The Troubles left a legacy like no other army deployment


For close to four decades the British Army deployed onto the streets of Northern Ireland during a period that became known as The Troubles.

From August 1969, following widespread sectarian unrest, British soldiers patrolled the province in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. By the time it ended in July 2007, Operation Banner had become one of the longest ongoing deployments in British military history.

At its peak, during the 1970s, around 21,000 British soldiers were in Northern Ireland – more than 300,000 served in total. Even during the recent Afghan conflict, British numbers never went much above 10,000 at any one time.

For the British Armed Forces, Northern Ireland became a regular feature of service. Many of the most senior officers of recent times, cut their teeth on the streets of Belfast.

One was Julian Thompson who served in South Armagh and went on to lead the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands Conflict. He would eventually retire a Major General.

“There was an air of unreality about it,” he remembered.

“For a young soldier or Royal Marine, Northern Ireland was there all time. But you had to blink and shake your head and remind yourself you were in the UK. Some soldiers had been serving in places like Aden and here they were keeping order on the streets of the United Kingdom.”

According to the Royal British Legion 1,441 UK armed forces personnel died as a result of terrorism connected to the Troubles – their names are listed on the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

But the British Army has also been accused of murdering civilians, including the 13 who died on Bloody Sunday in 1972. The families of those who killed are still pursuing legal action to this day.

Crispin Black served three tours in Northern Ireland with the Welsh Guards.

He said: “I think people have forgotten just how hard it was. It was dangerous. It could be very, very dangerous. It had a ghastly unpleasantness that nobody relished at all.

“I think the Army tried genuinely tried hard to hold the ring and treat each side with the same kind of attitude. I think people really tried to be fair and to uphold the rule of law. We didn’t go into West Belfast after dark looking to shoot people.”

At midnight on 31 July 2007, Operation Banner came to an end, nine years after the Good Friday Agreement and with the threat of the IRA sufficiently contained.

But few periods in modern British history have had quite the legacy of those long days.

(c) Sky News 2019: The Troubles left a legacy like no other army deployment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.