The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester, Dorset
Bulford 1987-1991 (including Falkland Islands 1987, Belize 1988, Denmark 1988, Kenya 1989, Armagh 1989 and USA 1990
The 1st Battalion took over Kiwi Barracks, Bulford in February 1987. Although the barrack blocks were in a poor state compared with those in Berlin, there were compensations in the excellent local training facilities and, of course, the proximity to the two counties. At the same time Lieutenant Colonel David Shaw took over command from Lieutenant Colonel Dutton. The Battalion was now part of the United Kingdom Mobile Force (UKMF), or 1 Infantry Brigade, which had a varied and challenging role that demanded great flexibility from its constituent units. The Battalion was soon on Spearhead stand-by and, with problems developing in far-flung places such as Fiji and the Lebanon, as well as more prosaic Northern Ireland; a call-out seemed highly probable. In the event the 1st Battalion was not required and, once the Spearhead commitment had ceased, the reestablishment of West Country links became a priority. There were Freedom Marches through Weymouth and Dorchester and visits from civic dignitaries and the ACFs of both counties.
Falkland Islands, 1987
Elements of the Battalion reinforced the Falklands Islands Garrison during the last half of 1987. C Company (Major Biles) was responsible for securing the airfield at Mount Pleasant, providing a Quick Reaction Force and sending patrols to visit the outlying settlements, where their reassuring presence was much appreciated. The Recce Platoon (Major Trevis) went to South Georgia and, having been dropped off by HMS Dunbarton Castle, received supplies and mail by parachute every two weeks. Their compensation for this hardship was that they were able to practise winter warfare tactics and snow and ice climbing in a harsh, but unforgettable, environment. There were also opportunities to enjoy the wildlife and make thought-provoking visits to the battle sites from the 1982 campaign.
Those left in Bulford had the unenviable task of guarding Greenham Common, the controversial USAF base where Cruise missiles were stored. By February 1988 the Battalion began to be re-equipped with Saxon and B Company (Major Gaye) went to Stanford for familiarisation training. Meanwhile A Company (Major King) went to Belize on Ex Mopan Shield, a rapid reinforcement that took place in January and February. Having moved south for an uncomfortable 12 hours by road, A Company acted as enemy for Ex Toucan Blade. They were then left to carry out their own training at Baldy Beacon, English Caye and in various jungle locations - in incessant rain. At the end there were a few days of much-needed 'R and R', enabling many soldiers to go to Mexico or Miami.
A Company returned to the UK just in time for the H Jones Competition, which took place in Wales that March. For three days patrols of ten - each platoon providing two patrols - were put through a series of military tests while navigating an arduous route in singularly unpleasant weather. This Competition was particularly poignant since, not only had the participants recently returned from the Falklands, but Mrs Sara Jones presented the prizes. On 19 March 1988 the Regiment received the Freedom of Plymouth, with the 1st and 4th Battalions, the Old Comrades and Devon ACF on parade. In April the 1st Battalion ran Ex Test Match on Salisbury Plain, followed by 1 Brigade's Ex Wiltshire Pheasant, which was the debut of the Saxons, a wheeled but rather ineffective APC. For three weeks in September, the 1st Battalion deployed on Ex Bold Grouse, UKMF's biennial exercise, for which some 5,000 men, with their vehicles and equipment, were moved by land, sea and air to Zealand in Denmark. The heli-borne assault on Bogo was memorable, as were the defensive battles against Danish and German 'enemy' parachute drops and counter-attacks in the Saxons. The final battle was observed by sixty members of the multi-national inspection team, including senior Soviet officers, reflecting reduced East/West tensions.
On returning to Bulford the 1st Battalion was once again Spearhead battalion. This time it was an attempted coup in the Maldives that November that caused international concern; however, the sun cream purchased in anticipation of a visit to those coral atolls in the South Seas wasn't needed on that occasion! In the event A Company was despatched to less-than-exotic Nesscliffe to do some preparatory work for the next Op Banner tour while Support Company (Major Hambrook) reformed as a rifle company. Early in 1989 the Battalion made another very satisfying, month-long deployment to Kenya for the now-familiar routine of field-firing, exercises, adventure training and 'R and R'. After returning from Kenya, preparations began for another four-month Op Banner tour in South Armagh.
