One of the many brave Ulstermen

IRA ambush survivor Glen Espie – I share my story in memory of murdered UDR comrades

(‘Belfast Newsletter’ — Published 27th May 2024)

Shot and wounded in separate murder attempts while an off-duty member of the UDR, Glen Espie is a man with an incredible story to tell and it’s one he feels a responsibility to share.

Glen Espie – as a UDR member he was shot twice in IRA ambushes, returning fire on both occasions

To date, he has given 33 talks on his experiences of returning fire in gun battles with IRA terrorists intent on taking his life, pointing out that during the 22-year history of the UDR, 197 soldiers were murdered as active members and 62 after they had left the regiment.

“I trust in telling my story that I can bring to the audience what many of my murdered comrades experienced,” he said.“I am trying to tell the young people of today what service in the regiment was about and the daily threat these members were exposed to in serving their country and holding the line to stop Northern Ireland exploding into all out civil war.”

Glen is a long-serving member of East Tyrone Royal Black District Chapter No 5. He joined Gravesend RBP 65 in 1972 – “upholding a family tradition of my father and grandfather (both named Brice) and uncles being members” – and is immensely proud of the institution’s tradition and culture.Glen, 67, is married to Marion – “my rock” – and has a son, Glen, and daughter, Sharon.

He set out the background to the first attempt on his life, in March 1978.

He was 21, with a day job as a plumber with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and serving in the UDR’s Cookstown-based ‘G’ Company, after joining in January 1975.

Although serving part-time, it was “a 24/7 total commitment”, said Glen.

“You were never off duty as far as the terrorist was concerned, and you were an easy target for them to ambush at home.

“You had to be aware that they would know of your route and timings; they would know when you started and when you finished.”

Glen added: “We must not forget what our families experienced … waiting on you to return home safe from work and from your UDR duties.

“Your children cycling out to the end of the lane, getting registration numbers of parked vehicles.

“Not answering the door and waiting until the car was checked for booby traps, not putting on lights until the curtains were pulled.”

He was “always wary when called out to emergency jobs” and alarm bells rang when he received such a call-out to deal with a burst water cylinder on March 22 that year.

He called home first to put on concealed body armour – a life-saving decision.

Glen takes up the story after he had entered the property and was confronted by a stocky male wearing a black balaclava mask:

“He had a pistol in a two-handed grip pointed at my chest, literally inches away.

“He fired and hit me on the left side of the chest … the force of the shot was like being kicked by a horse. It lifted me off my feet and propelled me backwards and I fell to the ground, lying against the open front door.”

As the gunman stepped forward, levelling the pistol at his head, Glen “ducked and rolled out of the open front door”.

Up and running, he “could feel rounds going past my head and had covered about 10 yards when I was hit again in the left shoulder”.

Glen managed to free his personal-issue Walther pistol from a holster under his boiler suit.

Injured and on the ground, he saw two terrorists running from the house towards him.

“I brought the pistol up and over my head and fired … both gunmen hit the deck.”

His gun jammed as he tried to fire again, and he ran to escape his pursuers, leaping over a five-foot fence, and finding refuge in an empty bungalow.

The second ambush happened as Glen drove to work on March 19, 1987, and was confronted by three masked terrorists in a green Ford Orion blocking the roadway.

It was an ambush Glen had long anticipated, and his planning for such an attack, as well as military training, saved his life.

“Two gunmen got out of the car armed with 7.62mm Heckler and Koch G3 assault rifles,” said Glen.

Diving from his car, he was shot in the left wrist, taking cover in a drainage ditch, and shooting at the gang with a one-handed grip on his Beretta pistol.

An intense gun fight followed, but the gang sped off, and Glen learned afterwards that they had taken hostages in a nearby house overnight as part of the ambush.

Glen – awarded the British Empire Medal – gives his talks under the heading ‘The Terrorist Knocks Twice’, with any proceeds going to the UDR Benevolent fund, or victims’ charities.

He starts each one by quoting the war poet, Laurence Binyon: “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.”