Belfast Telegraph

A fine soldier: DUP's Donaldson leads tributes to decorated UDR veteran Major John Potter

Major John Potter on the shore in Killyleagh
Major John Potter on the shore in Killyleagh
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

Tributes have been paid to a decorated UDR veteran and author whose book is a "lasting legacy" to all those who served in the regiment.

Major John Potter MBE, a former adjutant and operations officer of 3rd (County Down) Battalion (3 UDR), passed away in the Somme Nursing Home in Belfast on Sunday aged 93.

Last night his son, Tony Potter (68), a retired colonel who became the first commanding officer of the newly established 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment in 1992, paid tribute to his "incredible father".

"He was a second-generation regular soldier who inspired my son, Michael, and I to serve in the Royal Irish Regiment," Mr Potter said.

"My father had many passions, including writing. But he loved the outdoors and was never happier than when walking in the Mournes in the worst of weather.

"He fell in love with Ireland, its beauty, the people and its history."

Born in Ilkley, North Yorkshire, Major Potter moved to Northern Ireland in 1927 when his father, Lieutenant Colonel Claud Potter, became the bursar of Campbell College.

He spent much of his married life in Strangford with his wife, Cynthia, raising their two children, Tony and Nicola, and moved to Killyleagh following Cynthia's death.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who served alongside Major Potter from 1980 to 1985, paid his respects to the departed, describing him as "so much more than a great soldier".

"I got to know him quite well," Sir Jeffrey said.

"He was a fine soldier and someone who worked very hard in the early days to ensure the UDR became a well-motivated and professional organisation. He was very highly regarded."

Major Potter, who was only 18 when he enlisted in the Royal Artillery in Belfast in 1943 while studying at Queen's University in the city, served as a gunner in 25 Training Regiment.

He served in a number of conflicts, including on India's north-west frontier and in Germany during the Cold War, where he commanded a battery of 7.2in guns that were capable of firing nuclear shells.

During the 1970s he returned to Northern Ireland and joined the UDR, based in Ballykinler, before being appointed Regimental Secretary in Thiepval Barracks.

In 1992 he began to pen his first book, A Testimony to Courage: The History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969-1992, in which he vividly described the dangers faced by soldiers and their families.

In it he recorded details of some of the 197 members killed by terrorists and described how the regiment lost nationalist support, making it predominantly Protestant.

The author also sought to identify lessons which he believed needed to be learned from the UDR's dramatic 23-year existence and tackled the controversy over loyalist paramilitary infiltration.

Sir Jeffrey, who is the serving president of the UDR Regimental Association, recalled the sense of pride he felt when he placed a copy of the book on the shelves of the House of Commons library.

"It was a privilege to leave such a wonderful book, which is still requested by many MPs today," he said.

"It is a powerful testament to his service, and the service of many others, and will be his lasting legacy."

The 2001 publication was followed up with a graphic account of his father's experiences during the First World War, titled Scarce Heard Amid the Guns.

In addition to these writings, he also published a number of historical pamphlets documenting various aspects of Irish military history, including his own memoir of the Belfast blitz, which he witnessed as a teenager in 1941.

Major John Potter is survived by his two children, his three grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held in Down Cathedral in Downpatrick at 2.30pm on Friday.

Belfast Telegraph


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