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The Ulster Tales (Hardback)

A Tribute to those Who Served 1969-2000

Modern Warfare Barnsley

By General John Wilsey
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 224
ISBN: 9781848845244
Published: 3rd May 2011

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The Ulster Tales captures the lives and experiences of ten individuals from mainland Britain who found themselves caught up in the Northern Irish Troubles. Each has a very distinct story to tell according to their role and position.

The first ‘tale’ is that of Simon Hoggart, The Guardian journalist who reported in Belfast and Londonderry from the outset. The military angle is covered by the GOC at a critical moment (General Sir Richard Lawson), a young soldier in The Green Howards from Barnsley and by Anne Blair, who was widowed at Warrenpoint. A member of MI5 and a key source handler represent the Intelligence effort. The political perspective is given by Tom King, the Secretary of State at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, who narrowly avoided assassination. We hear of the role of a top civil servant, Sir John Blelloch closely connected with the 1981 Hunger Strike. The Policeman’s Tale is that of a young Met officer who transferred to the RUC and nearly became Chief Constable.

Through the experiences of these ten, very different individuals, the momentous events in the Province are graphically described. Thanks to the Author’s exceptional knowledge and access, the reader gains a unique and privileged insight into the
political, military and industrial aspects of this troubled period.

As well as being a tribute to those who dedicated their lives to the fight against terrorism, The Ulster Tales is an original and interesting way of gaining a better understanding of the ever complex Northern Ireland situation.

John Wilsey has written a highly original account of ’the Troubles’. He is uniquely qualified to do so having endured, and clearly enjoyed, his ten years in the Province on seven separate tours whilst progressing from subaltern to Lieutenant General.

Wilsey introduces, narrates and cleverly puts into context ten succinct, intriguing and pithy stories of individuals, soldiers and civilians, who served in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 2000.

His gripping style, sensitivity and mastery of perspective makes for fascinating reading.

The Ulster Tales is well conceived, well researched and well written.

Journal of the Sultan’s Armed Forces

The book works well, not only as a history, but also, as the subtitle suggests, a tribute. John Wilsey writes with a clear and lucid style and, whether you served there, lived there or are just interested in why the period was fraught with difficulty, this book is a valuable addition to the literature of ' The Troubles'. Highly recommended.

Pennant Magazine

The Ulster tales takes a look at the Troubles in Ulster from a variety of different perspectives. It is an important book and a sympathetic account of a campaign that, although so important at the time and so recent, now seems almost forgotten.

Sir John, himself a former General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland, knows his subject better than most and his analysis is telling.

Country Life Magazine

This is a book that had to be written because it covers a subject that extends far beyond Ireland and dispels many of the inaccurate assumptions that have been made by others. Ireland has had a long and bloody history of internecine conflict.

Firetrench reviews

During his distinguished career in the British Army, John Wilsey served a total of seven tours in Northern Ireland; starting as a young subaltern and ending as the GOC. He uses his experience of The Province to review events there from 1969 to 2000 but does it through the prism of other peoples’ lives and backgrounds. We are taken through events from the point of view of 10 widely different individuals, including: a civil servant, a businessman, a widow and a politician.

This device works well, though unsurprisingly there is a constant British Army flavour to every ‘tale’. The diversity of different viewpoints and careers adds authenticity and variety to the narrative. Feelings about this period of history in Northern Ireland run high but the author presents all the tales in a dispassionate manner, and the overwhelming impression is of individuals in all walks of life trying their best to deal with the situation in an even handed and as professional way as possible. The book works well, not only as a history, but also, as the subtitle suggests, a tribute. John Wilsey writes with a clear and lucid style and, whether you served there, lived there or are just interested in why the period was fraught with difficulty, this book is a valuable addition to the literature of ‘The Troubles’. Highly recommended.

Pennant Magazine

How Northen Ireland Shaped the Army

A collection of 'Tales from the Troubles' sheds new light on a long and bloody military campaign. Each is moving and revealing, in varying degree, but all are uniformly absorbing.

The Times

Among the Plethora of books that cover this terrible period of Irish History, what makes The Ulster Tales one to be read? It is for the insight into the lives of the people who worked on our behalf to keep us safe... a valuable piece of work.

New York Journal of Books - Viv Young

General Wilsey, having served at virtually every level of command right up to that of GOC, is probably the most experienced soldier of the Northern Ireland campaign. His views and experience feature as part of the book; but this is no biography of a Northern Ireland soldier, rather it is a fascinating insight into what was going on outside our familiar fortified camps and barracks.

It is an excellent read and not just for the ‘Northern Ireland Generation’. It is a reminder how a few dedicated people can influence events to the benefit of a whole community. The people of Northern Ireland have much to be grateful for from the many individuals that are represented by those who appear in this book.

Devon and Dorset Regiment

During the years I was in Downing Street, Northern Ireland was never far from my mind, or off my desk. It intruded at all times and in all circumstances and for good reason: British citizens were being murdered, and many more had their lives disrupted, by the IRA campaign for a united Ireland.

My interest in Ireland became personal as well as political: the island of Ireland has a gift of reaching out and filling the minds of Englishmen.

One such, John Wilsey – a distinguished soldier who served many tours of Northern Ireland during “The Troubles”, becoming Commanding Officer in 1990 – has written “The Ulster Tales” which answers the question history will want to know more satisfactorily than anything else I have read: what was it really like to be in Northern Ireland during the years peace proved so elusive?

General Wilsey borrows from Chaucer the concept of individual “Tales”, and the effect is to bring events to life more effectively than through the pen of a dispassionate historian. The book gets off to a cracking start with “The Reporter’s Tale” – focussing on the young Simon Hoggart – which recalls the bigotry and stupidity that resurrected violence: almost inevitably, the hatreds slotted into place that would lead to decades of mayhem.

The real bonus of these beautifully written tales is their variety: civil servants, policemen, the armed forces, spooks, politicians, fill out the colourful canvas. All of them, and many others, were among the unsung heroes who worked, planned – and often gave the ultimate sacrifice – to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

It is fitting that an Army man should have brought together “Tales of Ulster” to tell the tale of men and women to whom we owe a debt that cannot be repaid. These multi-faceted stories remind us of the horrors that so many individuals faced and overcame: they are truly inspiring and deserve to be read.

The RT Hon Sit John Major
General John Wilsey

About General John Wilsey

General Sir John Wilsey was commissioned into the Devon and Dorset Regiment. During his distinguished career he served in Northern Ireland in every rank bar one, culminating as the GOC from 1990-93. Now retired he wrote the acclaimed biography of Col H Johns VC – The Life and Death of an Unusual Hero (Hutchinson and Arrow (p/b)).

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