Sergeant Matty Gardiner, 12th Infantry Battalion, Irish Defence Forces/Óglaigh na hÉireann
Born in 1943, Matty is a retired Sergeant from the 12th Infantry Battalion, Irish Defence Forces/Óglaigh na hÉireann in Limerick. He comes from a large military family whose service dates back to their grandfather, George, who served and died with the Royal Munster Fusiliers in World War 1. His father, Peter, served in the fledgling Irish National Army and Defence Forces. At one time eleven members of his family were serving in the 12th Infantry Battalion at the same time. Matt too has a distinguished service at home and on United Nations service. Matty completed several Untied Nations tours of duty: 38th Infantry Battalion, ONUC (Opération des Nations Unies au Congo in the Congo) (1962-63), the 40th Infantry Battalion, UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus) (1964), and with the 24th Infantry Group, UNFICYP (1973). Thank you to the Patrick Sarsfield Branch, Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel Ireland for their support in this production.
Ireland’s Military Story and The Irish Military Heritage Foundation send our best wishes to World War 2 veteran Joe Woods for a very happy 100th birthday today. Joe served with the Royal Air Force Regiment 1941 – 1946 and took part in the Liberation of Denmark. In 1995, Joe and his late wife Josephine, were invited to Denmark and he was presented with The Danish Liberation Silver Medal by a member of the Danish Royal family in recognition of his war service to Denmark. He is originally from Barlborough in Derbyshire but moved to Newbridge, Co Kildare.
He is well known in the Whitewater Shopping Centre and is regularly spotted around the town on his scooter he calls his ‘Spitfire’. Joe will be interviewed by Clem Ryan on Kfm Radio Kildare at 10:45am this morning.Joe was on our list to interview last year as part of our Kildare Veterans’ Story, but due to Covid-19 restrictions this could not happen. Hopefully we will meet Joe later this year.
Joe certainly lives up to the Royal Air Force Regiment motto:Per Ardua ad Astra “Through Adversity to the Stars”
Joe is pictured here at the Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony 2019 at the Irish War Memorial Gardens Islandbridge, with the then British Ambassador Mr. Robin Barnett CMG British Embassy Dublin and standard bearers of the Royal British Legion Republic of Ireland.
Photo courtesy of Joe’s good friend Tony O’Connor.
Taking part in our Kildare’s Veterans’ Story project today was Óglaigh na hÉireann / Irish Defence Forces veteran Dr Cathal Berry TD in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. Cathal is an Independent TD for the constituency of Kildare South. Cathal is a father, husband, doctor, veteran and is a resident of Portarlington, Co. Laois. He is married to Orla and is the proud father of their young children Tom and Katie.
Prior to becoming a TD, Cathal spent 23 years in the Irish Defence Forces. He entered military service in with the Cadet School, Military College, Curragh Camp in 1995. After a tough 21 months training he was commissioned into the Infantry Corps. During his time in the Defence Forces, he spent six years in the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) and served overseas in the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East. In 2008, Cathal led an ARW unit in Chad. He later took a self-funded career break to qualify as a medical doctor in Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
He subsequently worked in the HSE Ireland hospital emergency departments all over the country and then returned to the Defence Forces where he was appointed head of the Military Medical School in the Curragh, Co. Kildare. He retired from service at the rank of Commandant
This project is made possible with funding from Kildare County Council and Creative Ireland.
We share the sad news of the passing of Major General David O’Morchoe, CB, CBE, KLJ. Our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.
Living in Tara Hill Gorey Wexford for many years. General O’Morchoe was born in 1928. A prominent figure in veteran’s affairs in Ireland. He became President of the Royal British Legion Ireland in 1987. He was also known as hereditary Chief of the O’Morchoe or Murphy clan.
General O’Morchoe joined the British Army in 1946. Graduating from Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1948. He served in the Suez Canal Zone, Aqaba, Gibraltar and Germany. He served as CO of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers and 3rd Battalion, Royal Irish Rangers. Before retirement in 1979, he had the responsibility of being Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Sultan of Oman. He dedicated his later life to the care of British ex-Servicemen personnel and their dependents. During the State visit of Queen Elizabeth II, General O’Morchoe showed the queen around the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin. Service of Reception at Kiltennel Parish Church this Sunday Nov 24th at 6pm. Funeral service on Monday Nov 25th at 12 noon in Christ Church, Gorey followed by Private Cremation. House Strictly Private Please. Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.
