IT was 50 years ago today that the order was given for troops of the British Army to be deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland, a moment which for many people is seen as the real start to the Troubles.

On August 14, 1969, after two days of fierce clashes between police and Catholic residents of Bogside in Derry, and with the violence spreading to elsewhere in Northern Ireland, the British Government decided to send in the troops.


THE Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, James Chichester-Clark, had watched as the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) fought with protesters in the Battle of Bogside, which had begun on August 12, after the annual march of the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

The police lost control of the area, which was barricaded against them, and when rioting began in Belfast, Armagh and elsewhere, it was clear to the authorities that there would need to be some sort of military intervention to restore order.

On the afternoon of August 14, Chichester-Clark’s officials contacted the Home Office in London asking for troops to be deployed.

The National: Denis Healey, Britain's Defence Minister (left), and Major James Chichester-Clark, Northern Ireland Prime Minister, at Stormont Castle, BelfastDenis Healey, Britain's Defence Minister (left), and Major James Chichester-Clark, Northern Ireland Prime Minister, at Stormont Castle, Belfast

The local British Army commander at Derry had been reluctant to deploy his soldiers, believing that dealing with the violence was a police matter, but he put his men on standby just in case. When the violence worsened and sporadic shooting began, the Army was deployed after Home Secretary James Callaghan authorised their use. He had been on an airplane heading to Cornwall for talks with Prime Minister Harold Wilson when he was contacted by radio.

Shortly after 5pm, 300 troops of the 1st Battalion, the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire, marched from their barracks to occupy the centre of Derry.

The RUC withdrew its officers, many of them exhausted after the third day of the Battle of Bogside.


THE civil rights movement in Northern Ireland had been protesting on the streets for

more than a year and had won some concessions from the Unionist-dominated government

in Stormont – under pressure from the Labour government in Westminster and the protests of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), in April they had conceded universal adult suffrage in local government elections.

Violence still occurred on the streets, and two Catholic men died in Derry and Dungiven from injuries inflicted by the RUC. Though it was his Cabinet ministers and local police commanders who were responsible, Chichester-Clark was also blamed for the deployment of the B Specials, the almost totally Protestant reserve police militia who were loathed by the nationalist Catholic community for their violence in suppressing dissent.

The Derry Citizens’ Defence Association was set up and mobilised on August 12 as police and Loyalist civilians entered the Catholic enclave that was Bogside.

The fighting was fierce, with residents pelting the police with stones and petrol bombs. The police reacted by firing CS gas – the first time it had been used in the UK.

With the violence being shown on television, on August 13, NICRA called for protests across the province, and the Republic of Ireland’s Taioseach, Jack Lynch, called for a UN Peacekeeping Force to be sent to the province, promising to set up field hospitals beside the Border.

Chichester-Clark was furious at Lynch’s intervention and said friendly relations were at an end. Later accounts say he made up his mind to send for British troops after Lynch was featured on the television news.


THE troops received a heroes’ welcome when they arrived at the Bogside barricades. Shouts and songs could be heard from the residents: “We’ve won. We’ve brought down the government.”

In Belfast and elsewhere,

rioting broke out on the night of August 13/14, and when the B Specials were deployed in Belfast many Catholics evacuated their homes fearing a pogrom – in Derry, the fighting had been mainly between police and Bogside residents, but in Belfast it became a battle between Catholics and Protestants with little police intervention.

When police stations in Belfast came under attack, the local Army commander was asked to send troops into the city.

It would be the start of the 37-year-long Operation Banner, the longest operation in British military history.