My Century Home Page
My name is Richard Beath. And I was a platoon commander in the Light
Infantry in Northern Ireland.
regiment, which was there in 1969, came to help the Irish people,
to protect them against the Protestant extremists. But later, when
we went again in 1972, we found ourselves on the opposite side.
We found ourselves being shot at an awful lot by the Irish Republican
lived in a couple of houses on the Crumlin Road, knocked in together.
And we were really isolated. The only times we went out were when
we went on patrol, or when we went on to observation posts which
were scattered around the area.
of the days I remember particularly. We were involved in "Lollipop
patrols". These were patrols to separate the Catholic and Protestant
children as they walked home from school, at about 3.30 to 4 o'clock
in the afternoon. And this particular area was on the Crumlin Road.
One area was Protestant; one side was Catholic. And we would be
setting up a position, looking into the area.
Now one day, my platoon was there. And we were being stoned by quite
a large number of children - more so than we would normally expect.
And clearly they were trying to draw us into the area. Just at that
moment in time, a camera crew came up the Crumlin Road and positioned
itself on the pavement. I went over and said to them: "Sorry, you
can't film here until you have permission from the headquarters".
And I pointed them towards the headquarters down the road.
Just at that moment in time, the Corporal shouted to me. "Sir",
he said, "the children are starting to clear." Now, this meant to
us that a gunman was going to come out and start firing at us. So
I immediately turned round, ran back, told my soldiers to take cover
and cocked our weapons.
shots from a high-velocity Armelite rifle were fired. And they caught
one of my soldiers in the arm and the other one in the upper thigh.
And it was my corporal who got hit. He went down. And immediately
I could see that he had been hit in the main artery in his leg.
And blood was pouring out of his leg.
ordered immediately two soldiers to get round him - two people I
knew had first aid experience - to stop the blood. But very quickly
the blood had already made a trail down the road. I could see that
he was losing pints, as the seconds ticked by.
I called up the crash crew straight away. But they didn't come straight
away. And I was getting a bit frantic at this point. There was no
point in following up the gunman, because we couldn't see him. We
didn't fire any rounds back, because we weren't sure what they were
going to be firing at. The most important thing was to get the soldier
into the hospital as soon as possible.
felt really devastated at the time that I had not done enough to
protect my soldier from the shooting. But I found that they didn't
blame me for it. At the end of the day, our regiment, which was
there for four months in 1972 - we lost five soldiers killed and
25 seriously wounded. It was a very, very bad time for the security
forces. It was the worst year, in fact, for security force deaths
in the whole of the history of the province.
was the start-up, really of the IRA campaign against the Army being
there. And I think that we were quite green. We didn't know how
to deal with the situations, and we were very vulnerable. And I
think later on we learnt more about not over-reacting. And that
was the important thing: not to over-react, not to fire back when
you didn't know where the gunman was - so that you didn't embitter
the end of the day, it took a number of years for the British Army
to become more policeman-like, and to be more considerate to the
population. The trouble is with the Army - if you put the Army into
a civilian situation, they can sometimes act like they do in a battlefield.
And that is the difficulty. Training is that you fire back immediately
you're fired upon. And you cannot do that in Northern Ireland. You
cannot do that with civilians around and children around.