Easter Week Diary (Capt. R.D. Grist)
Sunday 29th March 1970 - "A" Coy. in Armagh, Dungannon and finally Belfast. "B" Coy. and Tac HQ to The Loop returning later to Londonderry. "D" Coy. plus eight Wessex helicopters to Magherafelt in reserve but later deployed in Londonderry city in the evening. Support Coy. were under command of 1st Bn Grenadier Guards for the whole day. An account of their afternoon activities follows.
30th March - "A" and Support Coys. remain in Londonderry area. "B" and "D" Coys. to Belfast to look after an Orange march.
31st March - The Battalion concentrates in HMS Sea Eagle. 1 Cheshire advance party arrives to take over.
1st April - "D" and "A" Coys. deployed to Londonderry. 2330 hrs whole Battalion stands by for Belfast but eventually not required. On this night The Royal Scots had trouble in Ballymurphy Estate.
2nd April - "B" and "D" Coys. to Belfast under command of 1st Bn The Light Infantry. Accounts of their experiences follow.
3rd April - "B" and "D" Coys. remain in Belfast and are again deployed in the evening.
4th April - "B" and "D" Coys. remain in Belfast. "A" Coy. to Dungannon. Support Coy. again in Londonderry.
5th April - "A" Coy. to Belfast ready to move on to Honiton the following Tuesday. They were deployed both nights. "B" and "C" Coys. returned from Belfast.
Support Company (Major C.P.T. Rebbeck)
Standing on the Strand we saw them moving like a concourse of ants and preceded by the swarm of inevitable cameramen. The James Connolly Republican Club's Easter Sunday march was almost upon us. We knew from reports by the Military Police in the Bogside and the helicopter hovering overhead that the crowd numbered 3,500. The sheer size of the crowd was an appreciable shock. Soon they filled Great James Street from side to side and from end to end, led by a "colour party" in IRA uniform escorting the Republican Tricolour and the blue and gold "Starry plough" of the JCRC.
We were the only company of the Battalion in the city and we were under command of 1st Bn Grenadier Guards for the day. We were tucked-up out of sight in Patrick Street ready to deal with any trouble outside the police station in the Strand or in Waterloo Place. The Grenadiers were deployed along the traditional Londonderry lines. Thus to the marchers the Company was invisible, save for Davies, Payne and myself, who were standing in the Strand besides the Grenadier's CO, watching the mass surge towards us. Past swept the colour party in their illegal uniforms, past walked the leaders and stewards, Lastly an endlessly came the mob, singing, jeering and shouting. When the crowd began passing the RUC Station and saw the Union flag flying from above the gatehouse they at once attacked it. Figures began to swarm up the gate, trying to reach the flag. Two man-hole covers and several planks were hurled over the gate followed by volleys of pennies and stones. A full-scale riot was on.
The Company was fallen-in by Lieut. John Denly, our 2IC, and when we were asked to remove the crowd, we were able to produce all three platoons in Box formation on the Strand Road almost at once. The Anti-Tank Platoon (temp. commanded by 2nd Lt. Laceby, RAOC) advanced to a great roar of abuse and defiance from the mob. They ran dannert wire across their front, seized it in both hands and rammed it at the crowd, who were swept some 50 yards down the Strand towards Waterloo Place. The siege of the Station was lifted. It was almost 4 pm. There followed a delay while the stewards were given a fair chance to remove the mob by persuasion, but by now they were beyond all reason. A few stones and pennies began to fall and we were ordered to push them back. Once again the AT Platoon advanced, sweeping all before them and as the road widened, the Defence Platoon (Assault Pioneers and Drums, commanded by Col-Sergt. Simmance) came up on their right with a second coil of dannert, giving us a frontage of 2 platoons. The soldiers suffered every kind of insult, were spat upon, kicked and subject to light stoning. They were more than equal to the occasion, moved impassively and relentlessly forward and completely cleared Waterloo Place.
The crowd, still numbering about 800, ran into William St. and Waterloo St. and began to stone the Defence Platoon and Grenadiers CP in Waterloo Place very heavily. Simmance secured his wire across the mouth of both streets and withdrew in good order. Up to this moment the Mortar Platoon (commanded by Lt. Roger Thomas), armed with batons and shields, had been left behind at the police station, guarding both the station and our rear. We now exchanged them with Defence Platoon, joined up with a formidable arrest squad from No. 3 Company, and in two baton charges, hurled the crowd back down both streets. The Mortar Platoon advanced downhill to occupy Chamberlain St. and Eden Place. They had now begun to receive some very severe knocks with volleys of bricks being thrown from a range of only a few yards. L/Cpl. Lee, Pte Copley and L/Cpl. Fry all had to be evacuated. Pte Metcalfe was soaked in petrol thrown from the Rossville Flats, Copley had what appeared to be a small shot wound on his shin. The Defence Platoon relieved the Mortars after exchanging their rifles for batons. The Grenadiers were also under a very heavy hail of stones and we moved the Anti-Tank Platoon (under Sergt. Whittall) to relieve them at the Chamberlain St-Eden Place junction.
With the light failing, the CO decided to pull us back to Waterloo St. The Platoon sealed off Harvey and High Sts. and made sorties to disperse looters and stone-throwers. For the first time we deployed searchlights, mounted on Land-Rovers, to illuminate the crowds and these proved very effective. No. 3 Coys. arrest squad achieved great success by infiltrating behind the crowd and made 2 spectacular arrests. When the rain came down, the mob had had enough and dispersed. By 2 am on Easter Monday the area was deserted; we cleared away the barriers, climed into our vehicles and returned to HMS Sea Eagle for a very welcome breakfast in the Galley and bed.
