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Ballykinler 1983-1985

By 24 March 1983 the 1st Battalion was installed at Abercorn Barracks, Ballykinler. This was a good barracks, providing you inclined more towards nature and water-sports than night-life! Ballykinler is delightfully rural with the sands of Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains sweeping down to the sea. The challenges faced by a 'resident' battalion on a two-year tour are very different from those confronting units on an Op Banner tour. The latter tend to have a distinct TAOR and work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, unaccompanied by their families. For resident battalions the operational intensity can be just as great, while deployment can take place anywhere within the Province. At the same time it is essential to preserve normal life as far as is possible although families' freedom to shop and travel are naturally limited by security factors. Thus resident battalions are more self-contained and independent. Their sub-units, companies and platoons, form a strategic reserve, deploying as and when needed. Initially one company from the 1st Battalion was based in Belfast but that commitment later ceased and a company was sent to Bessbrook in Armagh instead.

On 28 March D Company (Major Pape) went to Belfast, under the command of 1 Black Watch. Just two days later Corporal Jeffrey was critically wounded in a bomb attack in the Falls Road. Immediate care, both at the scene and later at the Royal Victoria Hospital, was of no avail and he died of his wounds on 7 April 1983. The company providing security at Ballykinler also formed a Quick Reaction Force (QRF). B Company's QRF was deployed as early as 26 March in response to shots being fired at Castlewellan RUC station. In the days that followed B Company (Major White) also provided platoons for search operations under the command of 3 UDR. On 24 April A Company (Major Langdon) went to Belfast for six weeks. On 8 May 9 Platoon from C Company (Major Hambrook) was working with a Royal Marines patrol when the latter drove into an ambush on the Kilkeel-Rostrevor Road. Fortunately the 700lb device only partially exploded and there were no injuries. A 9 Platoon foot patrol, in a swift follow-up, closed on the scene from the Rostrevor Forest Park, just failing to cut the terrorists' escape route. On 24 May a proxy bomb was left in a van outside Andersonstown Police Station. The explosion severely damaged the station and blew several members of an A Company patrol off their feet; they just dusted themselves down and carried on with the job. For the General Election on 9 June 1983 B and C Companies provided guards on polling stations. That autumn many members of the 1st Battalion were involved in trying to recapture thirty-eight members of the IRA who escaped from the Maze Prison on 25 September: while half were apprehended within a few days, some never returned to prison. On 27 October 1983 C Company was under the command of 1 Grenadier Guards in South Armagh when Lance-Corporal Taverner was caught in a bomb explosion in Crossmaglen and died in the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital at Woolwich a week later.

Oman

A particular highlight of the Ballykinler tour was a six-week company field training exercise in Oman in February/March 1984. With the Parachute Regiment unable to take part, Ex Rocky Lance 3 was offered to the 1st Battalion. A composite company group under the command of Major Pape was formed for the exercise and the Mortar and Milan Platoons were joined by a composite rifle platoon. The exercise was based at Tathi on the IZZ Range Area near the old capital of Oman, Nizwa, with a live field-firing package based at the Saiq Range Area, high up on the Jebel Akhdar. During the first phase all three platoons undertook a pre-dawn march up the precipitous Wadi Muaydin from Birkat Al Mawz to Saiq, the route taken by assaulting SAS troops some 30 years previously during the Jebel Akhdar operation. The next phase gave each platoon the opportunity for live-firing while the final phase was a three-day company tactical exercise against a live enemy, which culminated in a company attack, supported by the Mortar and Milan Platoons, Jaguars from the Sultan of Oman's Air Force and a battery of 105mm guns from the Oman Artillery Regiment. Ballykinler provided plenty of opportunities for non-military activities. Within a few months of arrival no less than 150 Devon and Dorset children were wearing uniform, with the Army Cadets, Scouts, Guides, Cubs and Brownies forming thriving groups, all staffed by members of the Battalion or their wives. Meanwhile the Saddle Club had a large following, the cricket team was flourishing, while water sports included canoeing, wind-surfing, dinghy sailing and water-skiing. Thus was normality maintained in an environment where the threat was seldom very far away. Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Dutton took over as CO from Lieutenant Colonel King-Fretts on 23 October 1984. That winter Regimental traditions were maintained, including the Warrant Officers and Sergeants holding a Sarah Sands Ball, and the normal commemoration of Wagon Hill on 6 January. On 8 March 1985 there was a reflective occasion as the Very Reverend Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh, dedicated a bell in memory of Corporal Jeffery and Lance-Corporal Taverner. Representatives of their immediate families - Mrs Jeffery and Mr and Mrs Taverner - were present at a moving service that took place in the Garrison Church of St Martin in the Mournes. To mark the Regiment's Tercentenary - the raising of the Duke of Beaufort's Musketeers, the 11th (North Devonshire) Regiment of Foot, in June 1685 to combat Monmouth's Rebellion - there was a Freedom March through Exeter, followed by a service in Exeter Cathedral for the laying-up of the first stand of Devonshire and Dorset Regiment Colours. On 23 March 1985 the officers celebrated with a Tercentenary Ball at Ugbrooke House, the home of Lord and Lady Clifford of Chudleigh. Thoughts then turned to the next posting, to the British zone of a still-divided Berlin.