New book reveals the ongoing physical and mental toll on UDR

'A Lifetime Looking Over Your Shoulder'
'A Lifetime Looking Over Your Shoulder'

For most soldiers, their role in a war comes to a definitive end with the completion of a tour of duty or a cessation of hostilities.

But for thousands who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment from its formation in 1970 until it was amalgamated with the Royal Irish Rangers in the early 90s, the potential for death and serious, often life changing, injury remained an everyday threat for decades.

And many of those who joined the UDR will view the title of Dr. Stephen Herron’s new history of the regiment, ‘A lifetime of looking over your shoulder’, with a certain degree of cynicism.

They will contend that despite the huge steps taken in Northern Ireland in recent years, their days of looking over their shoulders are not remotely finished yet.

The volume was commissioned by the Regimental Association of the Ulster Defence Regiment and, as such, its focus is entirely based on the experiences of soldiers and their families.

You will not read of headstrong charges into the enemy lines or of last stands which are the common currency of military history.

Instead, the pages gradually unveil the sinister reality of being a constant target with, in many cases, the enemy being drawn from neighbouring streets and townlands.

The idea of hundreds of people peering under their cars for possible assassination devices as part and parcel of their ‘normal’ daily routine will strike a modern generation as incredible.

But for those who were players in the conflict known as ‘The Troubles’ it was simply par for a very long and terrifying course.

Some of the accounts of men and women whose mental health was affected by their time in service are particularly harrowing and these ‘hidden’ casualties will be coping with those demons to the day they die.

Those who served will read this book and nod with understanding. Parts may even be difficult for them to dwell upon.

Those who wish to know what living under a seemingly interminable shadow of death and destruction was actually like will be rightly shocked.

‘A Lifetime Looking Over Your Shoulder - The Experiences of the Ulster Defence Regiment’ costs £25 and will be available from many local bookshops.

Ballymena’s Services Club will be the venue for a local launch of the book on Saturday, July 1 from 9.30am to 12.30pm. The event is open to the public with tea and coffee available.

The event is being staged under the auspices of the Ballymena branch of the Ulster Defence Regiment Association.