing the rioters back, the USC taking the brunt of the attack in the vanguard of repeated baton charges. Eventually the rioters were driven into a cul-de-sac from which there was no escape, finally succumbing to the type of vigorous treatment which they had been meting out for days to the RUC. After a time a white flag appeared, and after consultation with the District Inspector, they were allowed out of the entry on condition that they disperse. They were permitted to leave the entry without modestation, but immediately reformed and again attacked. It was not until 4 a.m. that peace was restored, and the USC had, with the police, been continuously engaged from 9 p.m. the night before. The Special Constabulary in Newry proved the capability of the USC in giving support to the RUC, but regrettably circumstances prevented that example being repeated.
In Belfast, armed with revolvers and batons, the USC faced inflamed Protestant mobs on the Shankill, at the same time trying to stop incursions by Republicans from the Falls and the Ardoyne. In Londonderry the USC were similarly engaged, facing on the one hand enraged Protestants in the Waterside, and on the other trying to drive back rioting Republicans who were attacking the RUC. In Armagh City, riots had reached fever pitch, and when the Tynan sub district reached the RUC Station in the evening the situation was far from being under control. The 17 men were given an instant direction to "Follow me in your cars" by the County Inspector, who headed off in his car. Soon after leaving the station they lost sight of the County Inspector’s car and found themselves in the centre of a riotous assembly. In uniform and armed with rifles, they immediately became targets for successive barrages of petrol bombs and stones. A car which they took to be the County Inspector’s was ablaze in front of them, a stark blazing threat of treatment to be meted out by a Republican mob crazed with success. In order to extricate themselves and to save what they took to be the County Inspector they opened fire, and one person was killed. A subsequent enquiry failed to conclusively attribute responsibility. In more peaceful areas the USC patrolled the streets and by their presence had a calming influence on the local populace, maintaining order and providing a normal police service. In Lisburn 72 members of Lisburn District were detailed to replace the RUC on duty for the Dundrod motor cycle race, and on return to the RUC station at 9 p.m., 50 of their number were sent immediately to Belfast for anti-riot duty. They had left home at 7 a.m. and were on duty for 24 hours without provisions.
On the 15th August the Stormont Government asked Westminster for military assistance, riots were still in progress in many parts of the Province. In the afternoon the Army moved into Londonderry to be greeted by Republicans with open arms, kisses, and cups of tea. a welcome which was soon to become sour. In Belfast the riots were such that the USC were called in from rural areas at 7 p.m. Some 180 Specials from Newtownards reported to Mountpottinger police station in East Belfast, where they were issued with helmets and instructed to hand in their arms to the armoury. This caused Sub District Commandants in charge of the USC to ask how the men were to be deployed, and were told that they would be carrying out crowd control and riot duties. The Officers objected on the grounds that the men would be exposed without adequate defence in areas where gunfire could be expected, and they instructed their men not to hand in their arms until clarification was received. After a time senior officers of the RUC arrived and following discussions with the USC officers it was agreed the Specials would go on the streets armed, on condition that all ammunition was properly accounted for before and after patrol. That night Specials from Newtownards together with their Belfast colleagues restored law and order to East Belfast, and on return to Mountpottinger submitted their arms and ammunition for inspection as agreed. Not a shot had been fired despite extreme provocation, fully honouring the assurance given by their officers that they would not allow themselves to be provoked into retaliation.
By the 16th August the Army had taken over control of all riot areas from the RUC and USC in Belfast They set up barricades and excluded the police force from Republican areas. As in Londonderry they were received with open arms, and as in Londonderry those open arms soon held firearms, and cups of tea became petrol bombs. The RUC were withdrawn to police stations to fulfil a "normal police function" and their areas of patrol were limited to Protestant areas. The USC were given the task of providing armed reinforcements for station protection, guarding vital installations, and protecting the homes of Government Ministers and VIP’s.
The People’s Democracy Party, the Civil Rights Association, and members of what was later to become the Socialist Democratic Labour Party, who had participated in the disturbances, now stepped up their vicious propaganda campaign. The RUC and the USC bore the brunt of this verbal barrage with a dignified silence, fully expecting that the lies and distorted facts would be vigorously denied by the Government and by loyalist politicians. Few, if any, verbal shots were fired in their defence. With hindsight it can be seen that events were turning out as leading Republican figures and godfathers of the IRA had anticipated, and it is quite apparent that many leaders of public opinion both loyalist and republican, and the news media, were being manipulated by the IRA. In the past the Labour Government had always shown a dislike of Ulster Unionism, and in power at Westminster they saw an opportunity to destroy the union. As the troops moved in, Harold Wilson appeared on television and intimated that the Ulster Special Constabulary would have to go, and the Northern Ireland Prime Minister agreed to the setting up of a committee of enquiry into the police in Northern Ireland, no doubt hopeful that the role of the USC would be vindicated.
