Birth of the Regiment
The birth of the Regiment was a result of the civil unrest of the late 1960s which had threatened to overwhelm the Royal Ulster Constabulary and which had led to the deployment of Regular Army units to assist the police. In 1969 the Hunt Report recommended the disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary and its replacement by a reserve element of the RUC and a locally-recruited part-time force, The Ulster Defence Regiment.
Initially the Regiment had seven battalions: 1st (Co Antrim); 2nd (Co Armagh); 3rd (Co Down); 4th (Co Fermanagh); 5th (Co Londonderry); 6th (Co Tyrone) and 7th (City of Belfast). The UDR achieved the remarkable distinction of carrying out its first operational duties on the day on which it was formed, 1 April 1970.
In 1972 four additional battalions were added to the Regiment's strength: these were 8th (Co Tyrone); 9th (Co Antrim); 10th (City of Belfast) and 11th (Craigavon) Battalions. By the end of 1972 the complement of The Ulster Defence Regiment had reached 9,200, its greatest strength. The regiment had been "called out" for periods of full-time service to meet operational requirements, including Operation Motorman in 1972.
The following year, 1973, saw the introduction of female soldiers to the Regiment to carry out searching of females. From the beginning women were fully integrated, wearing the Ulster Defence Regiment's cap badge in which respect the Regiment was almost twenty years ahead of the rest of the Army. The women soldiers quickly became known as Greenfinches, a popular nickname which has stuck down through the years. More importantly, they played a vital part in the Regiment's operational role.
From its earliest days, when patrols sometimes deployed in private cars and patrol commanders had to report in from telephone kiosks because of the inadequate range of the first radios, the Regiment rapidly increased its operational efficiency to the point where it was able to assume tactical responsibility for 85 per cent of Northern Ireland as the first line of support for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. As a result, the number of full-time soldiers also increased and by 1980 full-timers were in the majority.
The Regiment had its own training establishment at Ballykinler which became its Depot and provided further training for the Regiment's soldiers in a range of skills. All ranks also began attending Regular Army courses at the Schools of Infantry, Intelligence and Military Engineering. As soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment concentrated on the internal security role the Regiment built up an expertise in such duties that remains unrivalled throughout the Army. Links were also created with the Army's administrative divisions which provided key personnel, including commanding officers, for their affiliated UDR battalions. Short tours with UDR battalions were also offered to officers throughout the Army.
Further improvements in operational efficiency heralded a reduction in the number of battalions; in 1984, there were amalgamations in Antrim and Belfast to create 1st/9th (Co Antrim) and 7th/10th (City of Belfast) Battalions. The Regiment retained nine battalions until 1991 when 2 UDR and 11 UDR amalgamated as 2nd/11th Battalion, The Ulster Defence Regiment, and 4 and 6 UDR became 4th/6th Battalion.
Presentation of Colours
In 1991 the Regiment came of age: twenty-one years after formation, Colours were presented to four battalions at Lisburn by Her Majesty The Queen. This was a singular honour since it is rare that the Sovereign personally presents Colours, except to the Household Division. The remaining battalions received their Colours before The Ulster Defence Regiment became part of The Royal Irish Regiment.
The City of Belfast and a number of boroughs throughout Northern Ireland paid their own tribute to the Regiment by granting Freedoms while the community relations work of 7th/10th (City of Belfast) Battalion was recognised by the award of the Wilkinson Sword of Peace for 1990.
A Heavy Price Paid for Peace
The price paid by The Ulster Defence Regiment was high: 197 soldiers were killed, the majority were off-duty, and a further 60 were killed after they had left the UDR. On the Regimental Roll of Honour the first name is that of Private Winston Donnell of 6 UDR, shot dead at a vehicle checkpoint near Clady, County Tyrone, on 9 August 1971. The Regiment had been called out following the introduction of internment that day.
The men, and women, of the Regiment were not safe anywhere, nor at any time: more personnel were murdered while off duty, either at home or in the course of their civilian employment, than lost their lives in uniform. Even those who had left the Regiment did not always find safety; forty-seven former soldiers have been murdered after ceasing to be UDR personnel. Others, especially in the Fermanagh border area, were forced to move to safer areas and had to sell their homes and, sometimes, their land as a result of imminent terrorist threat.