Shot at for the Very First Time NI 1969
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I was well rehearsed at being shot at. First were the guns Mam and Dad bought me at Xmas or Birthdays with which I became expert at sneaking around playing cowboys and Indians. Then I had older brothers the eldest being ten years older than me so I had access to the more grown up toys “Air Rifles" Dad must have instilled some basic weaponry training into the family because we never actually shot any of our own family members with the said guns. Others didn’t often fare so well.
We must have been a formidable family, nine kids and an “Army Sergeant as a Dad” We had guns, knives, bows and arrows and I think a crossbow too. Most other kids stayed quite friendly or got sorted out. Some of us joined the TA and the younger ones the Cadet Force,this gave us access to even more powerful weapons. All the Davies family were marksmen… I knew how to operate a 25pounder field gun by the time I was 11 years old, not that they let me fire it for real.
Joining-up at 15 put me into another league. I was still a kid of course and not allowed to take part in a War Zone. The old hands some who had fought in WW2 would teach us all the tricks of the trade. How to handle a weapon blindfolded and repeat and repeat until you were as quick with a blindfold off or on. The fine art of Bayonet Charging, throwing Hand Grenades, I learned all the Ministry of Defense training pamphlets word for word in order to pass the written and practical tests. When I passed out of training beside being a Class 2 (provisional) VMB* I had the distinction of being mentioned on the ceremony as "The Best Shot with the Bren Gun" renamed the LMG and now firing 7.62mm rimless cartridge. I knew very well how to “Kill People”
In reality it would never happen …… or would it?
I got a nice cushy posting with a Tank Regiment in W.Germany. The most important task (as I saw it) apart from fraternizing with the Fraulein was the extra night time duties guarding a nearby "Nuclear Silo". They wouldn’t want anyone to get their hands on that stuff. We were issued with live ammo, this was unlike the times when we were on guard in our own camp and only had Pickaxe Handles to clout any would be attackers.
The Peaceful period changed a little when "The Regiment" moved to Northern Ireland early 1969. It was peaceful enough when we first arrived. The good thing was that the local girls had seen one regiment leave possibly along with their boyfriends to some distant country, here was a new regiment with guys that had left their girlfriends in Germany. Make love not war was in the front of our minds and maybe the girls minds too. It was the swinging sixties. Not sure the local civilian boys agreed.
The uneasy truce between Protestant and Catholics soon ended and with the Army in the middle we soon became fair target for anyone and everyone. Even the British Government seemed never to be on our side, tying our hands behind our backs and drowning us with restrictions. The Army then were fair target to do any dirty job that was going, misused and abused by all. However most of the N.Irish girls loved us to bits, maybe they saw us as a passport to freedom.
There are a hundred stories I could recall and it would take several books…. But I titled this "Shot at for the Very First Time" and will try not to digress.
In order to disrupt IRA supply lines the military had dug up the roads at Border Crossing Points. This meant vehicles had to use the Official and Guarded Crossing points. It was an attempt to stop dangerous stuff from being easily imported into Northern Ireland. As soon as the Royal Engineers dug up those points other “unknowns?” would fill them in again. In addition IRA or sympathizers would often lie in wait for the Army team that came to fill them in, putting IED’s round the area. It was a well organized team that had to accompany the Royal Engineers sent to dig up the border crossing with their armoured “C Vehicles” Bulldozers excavators and the likes.One such task I was given to cover in my army trade as Vehicle Mechanic. This was in case anything should break down and need assistance. I took with me the Unit Armourer just to make up numbers and we traveled in a none-armoured Landrover. It was only in later days the government decided to back the Armoured Humber Pigs from the scrap yards and re-issued them to units. This was because there were no other suitable armoured vehicles for this kind of deployment. We still had the old Tin Helmets too and what was a bullet proof vest?
As we pulled into the border crossing point the sound of small arms fire erupted. We were not allowed to cross the border, there was no drive though option open to us. It was a case of diving out of any vehicles that were not armoured into the ditch and return fire. Rather like being at the sharp end of a firing range without the big concrete and earth bank protection. The sound of rounds whizzing past seemed to be out of tune with the guns firing them. However, the sound was a dead giveaway and immediately the Order “Return Fire” was given.
The belt fed GPMG roared into life from the Gunner on the Ferret Scout car. I myself observed movement from the area of that distant sound in woods across the field and returned well aimed single shots with my SLR (self loading rifle) until such time as the distant sound of firing ceased and the order was given “Cease Fire” Nobody then moved for quite some time.
We were not fired on again during that operation. I don’t recollect anyone from our group going to clear the area. The shots had luckily (haha) come from on our own side of the border. With radio communications it wasn’t long before a Sioux helicopter appeared no doubt to be followed up by an infantry patrol being dispatched. Would we of been told to return fire if it had of been onto the other side of the border? Nope, that would have been against the rules of engagement.
I was 19 years old. It was broad daylight and someone had tried to kill me. Who knows how many IED’s failed to go off on that or any previous or following occasions… I was one of the lucky ones in N.Ireland.I silently thanked those that had trained me. Did I kill or wound anyone? Who Knows?
The Armourer who jumped in the ditch besides me never fired a single shot. I thought this was a bit strange since we had been ordered to return fire. Even with the very brief "fire control orders" this was an instruction to be obeyed and not just an option. I politely inquired why he had done nothing (why didn't you fuckin shoot back) and he showed me the end of his SLR Barrel. It was packed with mud. When we had dived head first into the ditch unfortunately it had dug into the bank and would have been useless and dangerous to fire. I might as well have taken the Unit Vicar along for the drive.
I cannot remember being worried about the fact we were shot at. So many things would happen during a total of six years I spent in N Ireland. I was more concerned back then about the Army catching me driving down to Dublin most weekends during unattached days when I was free from duty. This would have been frowned upon even though technically in the early days of the troubles the Army hadn’t published orders that said I couldn’t. I just didn’t ask and didn’t tell. I would stop my car under trees if I noticed any Sioux (Helicopter) activity (I was attached to a Helicopter Squadron) I didn’t want any pilots who knew my Turquoise Ford Classic Capri with its cream top reporting that I was heading down to the Free State
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