Many small incidents stand out in my memory. Cpl. Barnfield with spittle running down his face while pushing the crowd out of Waterloo Place; the first wild charge of the Mortars up Waterloo St. controlled by Stacey, the CO's bugler, who recalled them when they had gone far enough by blowing the Support Company call; Sergt. Chilcott, a formidable figure, carrying a kicking, screaming woman into No. 3 Company's CP in Waterloo Place, followed by the diminutive figure of L/Cpl. Fry carrying another. We took a total of 10 "prisoners" during the night, some came quietly and some did not. Over 70 men in the Company had been hit by missiles, some being hit over a dozen times with stones, bricks, bottle, pennies, marbles and ball bearings fired from high-powered catapaults. We are also convinced that someone used an airgun from the Rossville Flats.
"B" Company (Major N.C. Thompson)
On Easter Monday various Junior Orange Lodges were due to march through parts of Belfast. "B" Coy. was sent to reinforce 1st Bn The Royal Scots in case of trouble. In the late afternoon a crowd of some 250 Catholics, having controlled themselves during the Ornage March, would not disperse from Grosvenor Rd/Roden St. junction. 5 Platoon was called out from reserve to face the crowd some 50 yards distant and to put out wire. Lt. John Webster was ordered to hold his position until the crowd became hostile or advanced and then to disperse them. A hail of bottles and stones were thrown. The Platoon formed "Derry Cohort", then picked up the coil of dannert wire on their rifle barrels and advanced on the crowd. The crowd vanished at this sight.
Thursday night of Easter week in the Ballymurphy Estate. 7 Platoon Cheshire Regt., with Company HQ, had tried to get behind a crowd facing "D" Coy. on the Springfield Rd. Having debussed and marched a hundred yards, the Platoon came to a barricade and were met with a shower of stones and bottle from all sides. The Platoon kept moving and clambered over the barricade, many were hit but none fell. The Platoon moved stright through the estate, being pelted all the way by scores of youths. Meanwhile a crowd had gathered behind the Platoon vehicles, but Wells of the Signal Platoon showed great presence of mind, turning the 2 Land Rovers and 2 4-tonners. He gave instructions to the drivers, charged the crowd in third gear with his hand on the horn and all escaped unscathed.
After midnight, 6 Platoon returned to the southern edge of the estate and were stoned and petrol-bombed. We were ordered to make arrests and took this to mean - go straight in! 5 Platoon had just been relieved by 7 Platoon from guarding some nearby houses, and so followed 6 Platoon into the estate. Two hooligans were arrested immediately. The etate was a maze of roads, gardens and houses. Two arrest squads were formed, under the CSM, to charge, followed up by a platoon in box formation. The second Platoon advanced on a parallel road. Petrol bombs were thrown and the tenset moment came at the bottom of West Rock Drive, where two crowds were throwing everything at 6 Platoon. It was then that a serious casualty occured when Jones' leg caught fire from a petrol bomb. Fortunately, someone knocked him down and smothered the flames with his body. At this point 4 CS cartridges were fired and 4 CS grenades thrown, giving the Company a pause from the hail of missiles. Having been in this hostile estate for an hour, 3 Saracens came in with lights flashing. These picked out 2 figures lurking in the shadows, whom the arrest squad recognised and quickly snapped up. The Company returned to RV and mounted their vehicles feeling bouyed up by their success. Sergt. Lewis, Cpl. Featherstone, L/Cpl. Jones, Pts Ufton (Cheshires) and DeMouilpied deserve a special mention for their successful arrests. We also realised how lucky we were not to have suffered any serious casualties.
"D" Company in Belfast (Major S.D.A. Firth)
"D" Coy. went to Belfast for the first time on Easter Monday to cover a Protestant march. This passed quietly and we returned to Londonderry. On Thursday we arrived back in Belfast and found ourselves, with "B" Coy., under command of the 1st Bn The Light Infantry ready to be deployed in the Ballymurphy area that night. On the previous night the Royal Scots had faced a large Catholic crowd and were stoned for 4 hours, suffering 40 casualties, 5 men being sent to hospital. After a quick helicopter reconnaissance the Companies moved to the end of the Springfield Rd, with 3 Saracens. During the evening the Coys. lined the road as the Catholic squatters were evicted from the Protestant New Barnsley Estate. After this the crowds dispersed and we took time to have an evening meal. We were halfway through this when the call came to move down the road to where Protestant and Catholic crowds were gathered. The RUC and Royal Scots were trying to disperse the crowds, but with little effect. About 8 pm we debussed and took up positions close to the crowds. After some discussion with the Catholic stewards they agreed to form a line and restrain their people. With the help of wire, they managed to hold the crowd for 3 hours. The Saracens were then driven between the two crowds, to obscure the view each had of the other.
By 11 pm it was clear that the situation was worsening. The first bottles were thrown and a few catapaulted ball-bearings whistled around our heads. The stewards disappeared and it was clear that we were in for trouble. Both sides began to push forward, jeering and shouting. 13 Platoon moved quickly along the front of the crowd. Missiles rained down and the soldiers were ordered to shelter behind the Saracens. Respirators were put on and the crowd warned that gas would be used. The crowd surged forward and Sergt. Beach fired the first 4 gas cartridges up the road; 13 Platoon followed with the saracens and the arrest squad raced ahead to pick up rioters. More gas was fired to stop the crowd from reforming. The saracen lights were switched off and squads rushed into alleys to make arrests. The tactic was successful and the company withdrew and reformed on Springfield Rd.
"D" Coy. was relieved at 5 am to go to HMS Maidstone for a rest. The next night we were back in the area, patrolling and observing. We searched many youths and made arrests, taking weapons ranging from catapaults to .22 rifles.