The Royal Green Jackets
Published in an RGJ Chronicle 1973 VOL.8
THE BRYSON INCIDENT
Captain R. G. Williamson
RGJ Chronicle Page 120 / 121
Bryson was a squat, broad shouldered, evil looking man, with a face that mirrored his violent nature. His nose was mis-shapen in an extraordinary way and somehow gave his appearance a touch of insanity. During his youth he acquired a reputation for bullying and brawling. His name became well known to the R.U.C. through his criminal activities ans when ” the troubles” began in 1969 Bryson readily joined the Provisional I.R.A. He came from a fiercely Republican family and was more than grateful for the opportunity to indulge his homicidal tenancies.
During the escalation of insurrection in Belfast in 1971 Bryson developed into a cunning ruthless killer. His reputation was greatly enhanced by a spectacular escape from the prison ship Maidstone when he and six others swam the icy January waters to freedom. Although Bryson was known throughout Belfast he operated mainly in the Ballymurphy area where his crude leadership and shooting exploits made him the object of a cult following. He probably reached the peak of his power and notoriety during the truce period in June, 1972. He took command of the Ballymurphy Provision Company and exercised absolute control over people living in the area.He ruled by a system of terror which demanded and got universal obedience. He was also extremely active himself and is known to have shot a number of soldiers and policemen personally. The weapon he in variably used for sniping was a Armalite rifle with a telescopic sight. When he was finally caught in November `1972 it brought considerable relief to the Security Forces. However in March `73 he made an audacious escape from Crumlin Road Court House:
At about this time another Provisional was creating something of a reputation, Patrick Mulvenna, who had been Bryson`s adjutant became the O.C. of the Ballymuphy. In the meantime Bryson went south with a fellow fugitive called Frank Duffy who was a notorious Ballymurphy Provisional. Whlst in Eire they were both charged with robbing a bank in Dublin and Bryson was subsequently expelled from the Provisional Movement because he recognised the Court. In their absence Mulvenna rapidly began to acquire the same sort of charisma as Bryson by escaping the clutches of the Army on two occasions and shooting several soldiers.
The arrival of 3 R.G.J. in July coincided with the embryonic beginnings of a step-up in the ever present friction between the Official and Provisional I.R.A. In the Ballymurphy, which was taken over by “S” Company, the Officials, under leadership of Ronald Bunting, the renegade son of Major Bunting, Ian Paisley`s right hand man, were particularly militant. The rate of “Security-Forces-Not-Involved” shootings rose weekly under the interested attentions of “S” Company. “Kneecapping” was the most common outcome of the system of mutual reprisal operated by the two I.R.A. wings. “S” Company achieved a very high rate of weapons finds and arrests and generally asserted their presence without receiving the normal acrimony associated with the practice of ” dominating” the area.
Besides possessing good sources one of the chief methods used by “S” Company to collect tactical intelligence and maintain a general surveillance on the area was the use of O.P.s. There would often be three and sometimes four O.P.s overlooking different parts of the area. On the morning of of 31st August a corporal and a rifleman climbed stealthily into the attic of a fl;at directly above the infamous Bullring. A hole in the roof, caused by some missing tiles, afforded them a good view of the Bullring and roads leading off it.The position itself was cramped and allowed little movement for shooting. The corporal and the rifleman settled down stoically to their task.
At the beginning of August Bryson, despite his expulsion, was asked by the Provisional Brigade Staff to return to the Ballymurphy and help redress the balance against the Officials. He accepted the invitation and moved North with Frank Duffy. In similar fashion to Bunting he set about terrorising the local Officials. In one celebrated incident he lined several of them up at gunpoint against a wall, inside a drinking club, and then proceeded to spray the roof with an Armalite rifle on automatic fire. The implications of this were not lost the Officials who decided that Bryson would have to be executed. They convened a meeting a week later at which they discussed how and who should carry this out. Brain Trainor, anxious to make an impression on his older colleagues, volunteered to be part of the execution party. His offer was quickly accepted but his enthusiasm dwindled significantly when he found that he alone was the execution party.
It was the corporals turn “on stag”. His bones were beginning to ache slightly. Neither he nor the rifleman had seen anything of particular interest; it was now 18.30 hours. During the course of the day he had frequently expected to be discovered by ranging children of the Ballymurphy. With along suffering sigh he glanced out of the hole and mechanically began to take notice of an olive green Hillman Hunter at the bottom of Ballymurphy Road. It was travelling at an even speed towards the Bullring. Suddenly to the corporals astonishment he noticed three rifles sticking out of the windows. As the car reached the Bullring it began to sound its horn at regular intervals. Frantically the corporal began to report what he was seeing whilst at the same time reaching for his rifle. The car made one circuit and drove off down Glenalina Road before the corporal could even point his rifle out of the hole. He began to interpret the details of after images still imprinted on his mind.
