A group of local Royal Irish Army Reservists have just returned from Normandy where they commemorated the part played by The Royal Ulster Rifles on the battlefields 70 years ago.
The Royal Ulster Rifles, who were an antecedent Regiment of The Royal Irish Regiment and whose depot was at St. Patrick’s Barracks in Ballymena. 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 6th Rifles also had a Territorial Army company at Lowfield Camp Ballymena, now occupied by an Army Reserve detachment of B (RUR) Company of 2 Royal Irish.
The Army Reservists from 2 Royal Irish, who were conducting a battlefield study in Normandy, were joined by Regular Army soldiers from their sister battalion, 1 Royal Irish, based at Ternhill, Shropshire.
Commanding Officer of 2 Royal Irish, Lieutenant Colonel Owen Lyttle, who originally enlisted into the Reserves at Lowfield Camp in Ballymena, 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 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 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.”
Ballymena Reservist Colour Sergeant Gary Wilkins said: “To stand where our forefathers fought and reflect on their deeds 70 years ago was humbling.”
Sergeant Aicken, a fellow Ballymena Reservist, added: “After visiting the battlefields and cemeteries, I now appreciate the sacrifice of our predecessors that have gone before us. It has been a fantastic opportunity to develop a much deeper understanding of the Normandy campaign.”
Regular Sergeant Christopher Lorimer, from Ballymena, serving with 1 Royal Irish, said he was glad to have been invited along by his Reservist colleagues, describing it as “a humbling experience”.
Major Gareth Semple, who commands the 2 Royal Irish company based at Ballymena, added: “It has been an honour to have been able to lay the wreath at the Longueval memorial in this the 70th 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”.