I served for more than three years in Northern Ireland, on seven operational tours. I first went there in 1970. Sadly, I lost six men who were directly under my command, and many more in my unit. Almost 50 of the men under my command were wounded—35 in one incident. I have been involved in several fatality shootings. I think I have the right to speak for Northern Ireland veterans today.
We were sent to Northern Ireland by our predecessors. The Glosters were sent in, I think, August or September 1969. We were sent to save lives, to look after people. We were given a yellow card, which was approved by Parliament, and that yellow card told us what we could and could not do under fire. We trained very hard on it. We memorised it. We rehearsed it. Colleagues are nodding their heads. We practised on exercise incidents so that we would learn.
Army training screams out against opening fire in peacekeeping. That decision is an incredibly difficult one to make and it is very difficult in an urban environment because soldiers are thinking, “If I open fire, who else am I going to hurt?” How many times did I see instances of our soldiers not firing when under fire because of the possibility that children or women would be caught in the crossfire? That tactic was used by our opposition. There is huge inhibition to opening fire, and the decision to do so has to be made in milliseconds by our young men. By the way, I worked with some young women on operations, but not in the infantry. When that decision and those actions are judged, it is in some courtroom, warm and nice with time and lawyers. A judgment is being made about a decision taken by someone who is panicking like hell.