Troubles veterans have organised a commemorative parade of 10,000 people to mark their service and sacrifice, saying they feel like an embarrassment to the government for “a forgotten war”.
‘Jim’, an administrator with the Northern Ireland Veterans Association (NIVA), says invitations have already gone out for the event in Lisburn on August 17 next year.
It will be a drumhead service from Wallace Park which will parade around the city, placing wreaths at the Lisburn war memorial, the UDR statute and the scene of the Lisburn fun run bomb which claimed the lives of six soldiers in 1988.
The event is being facilitated by Lisburn and Castlereagh Council but is being organised by the NIVA.
Invitations have been sent out to many regiments, the RAF, Navy, RUC, PSNI, Ambulance Service, Fire and Rescue Service, the Irish Defence Force and Garda.
“We have confirmations from quite a number of regimental associations that they will be taking part, about 20. The UDR and Royal Irish Associations are completely on board.”
The date will be the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Banner (1969-2007), the formal term for the armed forces’ operational role in the Troubles.
“There has never been a proper commemoration for Operation Banner, although they have had them for troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
A small-scale event was held in London several years ago but Jim said it was only attended by a few hundred personnel and was not widely publicised.
“Hardly anyone knew about it,” he said.
He added: “That is one thing the NI veterans always say to the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – you got your big parade with medals handed out.
“I got my NI medal handed to me in an office. ‘There is your wee box – well done’.
“This is the parade that NI veterans having been waiting for. It is going to be a one-off event. It will never happen again.”
There is a common feeling among veterans that those who served in Northern Ireland are now an embarrassment, he said.
“A lot of soldiers say it is like Vietnam – we are all forgotten and an embarrassment to the government.”
The salute will be taken by General Sir Robert Pascoe KCB MBE.
They are trying to get as many widows as possible to attend.
Jim was speaking to the News Letter as part of a JP Investigations Team series looking at the issue of suicides among military veterans. No official records are kept on the issue, so despite increasing media reports of veteran suicide – and proven rising rates in the US, Australia and Canada – nobody can say what the scale of the problem is in the UK.
However, Jim said that veterans are well aware of the issue.
“I like many others could probably give you 10 ex-soldiers that have killed themselves after service because of their experiences during our so-called Troubles, which most now call the Forgotten War. Only last a week a friend who had served in the Royal Artillery as I had, took his own life after fighting what we ex-service people call ‘the black dog’ for many years. His service in NI was in the 70s and 80s.”
He believes the 10 people he knows could be multiplied many times over in terms of those known by other veterans.
However, NIVA has compiled a list of security force personnel who have taken their lives while still in service in Northern Ireland:
• Regular Army: 78
• UDR: 59
• Royal Irish: 21
• RAF: 7
• Royal Marines: 1
• RUC: 74 (only collected from 1975 onwards)
• PSNI: 6 (two of which are for the years 2016-17)
• NI Prison Service: only 3 known of.
• NIVA is producing special badges to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of Operation Banner
UDR/RI aftercare: 90420145
UDR Ben. Fund: 90420652
Royal Irish Ben. Fund: 90420629
Veterans UK (MoD pensions/compensation): 0808 1914218
The Samaritans: 116123
Lifeline NI: 0808 808 8000
Alcoholics Anon: 0800 8177 650
Vets’ Gateway: 0808 802 1212
Combat Stress: 0800 138 1619
Help for Heroes: 01980 844280
Royal British Legion: 0808 802 8080
SSAFA: 080 731 4880
Soldiers Charity: 0207901 8900