There had been four men, three rifles: One armalite, a garrand and something else. He quickly reported further details to Zero hoping to alert other O.P.s and foot patrols.
RGJ Chronicle Page 122 / 123
A short time before this Brian Trainor, the young Official Volunteer, had set out from his house in the Ballymurphy with a “grease gun”. His orders were to shoot Bryson on sight. Even now he was walking nervously around the bottom of Glenalina Road with the “grease gun” concealed under his “noisy jacket” desperately regretting his earlier rash decision to accept the assignment and hoping against hope he wouldn’t see Bryson.
The green Hillman was reported by another O.P. as moving around the area followed by a red van. The corporal and the rifleman were tense as they listened to the radio net and strained their eyes for the possible reappearance of the car. They began to be attacked by feelings of self-doubt. Were there weapons or weren’t there?
Brian Trainor suddenly stopped in his tracks as the big Hillman Hunter swept around the corner. He made out the unmistakable features of Jim Bryson andsaw rifles sticking out of the windows. An instant assessment of the odds and discretion being the better part of valour he darted into an alleyway andtried to erase what he’d just seen from his mind. With his pulse racing faster than he had ever run before.
What in fact was happening was that Bryson, Paddy Mulvenna, Bimbo O’Rawe and Frank Duffy were driving around the Ballymurphy partly to show their disregard for the Army and partly to humiliate the Officials.
Despite his vigilance the corporal was taken by surprise when the car coasted quietly across the Bullring followed by the Red van. They stopped at the junction of Ballymurphy Road and Whitecliffe Parade. The occupants casually got out and Bryson began to direct them to ambush positions. The corporal gingerly pushed one of the tiles in front of him to one side so as to get a better view and also to enable him to create a cramped fire position. Suddenly one of the loose tiles chatted across the roof and crashed to the ground alerting the attention of the ambush group, one of whom fired in the general direction of the O.P. The corporal immediately returned four rounds, although he could scarcely aim. He was forced to pull his rifle in when it developed a stoppage. During this interval the ambush party must have returned to their cars and left because when the corporal looked again there was no one there. Having given their position away the corporal and the rifleman set about enlarging the hole by kicking other tiles out. The corporal put his head out to try and get a better view of what happened. He withdrew it sharply as two rounds hit the roof. He fired three quick shots at the gun-man he caught a glimpse of one of the houses to his front. The rifleman hurriedly packed their kit. Just as they were leaving the corporal was amazed to see the green Hillman Hunter emerging from Whitecliffe Parade and turning right on o Ballymurphy Road. Ironically Bryson had become confused by the problem that had so often enabled him to escape unscathed from his own sniping attacks in the past, that of determining were the fire had come from. He had thrown the car into a wild “U” turn in Whitecliffe Parade because he thought it was leading him towards danger. As they turned into Ballymurphy Road, Paddy Mulvenna fired two shots from his Armalite rifle. The corporal pressed his eye to the telescopic sight of his S.L.R. and began firing rapidly at the back of the accelerating Hillman Hunter. He had to compensate for the first shots which went low left and then fired seven more shots at the retreating car trying to incapacitate it before it reached the corner.
Inside the car the four gunmen were writhing in hysterical panic. O’Rawe, who was sitting behind Bryson, the driver, was slammed into the front seat as a bullet ripped into his left shoulder. Duffy, sitting behind Mulvenna, grovelled on the floor at the back. Looking up he saw the sight which haunted him for weeks, Bryson’s head was jerked forward with a dull thump asa 7.62 entered the back of his neck. He slumped forward over the steering wheel as the car careered into the garden of 99 Ballymurphy Road. The three others cowered in the bottom of the car temporarily immobilised with shock.
The corporal and the rifleman observed the crashed car two hundred meters away for a moment and then jumped down from the attic into the flats below, were they took up fire positions to cover the car. By this time stage “S” Company foot patrols were losing in on the gun battle. Impulsively Mulvenna flung open the door of the car and rolled onto the ground. He was now aware of were the shooting was coming from and fired a long burst on automatic at the O.P. with his Armalite. Duffy raised the M.1 carbine given to him earlier by Bryson and began to fire from the back of the car. Mulvenna then decided to get up and go. As he did so the corporal fired three shots, two of which hit, and Mulvenna died instantly. As he changed his magazine he saw Bimbo O’Rawe clutching a Garand running towards the front door of number 99 Ballymurphy Road. Again he fired three shots , hitting O’Rawe as he pitched forward inside the house. Meanwhile Duffy had scrambled out of the car and was sprinting towards the alleyway between 95 and 97 Ballymurphy Road. The corporal fired a final three shots but missed .
