‘You are now entering Free Derry’. Them words, they’ve never been so true, even for a soldier. Things were changing in ’92…Soldier C, 2018
Philip: When did you go over to Northern Ireland?
C: I was 20 and I went over Aug 24th 1992. It was my dream job – from being 15, growing up in St Helens, I was always interested in the struggles. I’d see Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness on the telly and something inside me wanted to get involved in that part of the world.
That 12 months I spent in Northern Ireland I had the best time of my life ever. I met some fantastic friendly Irish people, I got into a relationship with an Irish woman, she meant the world to me. My job, my posting, everything, it all meant the world to me – I was earning good money. Things were going well in those days for me. Getting a chance to see Northern Ireland, places like Port Rush, Port Stewart, Coleraine doing the nightclubs, yeah I LIVED while I was there like I’d never lived before.
I was just free. I felt free. When I used to do the patrols in Derry, past the signs: ‘You are now entering Free Derry’. Them words, they’ve never been so true, even for a soldier. Things were changing in ’92. They were looking towards peace. People weren’t so hostile anymore. I didn’t see much violence – a couple of murders, a couple of shootings and a couple of bombs. There was nothing extreme.
I’ve done quite a bit of travelling in my time … but I found those people very loving people to be around. My girlfriend’s family would’ve loved me to marry their daughter. But I was 21. And for me to be an ex-soldier living in Northern Ireland, it would’ve been a bit dodgy. Over the years, I’ve met a few Irish people in St Helens when I’ve been out and about and they’re just remarkable people, I’ve got a lot of time for them. Even the RUC, when I was working alongside the RUC, they’re nothing like the coppers here, they’re really friendly people.
P: You described a New Year bomb attack on your barracks?
C: It was 1992, and I was posted to the Creggan and it come over that the IRA had called a ceasefire. But then they called the ceasefire off – Boxing Day they bombed the barracks. They didn’t tell us with words. They bombed the place to tell us the ceasefire was finished. But we were lucky – we never had no casualties. I was asleep, we used to do 12 on, 12 off, and the two bangs that went off, they were the loudest bangs I’ve ever heard. More than a bang – 10 times those loud ones on Bonfire Night. They’d thrown two coffee jar bombs at the barracks. I know there’s been a lot of casualties over the years and after that I thought I’m not going to get out of here, but apart from that night and one murder from August to April I think we had about 3 situations.
Then we went to Cyprus, spent a month in Cyprus doing, well fuck all really, drinking. It’s a big drinking culture, the Army. But the thing is I don’t blame the Army for my drinking because I abuse drink. I know they have this thing of so many units a week but I don’t believe in all that, me, if you have a drink, enjoy yourself.
But I used to enjoy myself a little bit too much. So I didn’t class myself as an alcoholic. I’ve never been physically unwell with drink – I had a mental problem. I was getting told by my NCOs that I’d got a problem with drink. You’re not a nice person to be around. I was abusing drink before I joined the Army. Drink changes you. I used to drink to calm nervousness, to get that Dutch courage because you feel invincible when you’re drunk. I was always misbehaving in the Army, throughout, I was getting 14-day RPs and it was all due to drink.
But when I left the Army after 5 years, my mum said: you’re not well you, I’m going to get the doctor and he said, ‘I think Chris is suffering from a little bit of PTSD’. But I think it was everything I’d seen like, growing up, I’d seen a lot of shit before I’d even joined the Army, in St Helens, death on the road, people dying around you, bodies and that. And it does affect you. From school days I was a strong-minded guy I wouldn’t take no shit from anyone else, I wouldn’t be bullied – there was a lot of bullying when I joined up, but I was alright, I just fitted in, people liked me, it was fine. Like here, I come here, fitted in. If I didn’t have this place I’d slip back into my old ways.
P: Back to Ireland… what is it that you’ve taken away from that year, from being there?
C: It was me trying to make a man of meself I think. I was always very immature as a 12-13 year old lad. I grew up very quick in Ireland. If the Army’d have me back tomorrow I’d go, just to be in that environment. When they started to notice Veterans, I qualified for that Veterans Badge. I thought the Army had forgotten about people like me but they hadn’t. My life is getting better and better day by day now. I’ve made amends with everybody. Apart from one person, my dad.
C was interviewed by Philip Davenport at Tom Harrison House, 2018