Northern Ireland as a Lad

You’re going to Ireland Ron.

No idea what I was going for; I was 19 and out of training 12 months.

What is it all about we said, as me and a lad sat on our single bed. The mattresses had springs down to the floor after so many lads had slept on them.

Army bed with nice metal locker

We had four itchy grey blankets and a pillow that had turned yellow with feathers sticking out all over.

Luckily, I slept well and easily back then.

I went to the old red phone box and waited my turn to phone my family.

Hi its Ron, I just want to tell you I am off to Northern Ireland for four months, see you at Xmas.

That is as simple as it was. There was no media saying who had been killed, kneecapped, or kidnapped and tortured.

We got off the plane and arrived at our barracks.

Religion was….

Going to Sunday School.

Kneeling by my bed praying that when my Dad walked out on us when I was nine that he would come back.

Hearing people say Please God Help Me.

I soon learnt how bad the hatred between Catholic and Protestant was.

We were briefed on the history of Northern Ireland and the situation in 1979.

We were then given a yellow card with instructions to follow if confronted by a Terrorist wielding a petrol bomb or pointing a loaded rifle at you. You had to follow the orders on the card before engaging the target.

Picture the scene.

A young lad not long out of training is on patrol when a man dressed as a civilian walks towards you, pulls a pistol or grenade out, and has every intention of taking your life or your mate’s life.

Is it a clear threat to life?

You shout ‘stop attacking’ or ‘halt’. You then shout ‘Fire will opened if the orders are not obeyed’.

722 British Army personnel were killed by the IRA.

We were sent to a place called Whiterock, smack in the middle of a Catholic Region, just off the Falls Road.

Seven ton of Steel sat outside ready for our first operation.

It was nicknamed the Pig. The room inside was so tight, with small hatches as front and side windows.

Ron in the Pig

The driver was from the Royal Corps of Transport, a nice lad that had been on the streets for three months so he knew his way around the Falls Road and the Shankill Road.

On all my operations I had my camera in my jacket and tried where possible to get images.

I never knew I would be writing about them 40 years later.

Four of my lads ready to go out
Ready SLR with 20 Live Rounds

Over four months I had many moments that a young lad wouldn’t expect to be in. But I got my shilling and signed the dotted line.

From a Bakery in Stockport to the streets of Northern Ireland where you didn’t know who your enemy was.

To watch a child hurl a brick with the intention of it hitting you smack in the face was a little bit of a shock.

Just see the rock leaving his hand. He was trying to get to enter the open windows of the Pig. Image took by Ron Blackburn. Lcpl.

Daily deaths were common but the uk never heard of them.

Soldiers, civilians, children.

Deaths in this religious war that never made any sense to me.

We had some operations that were interesting but scary.

We were sent to Newry in Southern Ireland to help the Royal Engineers build a bailey bridge.

Bailey Bridge

The area was that dangerous we were flown in by a Wessex Helicopter and had Infantry support in the surrounding woods.

Wessex Extraction. Image taken by Ron Blackburn Lcpl.

I have many scary stories to tell, but it was my job and you did what you were told to do.

On my return to the UK I was Promoted to Cpl.

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