When the “S” Company foot patrols reached the accompanied by the corporal and rifleman from the O.P.they found Mulvenna dead, Bryson deeply unconscious and O‘Rawe badly wounded in the back garden of 99 Ballymurphy Road.
the Ballymurphy was stunned by what had happened. As they crowded round the scene they stood mesmerised by the sight of the bodies being taken away. An unannounced amnesty seemed to exist whilst life saving actions were carried out on O’Rawe and Bryson.
RGJ Chronicle Page 124
Violent animosity against the Army was inexplicably absent until voices were heard saying “The Stickies done this”. Mulvenna was buried a week later, Bryson died on 22nd September and O’Rawe, despite being hit five times, recovered. The obituaries of the first two referring to “Enemies of Ireland” rather than “Crown Forces” underlined the popular notion that they died as a result of an Official I.R.A. ambush.
The achievement of “S” Company was in itself highly valuable. It destroyed arguably the best Provisional A.S.U. in Belfast and disposed of two of the most wanted and dangerous men in Northern Ireland. The effect of these deaths was to deal a severely demoralising blow to the Provisional Campaign. Total war between the Provisionals and the Officials was only avoided by strenuous combined efforts of restraint by the Brigade Staffs of the two respective wings. It initiated a highly charged confrontation which lasted several weeks. This caused the I.R.A. to become acutely introspective and therefore ineffective against the Security Forces at a time the Government, engrossed in the delicate negotiations to form an executive from the Assembly, were anxious not to be seen to be giving leeway to the Army to help it fight the terrorist.
In the Ballymurphy one of the first blows in the ensuing “O.I.R.A / P.I.R.A. Feud” came shortly after the shooting. Information was supplied by a Provisional source which led to the discovery of a “grease gun” and a Thompson machine gun. Also the house where they were found was a certain Brian Trainor. His immediate arrest completed for him, a very bad day.
Sourced from The Royal Green Jackets Museum
31st August 2018 was the 45th Anniversary
The Royal Green Jackets Diary
Events of Friday 31st of August in 1973
In the original manuscript below, about the demise of James Bryson, which was written by Ed Maloney and James Kinchin-White it was illustrated with a photograph of a vehicle which was purported to be the vehicle that James Bryson met his death in.
In fact this vehicle was not the said vehicle that James Bryson met his demise in, the vehicle shown in the original document written by the two authors Ed Maloney and James Kinchin-White was in fact unrelated to the death of James Bryson, this vehicle had one year earlier been involved in another shooting.
The vehicle which James Bryson met his demise in was another vehicle, which is only known to the intelligence officers of the British Armed Forces.
The day’s events have a few unanswered questions they are:
How was it that James Bryson had been seen earlier in the estate driving around purported to waving a weapon around, there was intelligence to say this and therefore he was in the radar and was heading towards a rendezvous point, the question is why if the intelligence knew that Bryson was heading towards this area, were two soldiers left in a roof space as sitting ducks?
Two soldiers that should have been on patrol in a formation of more than two soldiers where were the others?
Why were they not sent back up?
Was Bryson working for the intelligence services undercover?
Was his waving of the weapon previously in a residential area an action made to flush out the security forces or was it too show a signal of strength to let other terrorists know he was there or to strike fear in innocent people, both would make sense if he was working for the security forces as has been suggested previously?
Was Bryson going to the final destination under the lull of a sense of false security, he thought he was going with his intelligence officers, others who were working for the armed forces as Ira officers, in the car and his Ira companion unaware that they were going to a rendezvous which would be the capture of his Ira colleague, hence Bryson did not fire at the two soldiers that were sitting as sitting ducks when they kicked the roof space in?
The Soldier who opened fire by his own omission did not give the required warning before he opened fire, why was this, did he panic or did he know he didn’t need to? (Unbeknown to his colleague another Soldier who did not get decorated for his action, although he was in equal danger, as the Soldier who opened fire, this was a pre arranged incident hence only two Soldiers, lay in wait)
The Soldier who opened fire, was it his bullet that killed Bryson, where is the postmortem report to show this?
