I was disappointed, but unfortunately not surprised, to learn that Sinn Fein representatives on Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council have lodged a ‘call in’ legal challenge to a motion passed by a majority of councillors to pay tribute to the women who served in the the Ulster Defence Regiment, commonly known as the Greenfinches. This summer will mark the 50th anniversary since the first female recruits joined the ranks of the Ulster Defence Regiment. As Veterans Commissioner I will continue to call out this ongoing denigration and demonisation of our Armed Services and veterans, and will call out the misogyny of not recognising the important work of women in our Armed Forces, of which the Greenfinches were instrumental in contributing and expanding the roles available to women in supporting Operations.
Over the course of 22 years, 60,000 men and women wore the uniform of the Ulster Defence Regiment to help protect innocent civilians against the harm of terrorists that brought chaos and murder to our streets during the Troubles. These brave men and women did so with the understanding that their service placed them at risk every hour of every day – there was no respite on duty or off duty or even after they left the Regiment. Greenfinches were an important, unarmed part of providing this protection and sadly, there is a long Roll of Honour for those members of the Regiment who lost their lives at the hands of terrorism, of which four were Greenfinches. In total, 197 UDR soldiers and Greenfinches were killed both on and off duty, as well as over 60 killed after leaving the Regiment. Over 400 were seriously wounded and many still continue to suffer both psychologically and physically as a result of their service.
The brave men and women who served with the Ulster Defence Regiment, did so with great honour and dignity and stood against terrorism and all its horrors, on behalf of all society. I importantly note how families were impacted by terrorism, needing to check cars for bombs before getting in, and worried incase their loved ones might not return home after their shift. Many unfortunately still bear the pain of losing family members, whether as a member of the security services or indeed families from the innocent civilian population.
In 2006, when Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, came to Belfast to present the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross to the Ulster Defence Regiment she said that the contribution of the Regiment to peace and stability within Northern Ireland had been unique and had required ‘uncommon courage and conviction’. Her Majesty reflected that ‘no challenge faced by the Ulster Defence Regiment went unmet, whatever the personal cost’.
Society should know and have the opportunity to recognise the extraordinary contribution these men and women have already made – and how they continue to do so to the present day.
I will recall one verse from a poem entitled ‘WUDR’, first published in 1983, that aptly summarises who the Greenfinches were:
‘We are the girls of the WUDR, Greenfinches is our common name,
But not one girl in the WUDR, is seeking fame or fortune,
For everyone in the WUDR, is willing to give a helping hand,
To help our country in its fight, and bring peace to our beloved land.’
As the voice for all veterans living in Northern Ireland, I will continue to speak up for them and again I pay tribute to the men and women who served and continue to serve in our Armed Forces, including the former members of the Ulster Defence Regiment CGC, ever remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving our country. Society owes deep thanks and gratitude to all of our Armed Forces veterans and their service should never be rewritten as anything other than duty and protection against the evils of terrorism.
NI Veterans Commissioner
14 February 2023