Richard Bartlett, who retired from his role as Data Manager here at Forces War Records just a few months ago, recently came back to tell us what life was like as a young soldier joining the forces in the 1960s.
Richard spent 25 years in total in the British Army, but his time there started when he was just 20 years old. Having always wanted to join the army, Richard believed it would be a great career to embark on, so when the job he had taken lost its appeal, he decided to follow his desire to enlist.
Richard started his training in 1969, and with thoughts quickly turning to his first posting, there was definitely one location that he secretly hoped not to be sent to. However, after completing his training, his fears were realised as he was posted straight there - to Northern Ireland, where he joined his Regiment the 17th/21st Lancers. Richard landed literally in the thick of it, right at the height of the conflict. Richard’s Regiment was based in Omagh County, Tyrone, as an Armoured Car Regiment and was one of the first units to be deployed there, not only in their armoured role but as dismounted Infantry as well.
At the time he was a young inexperienced soldier who, like so many others, believed the conflict would be short lived. Initially the soldiers of the British Army were hailed as heroes and saviours seen as restoring order to the streets of Derry and Belfast. But after Ulster's police force collapsed in exhaustion, it soon turned into the longest campaign in the entire history of the British Army. In 1971, being seriously wounded and having served a two year tour in Northern Ireland, Richard was told he would not have to return there; alas, he returned several times thereafter, being deployed again and again in 1973, 75 and 76.
After being based for two years in Wolfenbuttel, Germany, the Regiment left the Armoured Recce role and moved to Fallingbostel to re-train on the Chieftain Main Battle Tank. The Regiment was deployed to Canada every two years for live firing exercises known as Medicine Man. In 1977 the Regiment moved back to England and Richard was attached to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Catterick as a Signals Instructor for two years. Originally a signaller, Richard progressed to become a Signals Instructor, also, amongst other things, a Nuclear Biological and Chemical Warfare (NBC) instructor trained at Porton Down, Wiltshire.
Richard's Regiment moved back to Germany in 1980 and he re-joined them in Munster, initially on Chieftain and then Challenger Main Battle Tanks. In 1990 Richard was awarded the BEM, a total surprise, he didn’t know about it until receiving a telegram requesting his attendance at the British Consulate in Germany. Being heavily involved in a regimental move at the time, and hence having to receive the medal there rather than the UK, it was not an opportune time to be whisked away, but it’s a moment in his career he’ll never forget. Richard retired from the Army as a Staff Sergeant, having served 25 years for the country, and in May 2015 fully retired from work and is now enjoying life travelling with his wife.
This year veterans of the 17th/21st Lancers will be joining the parade at the Cenotaph in London, a momentous and proud event they’ve waited to be allowed to join, to show their respect, remember fallen comrades and honour those who have sacrificed themselves to secure and protect our freedom.
The 17th/21st Lancers will now march every year from 2015 onwards, whilst members of the regiment are still able to participate.
We asked Richard to recount a memory from his time in service, and here’s what he said:
“In 1970 Field Marshall Sir Richard Hull was installed as the Constable of the Tower of London and as such my Regiment the 17th/21st Lancers provided a Lance Guard, as he had been commissioned into the Regiment in 1926.
“We had spent many hours being drilled for this event, which was a great honour to perform. We left Northern Ireland to carry out the parade in London and all went well until the final dress rehearsal. We were all in No1 Dress Blues and were on our way to the Tower when the coach we were travelling in broke down. This must have been quite a shock for many Londoners, to see thirty odd men carrying Lances through the streets of London, marching to the Tower. We made the papers twice that day, first for the invasion of London and then the actual parade.”
Richard says he misses the comradeship of being in the Army, although he still attends regular reunions to keep in touch with those he served alongside, instructed and led. His regiment was originally involved in The Charge of The Light Brigade in 1854, and only 38 of the 147 17th Lancers who charged were at the roll call the following morning. So, to commemorate the charge, there is a reunion every year around the date of the Battle of Balaclava, which Richard proudly attends.
Richard was a great asset to the company whilst at Forces War Records, and we thank him deeply for sharing with us the stories of his service.