Did somebody in the car sacrifice Bryson; was he shot in the car?
In fact was this a two for one exercise gets rid of a rogue intelligence officer and an Ira terrorist at the same time?
The only way we will know this is when we know how many occupants were in the car, it is purported that there were 5 in the car, it is also purported that the other 3 were intelligence officers working with the Ira having infiltrated them.
How many occupants were in the car?
Where is the car?
Did the car scream off as was stated by a resident nearby?
What happened to the other occupants?
Were Bryson and his colleague thrown out of the car?
Where are Bryson’s’ bullets, surely he would have returned fire, If he didn’t then was he actually being aggressive, showing aggression with his weapon?
Was this the reason for the Soldier to fire at him?
If no firing was taking place at the time, how come a Soldier fired on Bryson?
Was this a pre organized exercise?
Bryson and his colleague were they shot in the car and to legitimize the incident the Soldier knew he had to put a round down, to cover the tracks of the intelligence officers that had killed Bryson?
How many bullets were in Bryson did they all match the British Soldiers ammunition?
Did the Soldier get the M.M as a hush award, to keep his mouth shut a pay off?
All of the above have been circulated unanswered for 45 years.
Of course given the nature of the incident, it is safe to say that the Dead tell no lies, and the answers have died with the x-rays. (X-ray a term used for the dead terrorist in Army speak / Military speak)
He who does not bellow the truth when he knows the truth makes himself the accomplice of liars and forgers.” Charles Peguy.
To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men – Ella Wheeler.
The Regimental Sniper who shot and Killed Bryson and Mullvenna has since become a Regimental Bully and Keyboard Warrior.
The Bryson Report
James Bryson 25 years, an IRA activist, he was shot and fatally wounded by undercover British soldiers in the Ballymurphy area on the 31st of August in 1973.
This was not the car Jim Bryson and others were shot in, as was first stated by Ed Maloney and James Kinchin -White.
We are now being told it was from another incident the year before
SO WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE CAR
( Jim Bryson, Patrick Mulvenna, ʻBimboʼ OʼRawe and Frank Duffy used)
Jim Bryson and Patrick Mulvenna were IRA volunteers shot during a gun battle from a concealed British Army observation post of The Royal Green Jackets on the Ballymurphy Road, Bryson later died in hospital on the 22nd of September 1973. Patrick Mulvenna (19), also an IRA activist was shot dead in the same incident. Both men were getting out of a car when they were shot.
Historians’ understanding of the development of the Provisional IRA in the 1970‘s and its transition into a smaller, leaner but more politically attuned group – the precursor of the body that endorsed the Republicans’ journey into the peace process – may have to be revised in the light of a recently acquired British military account of a crucial phase in the war between the IRA and the British Army.
This Poem was written by Sheila at the Belfast Primary School in the April of 1972
SOLDIERS IN ULSTER
Out in the wind and the rain
Taunted and ridiculed time again
Vainly endeavoring peace to maintain
Who are you
A BRITISH SOLDIER.
What are your thoughts as you stand erect?
Buildings and citizens you try to protect
Every newcomer you must suspect
Courageous and valiant
Your chosen career took you over the sea
Far from your friends and country free
And way out sight of your family
Gallant and brave
Hundreds of people you`ve helped save
Thanks to your speedy actions brave
Alas, those of your comrades their lives they gave
We thank you oh
Yours is a debt we can never repay
Nobody knows how long you must stay
From the morning to the evening, from day to day
We thank you oh
(The original poem is at the base of this page)
The Bryson Incident By Ed Moloney
“The Royal Green Jackets (RGJ) Chronicle of 1973”, a privately circulated journal which includes an account of a tour of West Belfast by the regiment’s 3rd Battalion during the summer and autumn of 1973, challenges a central pillar of the Provisional leadership’s narrative of their own rise to power.
It reveals that the IRA’s re-organization into cells – credited with rescuing the organization from defeat in the late 1970’s – was forced upon the group not because of a destructive ceasefire called by the IRA’s national leadership in Dublin in 1974-75, as the conventional account claims, but because of critical setbacks in Belfast more than a year earlier when Gerry Adams was the city’s commander.
The RGJ account reveals that after a series of security force successes against the IRA in the August of 1973, the then Belfast commander, Ivor Bell planned a massive re-organization in the city: scrapping the IRA’s battalion and company structure and replacing it with thirty-two cells or Active Service Units (ASU’s). The new cells would be under his direct control. By contrast the accepted account, which has underpinned the rise of the current Sinn Fein leadership, says that the cell system was not introduced until 1977 in response to the setbacks caused by the 1974-75 ceasefire.