On the 26th of August, 1969 the Minister of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland, Robert Porter, appointed Baron Hunt to lead an advisory committee on police in Northern Ireland to examine the recruitment, organisation, structure and composition of the RUC and the USC, and their respective functions, and to recommend as necessary what changes were required to provide for the efficient enforcement of law and order in Northern Ireland.
The committee set about their task immediately, and informal interviews were held throughout the Province, attended by representatives of all ranks of the USC and RUC. The Staff Officer and other senior officers of the USC who had for years been trying to re-equip the force and to provide more advanced training, were not averse to a fact finding constructive enquiry, but it is quite apparent that after the interview they felt that they had been props in a window dressing charade. They could not help but see the committee as a smokescreen to shield a decision already taken to disband the USC.
The committee published its report on the 3rd October, and the fears of those officers were confirmed; the Ulster Special Constabulary was to be stood down and replaced by two forces, one an unarmed police reserve and the other an armed part time military force under the control of the GOC. The republican propagandists had achieved their main aim of discrediting the RUC and disbanding the USC, paving the way to a United Ireland. With the USC out of action, the Province would be left defenceless, and the IRA would be free to move men and arms through the country without fear or hindrance. Without effective leadership the law abiding population were powerless to act, and most people recognised that the troubles were only about to start. Now, ten years after the acceptance of the Hunt Report, the results of these recommendations can be clearly seen. Law and order has ceased to exist in many areas of Northern Ireland, the Province has suffered ten years of bloodshed and tears, and countless years have yet to be faced. It is said that Baron Hunt has admitted that had he been able to foresee the course of events he would not have recommended the disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary, an admission which if correct gives no comfort to those who have suffered or lost loved ones as a result of that recommendation.
In what was almost unseemly haste the Hunt Report was ratified and put into effect. It is said that the Staff Officer of the USC was summoned to Stormont by the Minister of Home Affairs, informed of the decision, and given the opportunity to personally opt out, this he declined to do. Only the few who were to carry out the execution of the order to stand down, can imagine the traumatic experience of the "man at the top," the re-allocation of his office on his return from Stormont, his relegation to the corridors of Brooklyn as a place of work, his ostracism by some senior RUC officers at police HQ, and the eventual banishment with the remnants of his staff to a Ministry storehouse at Dundonald where the last act of tragedy was to be carried out. This chill wind of change was felt by all ranks, who performing duty right to the end found out that they were also being pushed out of sight, lest their presence should offend — or stir the conscience.
The USC, now under command of the GOC, were something of an enigma to Lt. General Freeland. He did not understand the existing command structure of the USC, or appreciate that the motivation for carrying out any operation was that of simple loyalty to the country and to the USC. He was hard put to find the Special Constabulary wanting in any respect, and his tasking through the Security Council was sufficiently severe as to be thought at best "probing" and at worst faultfinding. He was known to have expressed amazement that a part time force such as the USC, could within the hour of call out, be standing ready at their station awaiting operational instructions. Experience is a hard taskmaster but an excellent instructor, and for 50 years the USC had moulded its discipline and organisation on the needs of Ulster.
The immediate natural reaction of all ranks to disbandment, was one of disgust and resentment, and in Newtownards the Specials of the District marched to the RUC Station led by their District Commandant, and handed in their personal effects and arms. The Government and the Security Council were suddenly aware of the depth of feeling of the men, and a meeting was agreed between the men and the Minister of Home Affairs in the Station yard. The Minister, Robert Porter, addressed the meeting, and said that although the USC was being disbanded all who wished could transfer to the UDR or the RUCR He was given a fair hearing, but assurances had been given and broken in the all too recent past and distrust of Government Ministers and politicians words was deep rooted — he failed to impress. In reply to the Minister the men spoke straight to the point of the failure of Stormont to give leadership to the country, and accused the Minister and his colleagues of treachery to the people of Northern Ireland. After the Minister had left the meeting the Staff Officer of the USC discussed the situation with the men, and a compromise was reached, the men would not resign but they would not carry out any duties. It was obvious that the Government were afraid of a watershed, and in the days that followed District and Sub District Commandants were asked to abortive meetings with Government Ministers, Senior Police Officers, and Senior Army Officers. After several weeks it became apparent that some politicians were trying to make political capital of the action of the men, who, not wishing to see the USC become a political football, took a decision to return to duty.
