Friday, January 21, 2005
Heroes#1: Robert Nairac
Capt. Robert L. Nairac, GC
The brutal conflict in Northern Ireland was at its worst in the 1970s. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out its 'armed struggle' both at home and on the British mainland. For a regular infantryman, a posting to Norther Ireland meant exposure to urban warfare in all its forms - riots, petrol bombs, sniper attacks, checkpoint duty, roadside bombs detonated by command wire as a vehicle passed nearby; and, in the worst possible case, capture, interrogation and murder by the IRA.
Also operating in Northern Ireland during the 1970s were the British Special Forces, the Special Air Service or SAS. The job of the SAS was to go to ground in the areas known as 'bandit country' in South Armagh and try to stalk and intercept terrorists before atrocities could be carried out.
Capt. Robert Nairac was a Grenadier Guardsman who served four tours of duty in Northern Ireland. His task was to conduct surveillance operations against the IRA. He was unofficially 'attached' to the SAS.
Capt. Nairac attended the Catholic school of Ampleforth in England, and also studied at Oxford. Upon arrival in Northern Ireland he grew his hair long and adopted an Irish accent, the better to blend in with the locals and gain their trust. He wrote a manual for the benefit of his colleagues, "Talking to People in South Armagh". He believed that by working with local people he could build relationships with them in such a way as to make it harder for the terrorists to operate.
He was a true adventurer and a throwback to a bygone age. A schoolfriend remembered that he owned a pet hawk, and would enjoy a game where he would place a piece of meat on the bridge of his nose, and let the hawk pick it off.
In May 1977 Capt. Nairac went to a pub in South Armagh to meet with an informant. He never returned.
Capt. Nairac's Posthumous George Cross citation reads, in part:
"On his fourth tour Captain Nairac was a Liaison Officer at Headquarters 3 Infantry Brigade. His task was connected with surveillance operations.
"On the night of 14/15 May 1977 Captain Nairac was abducted from a village in South Armagh by at least seven men. Despite his fierce resistance he was overpowered and taken across the border into the nearby Republic of Ireland where he was subjected to a succession of exceptionally savage assaults in an attempt to extract information which would have put other lives and future operations at serious risk. These efforts to break Captain Nairac's will failed entirely. Weakened as he was in strength-though not in spirit-by the brutality, he yet made repeated and spirited attempts to escape, but on each occasion was eventually overpowered by the weight of the numbers against him. After several hours in the hands of his captors Captain Nairac was callously murdered by a gunman of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who had been summoned to the scene. His assassin subsequently said "He never told us anything"."Captain Nairac's exceptional courage and acts of the greatest heroism in circumstances of extreme peril showed devotion to duty and personal courage second to none." .
It has emerged that Capt. Nairac's body was disposed of in a meat processing plant. He was 28 years old.
No words can adequately describe my respect for this man. An Oxford graduate, he could have had a successful, rewarding career in any area of business and finance, raised a family and had a comfortable life. Instead, he chose to play his part in defending the people of Northern Ireland against a band of killers, and ultimately paid with his life.
In future posts, I plan to highlight the subsequent course of events in Northern Ireland. To give a foretaste of what's to come, consider that when the current Mayor of London, "Red" Ken Livingstone, first became an MP in the 1980s, he used his maiden speech in the House of Commons to attack the late Capt. Nairac, claiming that he was some type of assassin.
Also ask yourself, how do we know what happened the night he died? The killer must have been brought to justice, and be serving at least a life sentence! You'd think so, wouldn't you?