When I was nineteen, I shared a flat with another girl and we were talking one night about how we could make extra money for holidays and the finer things in life. At that time, they were recruiting for the RUC Reserve and so we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll try that.’ I thought it was very good to serve Queen and country, but to be truthful, it was the extra money that did it for me.
In the very first training class, the instructor handed out photographs of some of the atrocities orchestrated by the Provisional IRA. The first photo I looked at has scarred me to this very day. That was the first thing I saw which really hit me hard. It was then I realised that this job was actually going to be hard work – that it wasn’t as simple as earning extra money.
I still had my nine-to-five job and I did the reserves work at evenings and weekends, or if there was an incident and we were called in. The police Land Rovers weren’t bulletproof at that time, and the men all had their shields and helmets, while I had nothing. My job in the Land Rover was to use the fire extinguisher to put out any flames if a petrol bomb came through into the vehicle.
Our job as part-time reservists was to help and assist the regular police force. Women didn’t go out on the beat on their own; they were always with a male. At that time, women weren’t armed – but the men were. We were only taught to use the gun in case the male was shot and we were able to get his gun, but we were unarmed otherwise. That did change eventually. I left the RUC in 1992, and it was only then that they were starting to arm the females. Until then we were sitting ducks and more of a liability really, to be honest.
You were never stationed in your home town if you were a regular RUC officer, but as a reservist you were, so people got to know you then. When I finished duty at night, I didn’t know if the IRA would be after me, or the loyalists, because now they were out to get us, too.
I was absolutely terrified. At the time, you just got on with it, and you still got up the next morning for your ‘own’ job. Then I’d get a phone call to work to say, ‘Change your route on the way home today; we have intelligence that they are going to shoot a reservist coming from their work this afternoon.’
After that, they set me up with an alarm system, but I was a nervous wreck. If a bird flew past or a dog ran past, the alarm would go off and I would panic that someone was out there to shoot me. It made me so nervous; it was safer for me not to use it. I also had to check my car every single morning in case there were bombs under it. That was standard procedure – you never got into the car without checking it first.
I haven’t ever really talked about any of this before. It’s only now, when I think about some of the things we experienced, that it really hits me. I can understand why so many ex-RUC people are alcoholics today. The RUC hierarchy are fine – it was the ordinary police officers, men and women, sent out to do the dirty jobs who suffered most.
I never felt safe in the RUC, and I felt I had to keep my job a secret a lot of the time. It also depended on where you were living, too. You had to be careful about what you hung on your washing line, and you never hung your uniform out for people to see. Even when you were out at night, or went anywhere really, you were always on your guard. There was no support for us.
An extract from Beyond the Silence, published by Guildhall Press and available for download, from Amazon, priced 99p