This revelation comes alongside a graphic description in the RGJ Chronicle of an undercover ambush by soldiers from the regiment which resulted in the deaths of two prominent IRA members from Ballymurphy in West Belfast. One was Jim Bryson, a notorious and fearsome gunman and the other was Patrick Mulvenna, who was Gerry Adams’ brother-in-law.
The two men had been chosen by Bell to be members of the new Ballymurphy cell and their deaths were hailed by the Green Jackets as evidence that the British were “inexorably winning a kind of military victory in Belfast”. Their killing was characterized publicly then and ever since as a chance event but this previously undisclosed background raises the possibility that the ambush may have been intelligence-led.
The Royal Green Jackets account challenges the hitherto prevailing version of history by showing that long before the 1974-75 ceasefire the IRA was in such danger of defeat in Belfast, its most important arena, that the leadership in the city was obliged to contemplate a radical re-structuring to survive. This new account suggests that attempts by the Adams’ leadership to put the blame on the Dublin leaders for the IRA’s woes in the mid-1970‘s, at least in Belfast, may at least be misplaced or overstated.
While Ivor Bell planned a large scale re-organization of the Belfast Brigade in the late summer of 1973, a series of security force successes against the IRA at that time, including the killing of Bryson and Mulvenna, forced him to scale his plans back and instead, according to the Chronicle, just twelve cells were created, each with five members. Nonetheless this was a radical break with IRA organizational tradition and a pointer to the pressure then facing the IRA in Belfast.
The established version of IRA history dates the genesis of the cell structure to a conspiracy against the IRA leadership led by Gerry Adams, Ivor Bell and Brendan Hughes from the cages of the Long Kesh internment camp from 1974 onwards. That conspiracy was inspired, according to this rendering, by an open-ended ceasefire called by the older, mostly Southern leadership.
The Adams’ critique of the 1974-75 ceasefire claimed that the IRA’s then leaders – represented in the Northerners’ demonology by Ruairi O Bradaigh and Daithi O Conaill – were suckered into the cessation with false promises of withdrawal by the British who used the time to reconfigure security policy.
Special category status was withdrawn from IRA inmates in the jails, internment was phased out, the RUC was given primacy in security matters and soon police interrogation centers were producing a conveyor belt of confessions to be processed by new no-jury, single judge courts and the jails began filling up with IRA prisoners who were now treated as common criminals.
THE IRA IN RETREAT
The IRA’s Dublin leadership was blamed for bringing the organisation to the verge of defeat, a charge that both justified the Adams-led conspiracy and produced the plan to re-organize the IRA.
While there is no doubt that the Adams’ critique had considerable validity and that the 1974-75 ceasefire did enable the British to revamp security and seriously intensify pressure on the IRA, it is also evident, if the Royal Green Jackets’ version is correct, that the IRA in Gerry Adams’ own backyard in Belfast was in such deep trouble that cellular re-organization was forced upon its leaders long before all this.
According to the conventional narrative of this period the cellular structure was not introduced into the IRA until 1977, four years later, when Adams and Bell were released from jail and other changes were introduced, including the concept of the “long war”, the creation of a Northern Command and Republican involvement in agitational politics, a transformation in the Provisionals’ character that led to the growth and ascendancy of Sinn Fein and ultimately to the peace process.
When Ivor Bell implemented his cellular plan, Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes were already in jail. They had been arrested in July 1973 as they attended a Belfast Brigade meeting in the Iveagh district of West Belfast, apparently betrayed by another brigade member whose work for the British was a major factor in the organization’s degradation. The fact that Bell began the cellular re-organization so soon after Adams’ arrest suggests that the plans were in the pipeline for some time before. Bell replaced Adams as Belfast commander and stayed in that post until his arrest in the Spring of 1974. Brendan Hughes escaped from Long Kesh and replaced Bell as IRA commander in the city until he too was re-arrested in the early summer of 1974.
Although the RGJ Chronicle does not deal with events in the IRA subsequent to the arrest of Ivor Bell and Brendan Hughes, it is safe to assume that their successors, who were loyal to the pro-ceasefire leadership in Dublin, reverted back to the brigade structure and scrapped Bell’s cells. This is implicit in Brigadier James Glover’s famously leaked assessment of the IRA in 1978, ‘Northern Ireland: Future Terrorist Trends’ which dates 1977 as the year in which the cell structure was brought in. Glover also describes Gerry Adams as “the prime architect” of the change.
