LISBURN (United Kingdom): Remembering fallen comrades, veterans paraded Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of the British army’s deployment to Northern Ireland — a key moment in the Troubles. Hundreds of ex-service personnel attended the Northern Ireland Veterans Association (Niva) event in the city of Lisburn, south-west of Belfast. A total of 722 soldiers died during Operation Banner, which ran from 1969 to 2007.

Since soldiers first appeared on Northern Ireland’s streets on August 14, 1969, the British army witnessed and was involved in some of the darkest hours of the Troubles, the three decades of unrest in the province. On Saturday, a religious service was held and veterans paraded through Lisburn city centre. Among those attending was Chris Perkin, 51, from Devon in south-west England. He was a craftsman in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers corps, and served in Northern Ireland in 1988 and 1989. “I Iost friends while I was on the tour. We had two killed, 18 injured while I was here,” he told AFP. Coming to the service was the first time he has set foot in Northern Ireland since.

“This is 30 years, so it’s quite emotional for me to come back. I was getting quite scared and worked up about it,” he said. Troops were initially brought in to help police deal with inter-community rioting in Londonderry and Belfast, in what was intended to be a short intervention. When it ended, Operation Banner had become the British army’s longest continuous deployment. Organisers have tried to put the focus on the personnel who lost their lives during Operation Banner — not just those killed in action, but others who died through accidents, or stressrelated suicides afterwards. Northern Ireland’s former first minister Arlene Foster, who leads the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, attended the service.

She said she was thinking about her father, who was a police reservist. “I was born in 1970 just after the start of Operation Banner and I have lived through it. My father was shot during Operation Banner, so I’ll be thinking about him today,” she said. But obviously I’ll be thinking about the wider impact the services had to face out in Northern Ireland. “These people who are here today stood between us and anarchy during the 1970s, 80s and 90s and therefore we’re grateful.” – AFP