Tony Maher recollects his time in the Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCÁ)
Today we had the pleasure of meeting former reserve Corporal, Tony Maher from Celbridge. During the 1960s Tony was a member of Maynooth Platoon, C Company, 7th Infantry Battalion FCÁ.
During the Emergency period (1939 – 1946) and the Cold War (1947 – 1991) Ireland remained neutral, however, the threat was still real. During these two periods the reserve elements of the Irish Defence Forces were greatly expanded. Nearly every village in the country had a platoon size or more of reservists stationed there. Celbridge in North Kildare was no different. During the Emergency the North Dublin Battalion of the Local Defence Forces had a Company in North Kildare, with a platoon in Celbridge, Maynooth, and Kilcock. Following the Emergency and the establishment of Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCÁ), this transitioned to the North Dublin Battalion In Defence of North Kildare – Tony Maher Recollects and in 1959, C Company 7th Infantry Battalion FCÁ.
At the time Tony lived in Lexlip and told us some amazing stoire so Lexlip and the surrounding areas in the 1950s and 1960s. Tony grew up not far from where Sergeant Hugh Gaynor lived and had very fond memories of him. Sadly Sergeant Gaynor was one of the nine Irish peacekeepers killed in the Niamba ambush in the Belgium Congo on 8 November 1960.
The reservists met several evenings during the week and at the weekends. The headquarters for the C Company platoons were as follows: the Methodist Church (now Cunninghams Funeral Directors), Celbridge; the town hall in Maynooth; and the old church off the centre in Kilcock. Life in the reserve infantry back then was defined by marching and the .303″ Lee-Enfield rifle, which Tony remembers like it was yesterday. He proudly still has his rifle competition trophies. Drill, local exercises, training in Gormanstown and the Glen of Imaal, St. Patrick’s Day Parades, and 1916 commemorations were the annual routine. Thankfully Tony was an avid photographer and he has kept a remarkable collection of the reservists in North Kildare.
It wasn’t all drill and more drill. During this time the FCÁ got called upon to provide extras for the movie the Blue Max; directed by John Guillermin and starring George Peppard, James Mason, Ursula Andress, Karl Michael Vogler, and Jeremy Kemp.. During 1965 Tony found himself in a German World War I uniform and charging across no-mans land in the Wicklow mountains. Tony managed to smuggle his camera on set.
Tony’s story has been recorded as part of Kildare’s Veterans’ Story; supported by Kildare County Council and Creative Ireland.
The history of a lot of these reserve units has been lost. We are tying to build up the history of the reserve in North Kildare and would really like to talk to members of C Company. Please drop us a line.
Dublin Port’s Emergency Story LDF veteran – Oliver Joseph Doyle
As part of our newest project on Dublin Port during the Emergency (1939 – 1946) period we met today and interviewed Oliver Joseph Doyle from Stella Gardens, Irishtown, Dublin.
Oliver who is 98, worked as a iron moulder, but during the Emergency he served with the Local Defence Force (LDF). He first served with an infantry unit based in the RDS before transferring to an anti-aircraft unit in Ringsend.
The anti-aircraft positions around Dublin were vital to the defence of Dublin Port. Oliver told us that his father, Mathew Doyle, also served with the Maritime Inscription and LDF in Dublin Port.
Thank you to Lucan Lodge Nursing Home for facilitating our meeting today.
Well done to everyone involved in another brilliant weekend of military history at the 13th Annual Irish Military Vehicle Group Show at Naas Racecourse County Kildare on Saturday and Sunday. One of the highlights of this year’s show was the Veteran’s Parade hosted by Irish United Nations Veterans Association.
The annual Irish Defence Forces Veterans’ Day took place today in Collins Barracks, Dublin. The event was attended by the Minister of State with Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe TD, and the General Staff. Veterans of the Irish Defence Forces attended from the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women (ONE), the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA), the Association of Retired Officers (ARCO), and the battalion and regimental associations.
A wreath was laid in memory of those who had lost their lives in service to their country.
An interview with Lieutenant Colonel Ned Cusack (Retd)
First published in Winter 2016 issue.