THE AMBUSH IN THE BULLRING
There were very few things that the Provisional IRA in Belfast and the British Army would agree about in August 1973 but on one issue they had no argument: James Emerson Bryson was a very dangerous character indeed. “A controlled psychopath”, is how an IRA colleague described Bryson to one of the authors in 2001. “A cunning ruthless killer”, was the judgement of the Battalion Intelligence Officer with the Royal Green Jackets regiment in his five-page account of the ambush by his soldiers that led to Jim Bryson’s death and the closing of one of West Belfast’s most violent chapters in the early years of the Troubles.
Bryson was only twenty-six when bullets fired by a soldier hidden in a covert observation post slammed into the back of his neck and mortally wounded him. But the Ballymurphy IRA activist had long before achieved legendary status in the Republican community and helped make his neighborhood in West Belfast one of the toughest and most uncompromising Provisional strongholds in Northern Ireland.
The ambush that was to claim his life also took that of Patrick Mulvenna whose wife, Frances was a sister of Ballymurphy’s most famous son, Gerry Adams. A cousin was Gerry Kelly, another Ballymurphy stalwart and currently a junior minister in the power sharing government in Belfast, who took part in the first IRA bombing of London in March 1973. At the time of the Bullring ambush, Mulvenna was commander of the Ballymurphy IRA ASU, arguably the cream of Ivor Bell’s new Belfast cell structure.
Although these days he disavows any connection to the IRA, Gerry Adams became ‘B’ Company’s very first commander when the local unit decided in early 1970 to break with the mainstream IRA, soon known as the Official IRA, and align with the newly formed breakaway group that, thanks to lazy journalism, would be dubbed the Provisionals. Formed in angry protest at the Officials’ failure to defend Catholic areas from Loyalist and police attacks the previous summer and committed to the gun as the only solution to political problems, the Provisionals were a natural home for the likes of Jim Bryson.
That Ballymurphy’s IRA activists became so feared and fearsome in the years following the birth of the Provisionals was due in no small part to the presence in the ranks of ‘B’ Coy of remorseless gunmen like Jim Bryson. There was, consequently, one other thing the IRA and the British Army could agree on that late summer day in 1973. Bryson’s death was a huge blow to the IRA; that of Patrick Mulvenna and the wounding and capture of a third member of the ASU completed a miserable day for the Provo command in Belfast. As the RGJ Chronicle account of the deadly ambush put it: “(The attack) destroyed arguably the best Provisional ASU in Belfast disposed of two of the most wanted and dangerous men in Northern Ireland.”
Gerry Adams’ relations with Jim Bryson were, by some accounts, complex. He has described Bryson as “a dear friend” and wrote in the first part of his autobiography, ‘Before the Dawn’ how, not long before the Bullring ambush, he had counsealed Bryson to keep a low profile: “…I had argued with him very earnestly….that he needed to keep his head down; things, after all, had changed from the time he could wander around the Murph at will.” as the British would be keen to remove him from the scene. But the late Brendan Hughes, quoted anonymously in ‘A Secret History of the IRA’, had a different view. “Bryson didn’t trust Adams, because he had never fired a shot,” he told one of the authors in 2001. “He was such a hard bastard, and I think Adams was basically frightened of him.” When Adams needed to curb Bryson, he added, he would send someone else to do the job, usually “a fellow operator” for whom Bryson had respect.
Bryson’s reputation was well earned. He had escaped from British custody three times. The first was from the back of a Saracen armoured car where he fought soldiers with his fists to get free. The second time was when he and six other IRA internees swam to freedom through the icy waters of Belfast Lough from the prison ship Maidstone. The third time was from the underground passage that linked Crumlin Road jail to the Crown courthouse. Using a smuggled pistol Bryson and another prisoner, who were facing arms charges, overpowered warders, changed into their uniforms and made their way out of the courthouse. Bryson made it to the street and then to safety, his collaborator was caught.
In the early years of the Troubles, Bryson’s favourite weapon was a vintage Lewis machine gun, a relic from the First World War which was standard issue for British forces up to the Second World War. He used the weapon to break the IRA’s 1972 ceasefire when he, Brendan Hughes and a fellow Maidstone escaper, Tommy Tolan opened fire on British troops during a confrontation in Lenadoon, in West Belfast. After his death, Ballymurphy Republicans created a wall mural to commemorate Bryson and Mulvenna. In the mural, Bryson is depicted carrying the Lewis gun, his IRA trademark. Bryson was also a feared sniper and used an Armalite rifle fitted with a telescopic sight. The British believed he killed a number of soldiers and policemen with this weapon.
