RMP Foot Patrol in East Belfast
A Lesson That I Never Forgot.
By Roy Oswick…….
Cold, wet, fed up, and far from home, what a way to spend Christmas Eve. Foot patrol. East Belfast. Great.
Just like so many others, my military police career was for many years dictated by events in Northern Ireland and I spent several 6 month emergency tours and full 2 year tour there.
Nothing new, we all went through it. Looking back one cannot help but remember not only the bad times, and there were plenty of those, but also some of the things that happened that were in retrospect funny whilst at the same time being potentially life threatening and scary.
On the occasion that I will refer to I had just started my 3rd 6 month emergency tour. at the time the Corps was under immense pressure to provide RMP cover to almost every area of the province. Responsibilities had increased from providing support to the RUC in a purely police role, to intelligence gathering, first response to serious incidents, military investigations into complaints against the army, criminal investigation into military offences, patrolling the towns and cities in an effort to win over the hearts and minds of the population, especially in some of the most dedicated Pro IRA areas.
Hence my posting to 180 Pro Coy stationed at Aldergrove but working in East Belfast out of Blairs Yard. The company was supposedly a soft skinned mobile patrol unit and we were issued with Austin 1800 cars for the purpose. Attempting to carry out our role on the streets of Belfast from the comfort of saloon cars quickly proved to be impracticable and in essence quite dangerous as the vehicles were difficult to exit in an emergency, and proved utterly useless as protection from even the lightest attack. It was therefore decided to carry out the majority of patrols in East Belfast on foot.
Although this left patrols completely out in the open it proved to be the right decision as contact with the population drastically improved and we were able to gather much needed and useful information on many of the known characters in the area and their activities.
It also gave us the opportunity to build up a nice little network of tea stops. One of these was dear little old lady who had a house near to Mount Pottinger police station. Known only to us as Nan, she always had the kettle on and plate of homemade soda scones available. A genuinely lovely lady Nan would have none of this IRA nonsense and would quickly and vigorously berate any young buck that attempted to intimidate her.
At the time of the incident that I will eventually describe RMP were desperately short of manpower and it was with great relief that we learned that every platoon would be reinforced by members of other regiments who would be employed as drivers so freeing up a large number of RMP. I was lucky enough to have three members of the Royal Corps of Transport seconded to my platoon and they were absolutely brilliant. Issued with our scarlet berets they kept their own regimental cap badges but once on duty they became enthusiastic trainee MP’s, and when off duty integrated well with the platoon.
One of my 3 secondees was from Trinidad and was allocated as my driver/radio op. His name will not be disclosed so I will refer to him as Tapper.
Tapper thoroughly enjoyed his secondment and stuck to me like glue, a great character he had the ability to lift spirits in unpleasant or difficult situations and could see the funny side of everything. If Tapper had a fault it was that he was over enthusiastic and one had to be very careful when giving orders as Tapper would be off and performing before the order had been fully given. This is where we come to the point of this story.
As I described in the opening paragraph it was Christmas Eve, cold and pouring with rain.
0230 hrs and we had just left Nan’s after a lovely hot cuppa and scones. When that lady ever slept is beyond me. Anyway Nan had told me that she had heard that the “boyo’s” had let it be known that the Brits were to be targeted sometime over Christmas. After a quick detour to brief our HQ in Blairs Yard we resumed our patrol. We had just turned in to Thompson street when we heard the unmistakable sound of an AK47 and two or three rounds pinged off the walls around us. I reported the contact immediately and ensured that we had not taken any casualties. Between us we were pretty sure that the firing had come from the junction of Thompson Street and Mount Pottinger but nothing could be seen.
We were in a somewhat vulnerable position as the only cover available was in the doorways of the houses. The platoon was spread along about 30 yards of the street with everyone in the available doorways. Tapper was as ever glued to my side as we shared a doorway. Just then two more rounds were fired at us and hit the wall to the side of the door in which we were sheltering. I thought it best if Tapper and I were separated and I shouted to him, “ Tapper, shoot over the road into that doorway” and pointed to a doorway directly opposite on the other side of the street.
The words had barely left my mouth when Tapper yelled “RIGHT BOSS”, but he did not move instead he cocked his Sterling weapon and fired a full magazine into the doorway that I had pointed out for him to occupy. That was when all hell let loose, in response to my original report of contact a company of infantry screamed into Thompson Street from the infantry base at Mount Pottinger, a helicopter with night sun blazing down was overhead. The whole area was alive and full of people not least our Irish friends who were less than happy at being so rudely aroused on Christmas morning the OC and RSM of 180 arrived very quickly and we were rapidly withdrawn from the scene to Blairs Yard. There we, Tapper and I were questioned as to how this incident had occurred, Tapper explained that he did not realise that when I said “shoot over there”, I did not mean actually to shoot but to run across and shelter. I had no other explanation and felt more than a little foolish. Over the next few days further investigation took place but eventually I was told that no further action would be taken but that in future I should ensure that orders could not be misinterpreted.
A LESSON THAT I NEVER FORGOT.
For those readers who know nothing of the British Royal Military Police, I am showing below a fascinating video for your information.
Editors Note: For those readers who would like to read more of Roy’s experiences in the RMP, please click here