For most of us, the Emergency period in Ireland (1939 – 1946) is an account in the history books with black and white images. Nearly all Ireland’s veterans who served abroad or at home during this period have passed away. There are a few veterans still alive and well. To them the events that took place some 75 years ago, are like yesterday. Ned Cusack is 97 years old. Living with his wife Eileen, in Moycullen, Co. Galway, he is a fit, retired Irish Defence Forces officer. Still driving and fully versed in email and the computer, it was amazing to speak to someone who could recollect with such accuracy, the time Ireland braced itself for war.
Laughing about how times have changed, Ned showed us his Commissioning Certificate signed by Uachtarán na hÉireann Douglas Hyde, Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, and Minister for Defence Oscar Traynor. In Ned’s wedding photograph was none other than a very young Lieutenant Pat Quinlan – the very same Pat Quinlan of Jadotville fame. Pat Quinlan was in Ned’s junior cadet class.
How times have changed indeed. When Ned and Pat joined up they were wearing the German style Vickers helmet and high collar tunic. Japan, Italy, Germany and Russia were all expanding. It was a time when ideologies redefined the fate of nations. Stalin was purging his people; Adolf Hitler was annexing Austria; and civil war was raging in Spain. To Ned, the world was long at war well before September 1939. This is his story.
I was born on 1 March 1919. I grew up in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. Once I completed my Leaving Certificate in the summer of 1938, I applied for the Civil Service. In those days, there were not many jobs in the country. You applied for the likes of clerical officer positions or the ESB (Electricity Supply Board). These were all secure jobs, if you were lucky enough to get one. There were usually only around ten vacancies a year. So, you had to aim to come in the top six to be in with a chance.
As part of the Civil Service exam I also applied for the Army Cadetship. To my utter surprise I was called for an interview. There was around 300 selected for interview. I remember travelling from Mitchelstown on the bus to St. Bricin’s Military Hospital to do my medical. This was followed by the interview. Six senior officers were in front of me. I was a raw country guy being quizzed by six senior officers. I knew nothing about the Army good, bad or in different. You can imagine how I was feeling.
At that time the main item of news was the Spanish Civil War. Franco, of course, was topical and Irish men like Frank Ryan who had gone over to take part. It just so happened I knew the answers. About two weeks later I got a letter to report to the Military College in the Curragh Camp, Co. Kildare, to start training at the beginning of September.
The 12th Cadet Class numbered 54. It was a large class as the Army were anticipating the war to come and there was a severe shortage of officers. Six billets with 9 cadets in each billet. Back then everything was in Irish. Everything, all commands, all instructions. You were billeted based on your application results. I was in Gasra 3 (Section 3). That meant all the geniuses were in Gasra 1. We were issued with bulls wool uniforms. I’d never seen such a uniform in my life. It took a while to accustom to military life.
There were guys from all over the country. There were also several ex-teachers in our class. They had joined the army because their pay was so poor they couldn’t afford rent in Dublin. I asked what in the name of god were you doing leaving a teacher’s job to join the army. They said teachers wages then was diabolical. You couldn’t live off it. After rent you had no money left. In Dublin, you may have to pay 30 Shillings a week in rent. After that the teachers had little left. In the army, they got a uniform, food and digs.
As Junior Cadets, we got 4 Shillings a day, Senior Cadets – 5 Shillings. I didn’t drink or smoke so this was money bonanza from heaven for me. I could buy a bicycle, a new suit of clothes, and a lovely overcoat. 4 Shillings a day was a lot of money in those days.
The cadetship was two years. We were straight into it. The first three months you were brought up to corporal level. There were also academic subjects such as French, history and geography. History was a big one. We had to do a lot of European history. All the military training at the time was based on World War I British doctrine. You were all the time talking and studying about slit trenches and digging deep trenches. We wasted a lot of time digging trenches. Mobility was not mentioned much. This way of thinking all changed after the German Blitzkrieg swept across Europe. War clouds darkened over Europe.
On 19 February 1939, Taoiseach Éamon de Valera announced that Ireland would be neutral if war broke out. In August 1939, we had a year’s training done and granted a month’s annual leave. We were all at home enjoying ourselves. In the middle of the month it was announced via the newspapers and radio that “all ranks are to report back to your units”. Off I headed for the Military College with my cardboard suitcase.
