Thousands of bereaved families and military veterans gathered at St Paul’s Cathedral in London today to honour the men and women killed serving in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
n a service to mark the end of Operation Banner, which saw more than 300,000 personnel serve in the province during the longest campaign in British military history, tributes were paid to the courage and sacrifice of the Armed Forces and their families while bringing peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.
Dignitaries invited included the Prince of Wales and wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, along with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne and military commanders.
The commemoration service, organised by the Ministry of Defence, was heavily oversubscribed with requests from thousands of people from across the UK who wanted to pay their respects to the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force personnel deployed during the 38 year operation.
On February 6, 1971 Gunner Robert Curtis of 32nd Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, became the first soldier to be killed on duty during the Troubles, after being gunned down by the Provisional IRA.
Twenty six years later, on February 12, 1997, Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, of the 3rd Regiment of the Royal Horse Artillery, became the last member of the UK Forces to be killed during the operation.
Between 1969 to 2007 the Armed Forces personnel death toll reached more than 1,000 with 763 men and women killed as a direct result of terrorism. A further 6,116 were wounded.
Today their families and colleagues were given the chance to formally mark their contribution.
Andrew Bennett, now Chair of the Northern Ireland Veterans’ Association, was a member of the Royal Corps of Signals. He served in Northern Ireland between 1986 and 1990 as an Electronic Counter Measures Operator with a Bomb Disposal Team, and with a Brigade Signal Squadron.
He said: “Operation Banner is the longest campaign in British military history, and those who served, and in some cases, lost their lives over the years, deserve this national recognition. As a Northern Ireland veteran I am proud to have the opportunity to attend this service alongside former colleagues and families.”
Operation Banner ended at midnight on July 31 last year. A permanent garrison of 5,000 Service personnel remains in the province ready for world-wide deployment, but the PSNI has full control over security operations.