Frontline Ulster Blog

  • Saxa Vord video success!

    On 21 July I published a video documenting the current state of the operations site at the old RAF Saxa Vord radar station. Within the first 3 weeks, the video has attracted 24,000 views and gained my channel over 500 new subscribers. What has been most heartening has been the flood of comments, mostly from ex-service personnel who served or worked at Saxa Vord. The video is a 60-minute first-person view style walkthrough, with access to every part of the site including the R10 and R101 operation block.

    You can watch the video here or visit the Frontline Ulster channel.

  • A Ranger’s mark in Gibraltar

    Deep in a cavern along the Northern Defences in Gibraltar is an unassuming piece of graffiti. Written in pencil, and dated 1968, a soldier named McCULLOUGH left his name and regiment indelibly on the Gibraltar rock. The regiment was the Royal Ulster Rifles. The date is significant, because not long after this was written, RUR would be amalgamated with the only other two remaining Northern Irish infantry regiments,; The Royal Irish Fusiliers and The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, to form The Royal Irish Rangers.

  • Anti-landing obstacles at Magilligan

    Those of us with a passing interest in Northern Irish military history might be aware of the anti-landing poles along Murlough Beach, County Down. Now a shadow of their former selves, they would have likely been connected by wire entanglement, and an assortment of other irksome obstacles preventing or hindering flat bottomed boats or aircraft from landing on the flat expanse of beach. A similar treatment was administered to many other beaches across the country.

    One other such beach to receive a defensive plan, was Magilligan Strand; the Sandy beach on the south side of Magilligan Point, County Londonderry. The remains scattered along the beach today include intriguing rusty shards such as this steel spike embedded in a foundation of concrete. Designed to puncture a boats’ hull or injure soldiers jumping off landing craft, it could still inflict serious damage 80 years on.

    Also found on the beach are remains of beach scaffolding and coils of barbed wire.

  • Cypriot Internment of the 1950s

    The detention camp at Kokkinotrimithia, 2km west of the Cypriot capitol of Nicosia, was constructed by British Forces in 1955 for the internment of supporters of the armed struggle to liberate the country from British governance. The camp housed both those convicted of fighting for the EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston) and others held indefinately without conviction. This process of internment was similar to that used in Ireland.

    The camp has been well preserved and is open as a museum and memorial to the EOKA liberation struggle.

  • Lenan Head Fort

    Situated on a rocky headland, Lenan Head Fort (sometimes spelt Leenan) is a British built coastal artillery battery from the late 19th Century. Standing isolated for over 120 years, the Victorian site was only in use for less than 40 years, but stood proudly on the cusp of the Atlantic protecting the deep-water Lough Swilly. One of a total of 7 forts protecting the 25 mile long lough, through time as both the nature of warfare and the political landscape changed the forts were abandoned and quickly fell into disrepair; Lenan Head being the best example of a site that was stripped out and left.

    Lenan Head Fort was recomended in 1891 for the defence of Lough Swilly to be armed with 1 x 9.2inch BL gun, two 9 or 10inch RML guns and 2 x 6pdr QF guns. In 1901 it was armed with 2 x 9.2-inch BL Mk I and 1 x 9.2-in BL Mk IV gun. Between 1909 and 1911 the guns were changed to 2 x Mark X. They were removed for scrap in the 1950s.

    I visited in December 2016 and while the weather at the start of my visit was relatively benign, after 2 hours strong winds and rain made for a miserable experience. I can only imagine what it was like for the troops manning these remote outstations in all seasons. There are some fascinating features remaining, and I hope you enjoy some of the images from my visit on Flickr.

  • Rosscorr Viaduct

    Rosscorr Viaduct in Fermanagh was constructed in 1922 out of precast concrete, but was blown up 50 years later, but not as a result of terrorist action. The damaged portion of the roadway was demolished by the Royal Engineers in the 1970s to prevent the route being used as an escape route for opportunistic IRA members. The bridge was reopened in the 1980s by the addition of a short section of Bailey bridge. With the route re-established, a PVCP (Permanent Vehicle Check Point) was setup and manned by soldiers of the local resident Battalion. The chekpoint was removed in the late 1990s as part of the Good Friday decommissioning.