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was a neutrality pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in Moscow on 23 August. On 1 September, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. On 2 September, the Oireachtas declared a State of Emergency. This declaration was enacted the following day:
Make provisions for securing the public safety and the preservation of the State in time of war and, in particular, to make provision for the maintenance of public order and for the provision and control of supplies and services essential to the life of the community, and to provide for divers and other matters (including the charging of fees on certain licences and other documents) connected with the matters aforesaid.
At 11.15am, 3 September, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, broadcast on BBC:
This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.
I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country [Britain] is at war with Germany.
Junior and Senior Cadets were assembled in the big lecture hall in the Military College. In the back of our minds Cork were playing Kilkenny in the All-Ireland and all Cork and Kilkenny Cadets were geared to go to Croke Park. We were never as close to Croke Park in our lives.
Addressing us was Major General Hugo MacNeill. He announced “We are now on a war footing. There will be no leave. Everyone is confined to barracks”.
The General announced that the Senior Cadet class were to be commissioned immediately. He then said to us “I am going to condense your training into six weeks. After that you will be commissioned. In the meantime, you will soldier day and night, seven days a week”.
Croke Park was not to happen. Worst of all Kilkenny beat Cork by a puck at the last second of the match.
Later that day, An Taoiseach Éamon de Valera broadcasted on Radio Éireann to the people of Ireland:
You know from the news bulletins that I have been listening that the great European powers are again at war. That this would be the end, as appears almost inevitable for months’ past. Such an escape we had a year ago, would hardly be expected to occur twice. Yet until a short time ago there was hope. But now hope is gone and the people of Europe are plunged once more into the misery and anguish of war
Noting the march of events, your government decided its policy early last Spring and announced its decision to you and the world. We resolve with the aim of our policy would be to keep our people out of the war. As I said in the Dáil. With our history, with our experience of the last war and with a part of our country still unjustly severed from us, we felt that no other decision and no other policy was possible
For those six weeks, we went through hell on earth. We were on manoeuvres well into the darkness and lectures were held in the middle of the night. There were no breaks, no leave. The one good thing was we had no tests. We trained and trained. After six weeks, intense training we were commissioned.
We thought after that we’d get at least two weeks off. It was not to be. We were to report straight to our new units. Back into the lecture hall and our postings were read out. We had been asked where we would like to be posted. I had put in for the 4th Infantry Battalion or coastal artillery in Cork. Either one was not far from home. Lovely.
Major General MacNeill announced, “Ned Cusack, 1st Infantry Battalion Galway”. Jesus, I thought where is the 1st Infantry Battalion in Galway. I’d never been to Galway. I was not a happy man. The next morning the saloon car dropped me at Kildare train station, after a change at Athlone, I headed into the Wild West.
I reported to Renmore Barracks and introduced myself to Major Dineen, the Commanding Officer of the 1st Infantry Battalion. In those days, we used the rank Major as Lieutenant Colonel. He was a 22 man and had what was known as pre-truce service. From Clare, he had fought in the War of Independence and then in the Civil War. After becoming a teacher for a while, he joined the new Defence Forces. A nice man he was a genius on Gallipoli. He knew that battle inside out and lectured us endlessly on the Gallipoli campaign. All his tactics were based on the First World War.
Now that we were on a war footing the Battalion was on continuous exercise. North Clare and Galway Bay area became very familiar. Nobody knew what was going to happen. If the Germans were to keep coming, more than likely their main thrust would be from the sea. In turn we trained extensively in coastal defence. I remember Ballyvaughan Co. Clare and Spiddal in Galway very well. We defended them until we were blue in the face.
There was only one lorry for the entire battalion. We had to march everywhere. 10, 20 mile marches were nothing to us. And then a day’s work at the end of it defending the coast, harrying a Company in Defence at dawn. They were great fun. I hadn’t hit my 21st birthday yet and by god we were fit.
It was very serious training. We spent days on the ranges. I was an expert on the Lewis Light Machine Gun. Our standard rifle was the Lee–Enfield bolt-action .303” and we had the Ordnance ML 3” mortar. The ML 3” mortar is a conventional Stokestype mortar which was muzzle-loaded and drop-fired.