In a sort of Jekyll and Hyde situation some of the men were set to guard the homes of Cabinet Ministers and politicians with whom they had been in dispute, a testimonial to the trust which was placed in the men by all concerned and a tribute to the discipline of the USC all over. Despite the axe which was hanging over their heads the USC discipline was unshakeable, and they accepted the onus of guarding such vital installations as reservoirs, armouries, police stations, water and electric power plants as a duty to be performed in line with their oath of office.
Meanwhile, the setting up of the two part time forces went ahead. In some areas members of the USC volunteered for the new forces in reasonable numbers, usually in areas where it was known that the Sergeant Instructor of the USC would be accepted as an instructor in the UDR, or the permanent staff USC County officers were to be accepted in equivalent positions in the new regiment. The wound, however, had gone deep, and the majority, most of them in the older age and service bracket, felt that the country had stood by whilst Westminster and politicians at Stormont had connived at bringing the USC to an end, and could not bring themselves to serve in either the UDR or the RUCR.
Not to resign from the USC was a deliberate decision taken in the interests of the country, for to do so would have left the way forward for the IRA to have a completely free hand. The new Inspector General of the RUG, Sir Arthur Young, with little thought for the consequences, had reacted quickly to the recommendation of the Hunt Report and disarmed the RUG. The Army was trying to find its way around the maze of country roads and city streets — which had yet to recover from the effects of removal of identity caused by the war — equipped with antiquated maps and no knowledge of the areas they patrolled. In these circumstances the men could not do other than stand firm in the interests of Ulster, until such time as the new part time forces were able to take up the reins.
On the 31st of March 1970 the Minister of Home Affairs, Robert W. Porter, formally sent out letters to every member of the USC terminating their service with effect from midnight on the 30th April 1970. In his words, ". . . the Force would no longer be required." The Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve were in their infancy. The UDR had not reached its expected complement. In addition to the natural antipathy which many USC members felt towards the UDR, the policy of recruitment was designed to give least pretext for Roman Catholics not to join, and as a result many ‘B’ men and Orangemen were refused entry without reason given. In the event the expectation that Roman Catholics would overcome their prejudice to serving in the uniform of either the police or army was little more than a pipe dream, and the rejection of some ‘B’ men offended that section of the community from which recruitment to the USC was accustomed to come. Nevertheless both the UDR and the RUCR were founded by ex members of the USC.
Probably the most crucial period of disbandment was the time of handing in of arms and ammunition. The sensitivity of it was not lost upon the Government, who were so aware of the cuff hanging situation "Will they or won’t they?", that the progress of the hand in, was monitored by a twice daily sitrep to Stormont, and thence to Westminster. In previous paragraphs the trauma of the Staff Officer faced with the act of dissolving the USC has been referred to. Parallel to this were the feelings of Sergeant Instructors who in the final wrench of taking over the proud possession of every ‘B’ man, his rifle and ammunition, had to stand the cataclysm of pent up feelings as the flood gates were broken down. In that moment of time the fate of Ulster hung upon the bond between two men, and they were not found wanting. This was their finest hour.
THERE were few people watching the final parade of the Ulster Special Constabulary in 1970 as they marched to Balmoral for their stand down service, who did not feel sadness that a volunteer force which had given such stalwart service for fifty years should be disbanded. It was an emotional scene, one which meant so much to so many people.
There were perhaps a small number with United Ireland aspirations whose curiousity led them to see for the last time in uniform the men who had stood between them and the fulfilment of those aspirations, for fifty years, but the vast majority were there to pay their last tribute to an organisation whose dedication to the cause of Ulster had earned them the respect and affection of the Protestant community. These could not help but feel and express a deep foreboding and apprehension at the possible consequences of this senseless act perpetrated by the mother parliament at Westminster aided and abetted by a weak Unionist Government at Stormont.
