Royal Irish Army Reservists from East Antrim have just returned from Normandy where they were conducting a battlefield study.
During their trip, they took time to revisit the battlefields and commemorate the part played by The Royal Ulster Rifles, 70 years ago.
The Royal Ulster Rifles had the distinction of being the only British Army Regiment to have a battalion land on the beaches, and another battalion, land by air using gliders.
The Army Reservists, from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment (2 Royal Irish), were joined by Regular Army soldiers from their sister battalion, 1 Royal Irish, based at Ternhill, Shropshire.
The Royal Ulster Rifles is an antecedent regiment of The Royal Irish Regiment and the current B (RUR) Company of 2 Royal Irish can trace its heritage back to 6th Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles (TA) detachments in Ballyclare and Newtownabbey.
Newtownabbey Commanding Officer of 2 Royal Irish, Lieutenant Colonel Owen Lyttle, explained: “The Normandy battlefield study has allowed personnel to research and consider some of the battles that took place in Normandy during D-Day and after. Personnel have been able to stand on the same ground as their predecessors, and think about the challenges. By comparing current tactics and training, they have been able to draw out useful lessons for future conflicts.
“During the visit, we have had a focus on The Royal Ulster Rifles’ involvement in D-Day, in particular the battles by 1 RUR at Longueval and 2 RUR at Cambes. We also took the opportunity to lay wreaths and hold short commemoration services at the RUR memorials at each site.
“We have also used the study as an opportunity to integrate more with our paired Regular battalion, 1 Royal Irish. What better way than to retrace the steps of the 1st Battalions of The Royal Ulster Rifles during the Normandy landings.”
Newtownabbey-based Reservist Colour Sergeant Gary Wilkins, added: “The tour to the battlefields of Normandy was an amazing experience. To stand where our forefathers fought and reflect on their deeds, 70 years ago, was humbling. It has also been very moving visiting the well-kept Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries, and seeing the names of soldiers from my local town on the headstones.”
Ballyclare Reservist Company Sergeant Major Andy Glenn, echoed the sentiment, saying: “I have found the visit very interesting, learning more about Normandy and the part played in D-Day by soldiers from back home in Northern Ireland. Walking around the cemeteries lets you start to understand the price paid to free Europe from tyranny.
“The most moving moment was to find the name of a local Newtownabbey soldier on the panels of the Bayeux Memorial. Rifleman Robert Stevenson was only 21-years-old when listed as missing in action after ferocious fighting in the Longueval area. He has no grave and never got to go home, but with visits like ours, he will not be forgotten.”
Major Gareth Semple, who commands the 2 Royal Irish company based at Newtownabbey, said that he was honoured to have laid the wreath at Longueval,
“The visit is special for my soldiers from B Company as our company title still has RUR within it. It has been an honour to have been able to lay the wreath at the Longueval Memorial in this the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Our visit to the Normandy battlefields has left all of us in no doubt as to the hardship, suffering and outstanding bravery and courage shown by those who have served before us, and especially those from the 1st Battalions The Royal Ulster Rifles.”
If you are interested in finding out more about the Army Reserve Infantry and the 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, then telephone 028 92260042, or text INFO to 07920 232380.