British troops sent to Northern Ireland (1969)


A BBC news story from August 14th 1969, reporting on the deployment of British troops to “restore law and order” in Northern Ireland:


 

The British Government has sent troops into Northern Ireland in what it says is a “limited operation” to restore law and order.

 

It follows three days and two nights of violence in the mainly-Catholic Bogside area of Londonderry. Trouble has also erupted in Belfast and other towns across Northern Ireland.

 

It also comes after a speech by the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, Jack Lynch, regarded by many as “outrageous interference” in which he called for a United Nations peacekeeping force to be sent to the province.

 

He also called for Anglo-Irish talks on the future of Northern Ireland.

 

The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Major James Chichester-Clark, responded by saying neighbourly relations with the Republic were at an end and that British troops were being called in.

 

The British Home Secretary James Callaghan was in a plane on his way to talks with Prime Minister Harold Wilson in Cornwall when he received a radio-telephone call asking for troops to be deployed.

 

Shortly after 1700 hours [5pm] local time, 300 troops from the 1st Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire, occupied the centre of Londonderry, replacing the exhausted police officers who had been patrolling the cordons around the Bogside. They have been on standby for the past couple of days.

 

The arrival of the British troops was greeted with cheering and singing from behind the barricades in the Roman Catholic area of Londonderry. They were chanting: “We’ve won, we’ve won. We’ve brought down the government.”

 

The trouble began three days ago during the annual Apprentice Boys march, which marks the 13 boy supporters of William of Orange who defended Londonderry against the forces of the Catholic King James II in 1688.

 

The Royal Ulster Constabulary were forced to use tear gas – for the first time in their history – to try to bring the rioting under control. But tensions mounted with the mobilisation of the B Specials. The special constables, who are armed and mostly part-time, were supposed to help the RUC restore order – but they are regarded with deep suspicion by the Roman Catholics.

 

On the streets of Belfast, the appearance of the B Specials led to an escalation in the violence while the special constables reportedly stood by and watched.