Later we received the Bren machine gun, the Czechoslovak ZGB 33 version to be precise, and the Brandt mle 27/31 mortar from France. As we were pre-war men the entire battalion was dressed in the German styled Vickers helmet and heather green high collared tunic. We were fierce looking individuals.
One day in early November I reported to the commanding officer. “You and your platoon are to report to Mallin Head, Co. Donegal’. There was a radio station and observation post up there which had to be guarded and the observation post manned. It was bitterly cold. I got out expecting to see billets. All there was eight man tents. We relieved the unit there and our job was to keep out intruders. At that time our biggest fear was the IRA (Irish Republican Army). They were active at the time. The radio station and the observation post were a vital strategic location as they covered a huge part of the north-west Atlantic. The reports emanating from that post throughout the war were vital to the Irish and the Allied war effort.
We monitored movements of aircraft, submarines and shipping and gathered all the respective information. It was cold and the food was not the best. I could think of better places to be. After a month, we thought we were going back to Galway. No. we got a call. “You and your platoon are to report to Drumsna in Co. Leitrim in two days’ time”.
Drumsna was a strategic bridge over the River Shannon connecting Ireland with Northern Ireland. At Drumsna anyone that was crossing the bridge was stopped, searched and questioned. As the officer, I’d have to ask all the questions. Where are you coming from? where are you going? what will you be doing there? Nothing could pass Drumsna bridge without my say so.
As well as checking any IRA activities we were also getting information on the British activities in the North. Bitter cold, tents, not exactly four-star standard. After about three weeks we were ordered back to barracks for respite.
Back in barracks in the second week in December we had a cushy time. Lovely nice food and warm beds. Christmas was on the cards and we thought we might get a break and finally get to go home and see the family.
Well, the senior officers who were still on peacetime mentality said you, you and you orderly officer Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day. I was on St. Stephen’s Day. The older officers were off home for the Christmas.
Three young Lieutenants in charge of the barracks. Midnight Christmas Eve, phone call from Command Headquarter Athlone. “Barrack to be placed on lockdown forthwith. No movement. You are to put out patrols internally and externally”. What in the name of god is this all about I asked, “the IRA have raided the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, and got away with all our reserve ammunition”.
Everyone was recalled to barracks. Raids were expected all over the country. That was our Christmas 1939.
Interview with Frank Brien, Royal Air Force Association (ROI)
Published: Winter 2017 edition
Seeking adventure Frank Brien served with the Royal Air
Force (RAF) from 1963-1968. Within a very short time, he found himself in
Cyprus, Aden and Bahrain with the RAF Regiment. Finishing school in Donnycarney
in June 1963, I was looking for adventure. The RAF had a romanticism about it, becoming
a pilot is what everyone dreamed of. So, I signed up thinking I was going to
have a holiday to Butlins. Boy was I in for a shock. That September I was sent
to the School or Recruit Training at RAF Innsworth in Gloucestershire. My God,
basic training was tough and life changing. You were transformed from civilian
to service person within a matter of weeks.
Following basic training I was posted to the RAF Regiment.
Let me explain what the RAF Regiment is. The RAF Regiment was formed for the
sole purpose of providing close defence of RAF airfields. The Battle of France
during 1940, demonstrated the vulnerability of airfields, which had been long considered
safe, to modern fast mobile warfare. In January 1942, the Regiment was formed
after King George VI signed a Royal Warrant for ‘a Corps formed as an integral part
of the RAF’. The regiment’s first home was in Filey with instructors seconded from
the Brigade of Guards and the Royal Marines. The Depot has since moved three times,
firstly to Belton Park, then to RAF Catterick in 1946. Essentially it was a
defence force within the RAF, so it could look after and defend its own bases.
We have a very proud tradition and proud that we can defend the RAF.
Within the regiment, companies are known as ‘squadrons’ and
platoons are referred to as ‘flights’. During World War II, the regiment developed
two distinct types of squadrons: The light anti-aircraft units were equipped with
Bofors L40/60 guns; and the rifle or field squadrons, which deployed and were equipped
as an army infantry company. Throughout the North African Campaign, five field squadrons
and five anti-aircraft flights earned reputations as robust hard-hitting units.