  • Collecting the Antrim Artillery

    Formed in 1853, the Antrim Artillery was a volunteer artillery unit based in Antrim, Northern Ireland. Despite being disbanded in 1919, they served in the Boer War and during the First World War manned the forts at Kilroot and Grey Point, defending Belfast Lough.

    I’ve been a collector of militaria since childhood, with a focus on early photographic postcards, technical pamphlets and documents in recent years. During my regular searches (mostly on eBay) I’ve come across and been able to purchase two items relating to the Antrim Artillery. The first was a copy of the Textbook of Gunnery, internally stamped Kilroot Battery, Antrim Artillery. More recently I found a painted glass pane with the Antrim Artillery crest. I believe this to be original, and it may have once been installed in a camp HQ, or maybe the Officers’ or Sergeants’ mess. Owing to its potential historic significance, I commissioned the piece to be framed and protected for potentially another 100 years or so.

  • A history of Strangford Division of the Coast Guard

    In the middle of 2022 I was contacted by a member of the Inverbrena Local History group in relation to my Guarding the Coast article. They were keen to use some of my research and images in their book on the history of the Strangford Division of the Coast Guard. I’m pleased to say the book has now been published and is available to purchase locally in Strangford and Portaferry for a modest £6.00

    The book has been extensively researched and utilises rare contemporary photographs and interviews with family members whose relatives lived and worked in the Strangford Division. If you’re interested in local history and the history of the Coast Guard in north down, then I couldn’t recommend the book enough. In my opinion there aren’t enough local history books like this on our shelves.

  • Grey Point Fort

    I purchased the DJI Mini 3 Pro in the autumn of 2022 and it has impressed me every time I take off. I managed to snap this shot of Grey Point Fort as the sun was setting on a cold, damp late December evening. The Fort itself has been closed for the last few years due to Covid and a consultation is being undertaken to secure its future. The wide-angle image captured as a stitched composite highlights the short peninsula the fort sits on, protruding into Belfast Lough. Paired with a similar fort across the water at Kilroot, Belfast Lough was covered with four 6-inch Mark VII guns until 1956 when the coastal artillery regiments were disbanded.

  • Orlock Port War Signal Station

    Marked on a map of the Belfast Lough defences from the early 20th Century, Orlock Port War Signal Station (PWSS) would have acted as the gatekeeper for shipping wishing to enter the Lough and sail onward to Belfast. During peacetime the PWSS was staffed by men from the Coastguard, Donaghadee being the nearest CG station, with naval representatives supplementing the civilian crew in times of war. Board of Trade records held at the National Archives record the wartime establishment of Belfast PWSS at Orlock Hill, which fell under Plymouth Command: Signal Bosun (Signal Warrant Officer) as the Officer in Charge; Chief Yeoman or Yeoman of Signals; Station Officer; Stoker Petty Officer or Leading Stoker; and six Coastguardsmen. Read more about the origins of the Coastguard in Northern Ireland.

  • A visit to the National Archives

    As an aspiring historian, perhaps more of an enthusiastic amateur, I appreciate that nothing can beat information from a primary source. The National Archives, at Kew outside London, is the national repository for official documents. The value can’t be understated; war department maps and plans, war diaries from frontline fighting units, or logbooks from long abandoned coastal forts, they can all be found at Kew. I visited twice between the middle of January and the end of February 2023 , primarily souring information for my upcoming visit to Gibraltar with Orkney Exploration. I was able to get copies of war diaries from the Gibraltar tunnelling companies as well as a copy of the defence plan and searchlight battery documents. All incredible valuable documents to bring life to the wealth of remains still littering Gibraltar.