The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester, Dorset
Paderborn 1994-1998 (including Bosnia 1995, Belize 1996 and Northern Ireland 1996/97)
With elements of the Battalion split between Werl and Paderborn, the summer of 1994 was not the easiest period, particularly with Barker Barracks still resembling a building site. Fortunately the necessary focus was provided by Ex Medicine Man 3 in Canada. Bearing in mind how facilities in Germany were being squeezed, the huge training area at Suffield in Alberta assumed even greater importance. As usual, the training was both progressive and fast-moving, culminating in battle group fire and manoeuvre. During the remainder of the year the emphasis was on inter-platoon competitions. A Company won both the inter-company Ransome Cup for football and the cross-country competition while B Company remained Champion Company with 5 Platoon winning the Sarah Sands march-and-shoot competition and 4 Platoon coming second in the H Jones competition. Early in 1995 there were more training cadres as a consequence of the constant demand for Warrior drivers and gunners, as well as junior NCOs. There was a tragedy on the latter cadre when Private Matthews was killed by a train during a night navigation exercise. There then followed an intensive period of training for the next operational commitment, Op Grapple in Bosnia. In March Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cook assumed command from Lieutenant Colonel Young.
The Warriors, resplendent in their white United Nations livery, sailed from Emden, via Southampton, to Split. The 1st Battalion flew to Bosnia in late April, assuming responsibility for its duties as 'BRITBAT 1' on 4 May 1995. A Company (Major Watson) was based at Gornjï Vakuf, B Company (Major McFarlane) and Battalion HQ were at Vitez while C Company (Major Barnes) was at Zepce/Jelah. Liaison responsibilities, so vital with the Battalion dispersed in this way, rested with HQ Fire Support Company. During the first three weeks there was an eerie calm. The companies mounted guards and manned checkpoints and they attempted to win 'hearts and minds' by, for example, playing football and providing medical assistance. At the end of May relations between the Bosnian Serbs and the UN deteriorated. The Serbs attacked UN Safe Areas, the UN responded with air strikes and the Serbs reacted by taking members of the UN hostage. The 1st Battalion reconfigured to become the Bosnia-Herzegovina Command Reserve and concentrated on Vitez, pending new orders. For a week the Battalion waited while the international community wrestled with the issues. The Battalion then moved to Tomislavgrad for field-firing exercises, which were as much for demonstration purposes as they were part of a training programme. By early July the Multi-National Brigade was formed; the 1st Battalion became Task Force Alpha while the French Le Deuxième Régiment Etranger d'Infanterie became Task Force Bravo, leading to a lasting relationship, later formalised by a Bond of Friendship between the two Battalions.
On 23 July 1995 the 1st Battalion, in Warriors now repainted in their traditional black and green camouflage, escorted artillery and engineer equipment onto Mount Igman, where the Serbs had controlled the eleven-mile Mount Igman trail, the only route into, or out of, Sarajevo, for the previous three years. At long last this signified a real declaration of intent from the international community. During this period of tension Corporal Harvey of B Company won the MC, having twice extracted his Warrior under fire, using his weapon systems to good effect. The NATO offensive commenced on 30 August with several days of air strikes and artillery bombardments, which eventually brought the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table. Throughout September the 1st Battalion was warned, briefed and then stood down for numerous operations, including Op Cygnet 7, the lifting of the siege around Sarajevo. By late September the Serbs at last agreed to allow free UN movement and, from then on, the Battalion's task was to guarantee safe passage for humanitarian aid coming into Sarajevo. The dreadful living conditions and abject poverty of the local population made a lasting impression on all who participated in these operations. Having been widely praised for the job that they had done, the 1st Battalion returned to Germany in early November.
The programme for 1996 was subject to rapid adjustment in the light of the end of the IRA's so-called, eighteen-month 'ceasefire' in February. Earlier that month the Battalion completed field-firing at Sennelager, with A Company, B Company and a major portion of Fire Support Company preparing to go to Canada with 2 Royal Tank Regiment Battle Group in May. This time there was a new dimension to those preparations with the US Army training facilities at Grafenwohr and Hohenfels being made available for the first time; these included SIMNET, a computer-generated war game, with participants spread round an enormous hangar. Meanwhile C Company, who had nothing particularly exciting in the diary, suddenly found themselves on Ex Nature Trail in Belize for seven weeks, having taken the place of 1 Grenadier Guards at very short notice. After summer leave, the Battalion reorganised once again for its forthcoming Northern Ireland role as Rural Reinforcement Battalion: for example, Fire Support Company sent no less than thirty-seven soldiers to other companies and formed itself into four platoons for patrol work. Initially only one company actually went to the Province, with the others remaining at Paderborn, albeit on short notice to move.
Northern Ireland, 1996/97
On 11 December 1996 Fire Support Company was the first to deploy to Ireland. They returned in late January, having spent their time in Fermanagh. C Company succeeded them in Fermanagh, staying there until 7th April. Meanwhile B Company had deployed platoons for shorter periods. 5 Platoon joined Fire Support Company at Lisnaskea in January, to be replaced by 6 Platoon the following month. Reconstituted B Company went to Fermanagh in February, spent March in Lisburn and at the Maze Prison before being sent to East Tyrone for three weeks in April. Over the same period A Company was initially deployed in Tyrone, before guarding the Maze Prison and spending April in Fermanagh and Lisnaskea. It was a crazy merry-go-round with everyone back in Paderborn by 4 June 1997. The general conclusion was that this was hardly the most effective way to conduct operations. Nevertheless there were a number of noteworthy incidents that reflected extremely well on the Battalion's professionalism under trying circumstances. In December a patrol took a chance photograph of a seemingly innocent cattle truck in a farmyard, only for the same truck to be found the following day on the border, laden with explosives. On 21 March Private Lewis of C Company stumbled upon a Brazilian heavy machine-gun tripod, a home-made grenade and a quantity of ammunition. This find provoked a response from the IRA at Roselea a week later.
While A Company brought the 1st Battalion's tour of duty in Ulster to a close, the other companies began preparations for the central feature of the year's training, another battle group exercise in Canada. There were study days and field-firing on Bergen-Hohne ranges, tactical work-up exercises at Grafenwohr and a final session of live firing at Bergen-Hohne in mid-July. August was spent at Suffield, where the 1st Battalion demonstrated a mastery of the armoured infantry role, resulting in a Level 5 grade from the umpires, the highest that could be achieved. This was a crowning achievement for Lieutenant Colonel Cook as he handed over his responsibilities as CO to Lieutenant Colonel Jon Watson that September. From 20 September to 12 October 1997 the 1st Battalion Battle Group deployed to Poland for Ex Ulan Eagle, a challenging 20 Armoured Brigade/1 UK Division exercise over ground that had quite literally been 'enemy territory' less than eight years earlier. That autumn attention was focused on preparing Barker Barracks, the vehicles and equipment for handover, prior to the move to Warminster in the new year.