THE ROYAL GREEN JACKETS
In the British Army they have a nickname for the Royal Green Jackets. They call them “the Black Mafia”, black after the colour of the buttons worn on the shirts of their dress uniforms and mafia because of the number of senior, influential officers produced by the regiment since it was formed in 1966 from the amalgamation of elite infantry regiments that date back to the early days of the British Empire.
The RGJ Association approvingly quotes a rival complaining that “the Green Jackets run the (British) Army”, and it is hard to quarrel with that. A snapshot of senior officers in 1984 produced by the association showed that in that year there were no less than twelve RGJ officers above the rank of Major-General, including two Field Marshalls, one of them Sir Edwin Bramall, Chief of the Defence Staff.
The Green Jackets also had a name for producing some thoughtful and liberal-minded officers. A former battalion commander was Sir David Ramsbotham who went on to become Britain’s Inspector of Prisons, in which capacity he quarrelled with both Conservative and Labour governments over his insistence that prison should be about reform not punishment. He was eventually sacked by Labour Home Secretary, Jack Straw – a badge of honour by itself in some quarters – when he complained that his reports were being ignored, including one that protested about a woman who gave birth in chains.
The CO of the 3rd battalion in the summer of 1973 was Robin Evelegh, who later wrote a book about his experience in Northern Ireland in which he questioned the usefulness of many military operations. He also had an intriguing take on informers, noting that while they were the “most effective weapon for destroying terrorists”, “the rank of the informer in the subversive organization is of less significance than might be supposed. A relatively junior member…can do enormous damage…in achieving the operational destruction of the organization.”
There is however one former RGJ officer whose name invariably evokes darker images. Sir Frank Kitson, a former commander of the 1st Battalion of the RGJ will always be associated with the murky side of the British military during the dying days of empire. In the early 1950’s he headed military intelligence operations in the bloody campaign against the Mau Mau, organising terrorist-type counter gangs to oppose them. He then served in Malaya during the war against communist guerrillas and in Cyprus during the Eoka uprising.
In 1969 he spent a year at Oxford refining ideas on counter intelligence developed in these outposts of a vanishing imperium which were published in book form in 1971, with the title Low Intensity Operations. The previous year he was given command of the British Army in Belfast. 1970 was the year the IRA’s campaign began and Kitson was able, at the very start of the Troubles, to put into practice some of his counter intelligence ideas.
(General Sir Frank Kitson – a former commander of the Royal Green Jackets)
One was the use of covert observation posts, both to collect intelligence and to ambush terrorist activists (Kitson’s emphasis on intelligence-led operations to produce contact with the enemy, by 1973 universally accepted by the British Army in its war with the IRA, suggests that the Bullring ambush may not have been just as unplanned as it looked).
The other was the creation of an Irish counter gang, called the Military Reaction Force (MRF). Specialist plain-clothes soldiers formed the core of the MRF but agents were also recruited from the ranks of both branches of the IRA, some of whom served in the MRF and the IRA at the same time. The MRF both collected intelligence on the IRA and roamed the streets of Belfast in civilian vehicles ready to shoot or assassinate IRA targets,
One initial goal of the MRF was to capitalize on the intense and sometimes violent rivalry that existed in the early years of the Troubles between the Official and Provisional wings of the IRA in Belfast. The two groups regarded each other as threats to their existence and rivals for popular support in the Catholic ghettoes while some of their leaders harbored personal grudges against each other dating from the acrimonious split of 1970. It was fertile ground for trouble making.
Frank Kitson would have two reasons then to heartily approve of the ambush in the Bullring. The IRA’s plan to create a network of secret cells in Belfast had been disrupted through the use of a covert observation post ambush – known in military jargon as Observation Post/Reactive – while one consequence, albeit unintended, was that afterwards the Provisionals blamed the Officials for killing their two men and the two groups were at each other’s throats.
The truth as revealed by the RGJ Chronicle was more prosaic and even pathetic – the Official IRA, led in Ballymurphy by Ronnie Bunting, had indeed set out to kill Jim Bryson that day but the lone gunman who volunteered for the task developed a bad case of fright when he encountered Bryson and his team and fled home.