Indeed no shame was felt or displayed, for to a man even in the hour of their trial, they behaved as they had done for fifty years, in the highest traditions of a proud police force, with dignity, discipline, courage and bearing, qualities which had served Ulster well in the many perils which had threatened the country since the Government of Ireland Act 1920 brought Northern Ireland into being.
No higher tribute can be paid to the Ulster Special Constabulary than that they stood guard over the country whilst the Ulster Defence Regiment, that was to replace them, was being recruited, as their forefathers had stood guard over the country in 1920-1922 whilst the Royal Ulster Constabulary was being recruited. The strength of both the RUG and the UDR lies in the firm foundation of members recruited from the Ulster Special Constabulary.
It has not been sufficiently emphasised that the Ulster Special Constabulary scrupulously handed in at disbandment every round of ammunition and every firearm on issue to it. It must be said that in one year, even in one month, or one day, that the Army and Police Force have lost more firearms than the Ulster Special Constabulary lost in its fifty years of service. Such was their understanding of security and personal responsibility to the community.
It is too late to enter into recrimination, but it will ever be one of the mysteries of our time as to how Lord Hunt arrived at his decision to recommend the disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary, in face of the evidence which was available to him showing the sterling worth of the men of the USC. Was no account taken of the number of favourable records which had been given to members by successive Inspector Generals of the RUG, or the number of awards and honours bestowed upon members for meritorious service and devotion to duty by the Kings and Queen of England? More somberly was no account taken of those who gave their lives in the country’s fight against the IRA? "Greater love hath no man than this — " yet so few made any protest when the sacrifice was made.
It is charitable to say that the reason why there was so little outcry was that the propaganda, the distortion of the truth, and the deliberate concealment of facts, which was presented to both the Hunt committee and the Cameron commission was so obviously malicious and ridiculous, that it could only be regarded as unbelievable, and was obviously considered to be such by the ordinary citizen who firmly believed that "right would be right" in the end. It is probably true that the Special Constable of the day was also so imbued with that belief, that he saw no need to refute that which was blatantly lies, or to protest in any way which would bring himself or the Ulster Special Constabulary into disrepute.
How many people of that day for instance saw the British Army as anything other than support for the Police to put down an insurrection, and not as it has been freely admitted to protect one section of the community against falsely alleged atrocities?
Two thousand dead, twenty thousand injured, and vast parts of urban Ulster reduced to rubble ten years farther on, the folly of those who acquiesced to the sacrifice of the Ulster Special Constabulary, has surely become the classic political blunder of the century, as the IRA have, through it, become the most infamous terrorist group world wide in this decade.
How often has it been said in Ulster homes, in Army messes, and even in the corridors of Westminster, that the disbanding of the Ulster Special Constabulary was a mistake. It is little enough to ask that that mistake be now admitted publicly, if only to relieve the hurt and remorse that is felt by the now ageing ex members of the force, every time a soldier is killed doing a job which was formerly the work of the Ulster Special Constabulary.
It is but human nature to speculate as to what the situation would have been today had the Ulster Special Constabulary not been disbanded. They were no worse trained than the average British soldier, they numbered in their ranks many ex Servicemen, and their instructors included many of the finest instructors who had ever attended the military small arms schools at Hythe and Netherhaven. They were not armed with sophisticated modern firearms, but they were proficient in the use of the obsolete and obsolescent British military small arms with which they were issued. It was their proud boast that they had defeated on many occasions Army marksmen in annual competitions at Ballykinlar. They had no electronic or communication equipment, they had no armoured cars and their transport was more often than not their own private cars, they had no protective clothing, but they did have definite advantages over the modern soldier now patrolling Ulster’s streets and ditches. They possessed absolute confidence in their superiority over the IRA, and they were sure in the knowledge that the IRA recognised that superiority and feared it, but above all their roots were firmly bedded in Ulster soil giving them a native wit, intelligence and local knowledge which no amount of training or education could acquire. In any initiative taken they enjoyed the full support of the local community, something which militarily, is impossible to achieve. There is no doubt that given proper tasking and leadership from within themselves, the Ulster Special Constabulary would have so inhibited the movement of the IRA that the number of murders committed by any terrorist or paramilitary group would not have been as high as it is, the destruction of urban areas would not have been as great, and this campaign of terror would not have lasted for ten years.
Of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve, and the Ulster Defence Regiment (many of whom are ex members of the Ulster Special Constabulary), and the British Army, there can be nothing but appreciation and thanks for all that they have done and are trying to do for Northern Ireland, but—
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