Following D-Day the RAF Regiment expanded to its peak strength of 85,000
officers and men organised into 240 squadrons. It was in Burma that the RAF Regiment
fought for ten long days to defend the airstrip of Meiktila deep behind enemy lines
during March 1945.
After the war RAF Regiment units found themselves in ‘Bush
Fire’ wars and on peacekeeping operations around the world such as the Malayan
Emergency and was also attached to Hong Kong for internal security duties.
Essentially, we looked and dressed very similar to the rest of the RAF, however,
we wore web belts and short leather gaiters. Initially we trained on the Rifle
No. 4 .303” and later moved onto the L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle (SLR). We always prided
ourselves on our ability to do drill and the smartness of our turnout. To this
day whenever the RAF is on parade at national ceremonies it is represented by
the Queen’s Colour Squadron. We always had a motto in the regiment, ‘The RAF’s best
fighters are on the ground’.
It was then off to the Regimental Training Depot at RAF
Catterick in Yorkshire. Here you learned your soldiering skills. Tough, but not
like basic. As our role was airfield defence, we were all also trained on the Light
Anti-Aircraft (LAA) role. At this time the regiment was equipped with the
Bofors L/70. This was a 40mm anti-aircraft gun using the 40 × 364R round firing
a slightly lighter 870 g shell with a 1,030 m/s (3,379 fps) muzzle velocity.
The rate of fire was over 300 rounds per minute. The carriage was power laid.
Following that I was then sent to the Driving School just outside Blackpool. A wonderful
posting. Every weekend we were allowed into Blackpool.
It was then off to RAF Akrotiri on the island of Cyprus in
the Mediterranean. I was posted to No. 34 LAA Squadron. This was a large base.
Hostilities on the island had erupted on 21 December 1963, between the Turkish
and Greek Cypriots. I arrived in April just before the main United Nations (UN)
peacekeeping force. They had started to arrive the end of March. Our job was to
provide stability for the local communities.
the end of May the UN had taken over all these peacekeeping duties and we were
back in base and a routine of training set in. The Irish Defence Forces
deployed to the island around the same time and we used to meet them up at Nicosia
on a Sunday at mass. A funny story was that in the British forces a rank with
crossed swords indicates a general. When our guys would see the Irish Defence Forces
guys they’d say ‘heh Paddy how come you have so many generals?’ Of course, they
were getting mixed up with the Irish rank of Commandant. As we were an
anti-aircraft unit, we undertook some range practice. The L/70 was an amazing
piece of equipment. It could be radar operated but we used electrical sites.
Twice a year we’d head to the range. Six guns on the firing line. A plane would
fly over pulling a drogue. You could imagine six guns firing four rounds a
second. Another crisis loomed on the horizon. This time at the bottom of the
Arabian Peninsula. We were deployed to Aden.
Hostilities started on 10 December 1963,
when the NLF launched a grenade attack
against the British High Commissioner
of Aden, Sir Kennedy Trevaskis
today is part of Yemen. Britain established a territory there in 1839, to provide
a base for ships heading to India. In 1931 Aden was made a Crown Colony. By the
1960’s, the region had been plagued by years of unrest. In order to stabilise
the region, Britain sought to create a federation between Aden and the
surrounding protectorates. In 1962, the British government announced that Aden
would be maintained as a permanent British garrison east of Suez.
4 April 1962, the Federation of South Arabia was formed from the fifteen
British protected states of the Federation of Arab Emirates of the South (today
South Yemen). The Colony of Aden joined the Federation on 18 January 1963. The day
after Aden joined the Federation, Muhammad al-Badr of the Yemenese monarchy was
overthrown and civil war ensued between forces backed by Egypt and monarchist
forces backed by the British. The conflict soon spread throughout the region. The
Federation formed the Federal Regular Army (FRA) and Federal National Guard
(FNG). The Egyptians backed the National Liberation Front (NLF) who quickly infiltrated
the Federal forces. The NLF were a radical movement formed in 1962, aimed at
expelling Britain from what they called South Yemen. The NLF were also supported
by tribes in the Radfan area of the country, as well as Yemeni tribesmen.