(Ronnie Bunting – Official IRA commander in Ballymurphy in August 1973)
Nonetheless, the fallout was intense as Provo supporters in Ballymurphy pointed the finger at the Officials. Fights between Provisional and Official remand prisoners broke out in Crumlin Road jail, there were numerous assassination bids and it took a fortnight of diplomacy between the two groups before peace was restored. The RGJ Chronicle (p.104) recorded the violence and tension that followed the Bryson/Mulvenna killings, but revealing in the process considerable naivete about the potential of the Officials:
The shooting of Bryson and his compatriots highlighted the increasing friction between the Official and Provisional wings of the I.R.A. The feud intensified dramatically in the Ballymurphy with a large number of shooting incidents which did not involve Security Forces. Both sides seemed to have designated members of the opposing I.R.A. wing for execution. The Provisionals were firmly convinced that the Officials had been responsible for the shooting of Bryson, Mulvenna and O’Rawe. In the Clonard and Beechmount there was increasing evidence of dissension between the two factions. The Official I.R.A. had slowly spread their insidious influence as the decimated Provisionals lost more men. The Officials had become highly motivated and politically aware. Their leaders are educated and probably sincere in their wish for a Socialist State gained by political means. Equally they are prepared to terrorise and “hood” when expedient to do so. Tough, arrogant men well versed in the handling of weapons and their use. They repudiate the R.U.C. and angle strongly for a locally raised police force, namely themselves. They are a real danger, now and in the long term, to the R.U.C. and politically to the still shaky S.D.L.P.
ASSESSMENT sourced from the www.
In its summary of the 3rd Battalion RGJ’s four month tour of West Belfast, from the end of July until the end of November, the Chronicle devotes two fascinating paragraphs to the Bryson Incident, in which the shooting of the Ballymurphy ASU is placed in the context of Ivor Bell’s cellular re-organization of the Belfast IRA. They read:
On the last day in August the Bryson incident occurred which was of such importance that it is the subject of a separate article. Undoubtedly the shooting dead of Patrick Mulvenna, the wounding and subsequent death of Jim Bryson and the capture of James O’Rawe was was not only the most significant single event of our tour but brought to a close one more chapter of the I.R.A. campaign. History may show that the 31st August was an important landmark in the fight for peace in Northern Ireland.
The weapons recovered in this remarkable incident and the follow up amounted to thirteen rifles and pistols including ammunition and explosives. After this event and other steady success it was hard to resist the conclusion that the Security Forces were inexorably winning a kind of military victory in Belfast, if not Ulster.
Six gunmen were killed in August bringing the approximate number of terrorists put out of action, one way and another, to one thousand two hundred and sixty-five, including one hundred and ninety five Protestants. In Belfast the three Provisional battalions, which were sited in the Andersonstown, Ardoyne and our own district virtually ceased to exist. In their place the I.R.A. tried to create small Active Service Units, A.S.U.’s whose members would be known only to others in the same unit and which would be directly responsible to the Belfast Commander, Ivor Bell.
The original I.R.A. plan for eight A.S.U.’s each of five men in each of the three battalion areas, had to be revised because of the shortage of dependable men. The compromise of four A.S.U.’s in each district had to be modified as a result of the level of attrition achieved by the Army and R.U.C. The Ballymurphy A.S.U., which had included the gunman Jim Bryson, had been eliminated.
The author of ‘The Bryson Incident’, Captain Robert G K Williamson was the Intelligence Officer for 3rd Battalion The Royal Green Jackets. When he retired from the British Army he teamed up with his commanding officer, Col Robin Evelegh and another former RGJ officer to set up a company specialising in the international transit of explosives. He declined to be interviewed for this article. Evelegh died in 2010.
The Lance-Corporal who killed Bryson and Mulvenna was promoted to corporal and awarded the Military Medal, he also shot to fame within The Royal Green Jackets.
James ‘Bimbo’ O’Rawe recovered from his wounds, and was convicted for his role on the 31st of August , 1973 but less than ten years later was free. He was briefly an IRA ‘supergrass’.
He broke during RUC interrogation and agreed to implicate six colleagues in IRA activity, but he retracted before the case came to court. Ivor Bell went on to become IRA Chief of Staff but also fell foul of a supergrass and lost his seniority in the IRA. He later broke with Gerry Adams, accusing his former ally of moving the IRA away from armed struggle, was court martialed and left the IRA for good. He has refused all media invitations to talk about his life in the IRA. At the time of writing, General Sir Frank Kitson is still alive and is 86 years old.
The Royal Green Jackets
Account of the event
Published in a RGJ Chronicle
RGJ Chronicle Page 120/121
RGJ Chronicle Page 122/123
RGJ Chronicle Page 124
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