The 1st Battalion assumed responsibility for South Armagh on 12 April 1989 with A Company (Major King) at Forkhill, C Company (Major Hale) at Newtownhamilton and Support Company (Major Hambrook) at Crossmaglen. B Company (Major Trevis), Battalion HQ and Echelon (Major Saunders) were based at Bessbrook. On the face of it, little had changed. The same RUC liaison officer was sitting in the same chair, and greeted the new arrivals with a cheery: "Good to see you back, chaps!" The Commanding Officer's stated objective was to 'leave the situation better than we had found it'. B Company rotated through the Airborne Reaction Force (ARF) on a four-day cycle and provided 'multiple' patrols. The other companies patrolled their TAORs incessantly.
During the early weeks several IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) were found on the Dublin-Belfast railway line, leading to lengthy clearance operations. A particular challenge was Op Tantalus, a major refurbishment of Security Force bases, since it was difficult to disguise the routine movements of those involved. Sadly Corporal McGonigle of C Company, 1 Worcester and Sherwood Foresters, who was temporarily attached to the 1st Battalion, was killed by a roadside bomb. The Colonel-in-Chief visited on 28 July 1989, staying for lunch at Bessbrook. A month later everyone was back in Bulford, the Battalion's eighth tour in Ulster had come to an end and the general view was that South Armagh had been left 'better than we had found it'.
The return to Bulford coincided with a change of Commanding Officer as Lieutenant Colonel Chris Biles took over from Lieutenant Colonel Shaw. That autumn had a familiar feel to it: the Sarah Sands march-and-shoot, numerous sporting competitions and a KAPE tour that included Freedom Marches through Torbay on 13 October 1989 and through Plymouth the following day. That November the CO instituted a 'Special Act of Remembrance' with the names of all those members of the Regiment killed on operations being read out. This has since become the central feature of the Battalion's Remembrance Sunday Service. On 19 January 1990 the Colonel of the Regiment watched the traditional Wagon Hill rugby match, which had been delayed in his honour.
On 26 February the advance party arrived in Washington State for Ex Trumpet Dance, a short butvery busy deployment. There was company-level work at Fort Lewis, Yakima and Huckleberry Creek, followed by a short Battalion exercise and three days' 'R and R'. The splendidly-named 'Daughters of the British Empire' generously hosted a tea party for 500 while, in return, the Battalion hosted a Beating Retreat and cocktail party at the end of the exercise.
The 1st Battalion was now in its last year at Bulford, well practised in its various roles and experienced at fielding 'fast balls'. The Battalion took its turn again at Spearhead that June with Liberia discussed as a possible trouble spot. In the event the 'balloon' did not go up and the last field training with UKMF, Ex Druids Drake, took place onSalisbury Plain in July 1990. The most conspicuous feature was a distinct shortage of ammunition. Financial pressures were having an adverse effect on Army training and Ex Bold Grouse, the last UKMF exercise of the year, proved to be a tame bird and was cancelled altogether. After summer leave there was a notable achievement as Sergeant Jerrard and his team, trained by Captain House, won the North European Command Infantry Competition in Denmark, beating entries from Denmark, Germany, Norway, Canada and the Netherlands. Following Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, the Regimental Band, acting in their traditional role as stretcher bearers, went out to Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia on Op Granby as part of 33 Field Hospital. Having received excellent training and endured no less than 15 Red NBC alerts in twenty-five days, they returned home on 16 March 1991. Meanwhile, after setting up a prisoner of war camp at Rollestone on Salisbury Plain, the 1st Battalion joined 5 Airborne Brigade on Ex Fast Buzzard, fully expecting to take part in an operation to recapture Kuwait City, but the call never came. After intensive training courses for conversion to the new APC, Warrior, the Battalion departed for Werl in Germany in early August 1991. Although there was much talk of the 'peace dividend' as the Warsaw Pact disintegrated, the 1st Battalion was fortunate to have secured another high-profile and purposeful role.