Hostilities started on 10 December 1963, when the NLF launched a grenade attack
against the British High Commissioner of Aden, Sir Kennedy Trevaskis, as he
arrived at Khormaksar Airport to catch a London-bound flight. A woman was
killed, and fifty other people injured. A State of Emergency was declared the
1964, a second nationalist group, the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South
Yemen (FLOSY), also began terrorist activities against the security forces and
the NLF. The violent insurgency campaign in Aden was marked by a series of
bombings, shootings and grenade attacks. To support the Federation forces, the
British deployed the 24th Infantry Brigade in 1964. By 1965, nine squadrons were
stationed at RAF Khormaksar. These included transport units, helicopters and a
number of Hawker Hunter fighter bombers. The RAF Regiment deployed No. 34 LAA
Squadron in 1965, and No. 27 LAA Squadron 1965/66. This was a very tough
posting for six months. It was known as an Active Service deployment, which
meant you were on duty 24/7. Very rarely did you ever
get some time off, if you did you were confined to barracks. If you were ever
off base you always had to have an armed escort. For example, I used to go to
mass every Sunday. The bus would come to pick us up and there would be two armed
guards on it. It was a very hostile environment.
On such deployments, the squadrons dropped their LAA role and
became field squadrons with three flights; identical to an infantry company.
The base there was big with a large married quarters area and it was our job to
defend it. We were deployed outside the RAF base alongside the regular Army
units. It was very interesting as at that time the Irish Guards, the Welsh
Guards, and the Parachute Regiment were there, and we did a lot of work
together. For several operations we would form part of a battalion with the
Army units and deploy with them. Area and cordon searches were very common.
We’d set up a check point and would then be required to search any vehicle coming
through for arms. This was very difficult work. We didn’t speak Arabic, so we
needed interpreters, and the culture was alien to us. On one occasion a car was
pulled over. There looked like there was somebody hiding and lying in the back.
One of our guys was ordering him to get out of the car. As it turned out it was
a corpse and the driver were simply transporting it. Really tough six months.
It was then back to Cyprus and a normal routine. A few months later I was posted
to No. 27 LAA Squadron on their return from Aden and rotated back to the UK.
Back in the U.K. and the Royal Tournament
By 1967, the Federal government began to collapse, and Britain announced a withdrawal. In September negotiations were sought with the nationalist groups over Britain’s withdrawal. After months of fierce street fighting, the last British troops left Aden in November 1967. I was now stationed at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire when I got word that I was part of the unit that would represent the RAF at the Royal Tournament. The tournament was an annual military tattoo and pageant, held by the British Armed Forces. This was a wonderful experience. We spent two months in London mixing with loads of regiments from around the Army, the Royal Marines and Navy. By the time I was finished here my unit had redeployed to Cyprus, so I was sent to RAF Bicester where I spent a year. This was another nice posting as we were not far from Oxford. In 1966, No.1 LAA Squadron had returned from RAAF Butterworth, Malaysia, along with No.26 LAA Squadron, from RAF Changi, Singapore, to whom which I was assigned. While here I was sent for six months to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.
Bahrain is an island country, situated between the Qatar peninsula and the north-eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. The Royal Air Force established RAF Bahrain on 22 May 1943, as part of RAF Iraq Command, part of 83 Expeditionary Air Group in the Middle East. It was later renamed RAF Muharraq in 1963. There was not much there when we arrived. There were no married quarters and no aircraft. The county was not hostile, and the job was very much routine guarding the base. An amazing experience nonetheless and I was able to take a few photographs while I was there.
Royal Air Force Association (RAFA)
I left the RAF in 1968 as a Senior Aircraftman or Corporal in army
terms. I came home, settled down and got married and pretty much forgot all
about it. I was always in the RAFA. One day I was reading their newsletter and
read that the RAF Regiment was forming their own association. I was then
invited to a reunion at RAF Catterick. This would have been in the 80’s. The
Troubles was still on at that time and I had to write and get special
permission to travel over with my wife and children in the car. At the reunion I
met another Irishman who’d served in the Regiment, he hadn’t come home though.
He said ‘Frank, you are the only member we have in the Rep. of Ireland’. We had
such a lovely time my wife said to me ‘when we go back, we’re getting in touch
with the RAF branch in Ireland and getting involved’. I’ve been involved ever
since and am the RAFA Rep. of Ireland Branch Standard Bearer.