‘Sir, They’re Taking the Kids Indoors’ by Ken Wharton

One of the sad facts of the Northern Ireland peace process is the way in which the experiences of the thousands of British soldiers who served in one of Britain’s most complex wars have been swept under the carpet. Sadly, as with many peace processes, it seems that a by-product of moderating the hard-liners in the interests of a bright future, is that some uncomfortable truths about the past are conveniently overlooked.

Ken Wharton, however, has been ploughing something of a lone furrow when it comes to ensuring that the humble British Squaddie in Northern Ireland isn’t forgotten. This book remembers the years of 1973 and 1974. The title alludes to the manner in which the IRA had an uncanny knack of ensuring that nationalist families took their children off the streets before an impending terrorist attack. Patrolling British soldiers would be well aware that something was awry, by the absence of the usually ubiquitous children on the streets. ‘Sir, they’re taking the kids indoors’ was more often than not a signal that something unpleasant was about to happen.

Northern Ireland must have been the most difficult conflict imaginable for a soldier. Restricted by what were completely unrealistic rules of engagement – particularly having to play by all of the rules, when the paramilitaries definitely did not – can’t have been easy. And I have to say as well, I am in awe of the bravery of some of these ex-squaddies, putting their names to their experiences and views so publicly, especially when certain unsavoury elements might be looking.

I always learn something new from Kens books. From the month my month breakdownof incidents, I get the impression that it was not necessarily the big well-known incidents that caused such a heavy death toll in the Province, but the constant ‘drip-drip’ effect of ‘smaller’ incidents, almost on a daily basis throughout the troubles. Perhaps to many, Northern Ireland consisted of Bloody Sunday, Warrenpoint and Hunger Strikes, and nothing else in between. Also, its only from looking at the list of fatalities that you can see just what a prediliction some paramilitary groups had for violence that often had nothing to do with the Troubles. With many of the incidents that Ken writes about, you could interchange the sectartian elements – religions, groups or neighbourhoods – and they would be virtually identical.

Something more controversial, certainly in the current era, is the extent to which Irish-American ‘aid’ helped to finance the IRA. To what extent was this intentional? This is probably something for a diligent historian to work on in years to come with the advantage of hindsight and when the potential for embarassment does not cause such a barrier. But it’s surely more than a coincidence that many of the weapons used by the IRA in this period were American-made Armalites or Garands.

This is the fourth of Ken’s Northern Ireland books that I have reviewed, and I have enjoyed reading every one of them. There are some cracking stories here – the Republican neighbourhood dog that had its vocal cords taken out by a Paras SLR, and other real, whites of the eyes, front line experiences. In generations to come I think these books will be extremely useful and important.

‘Sir, they’re taking the Kids indoors’ is published by Helion

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Uncategorized

9 responses to “‘Sir, They’re Taking the Kids Indoors’ by Ken Wharton

  1. John Erickson

    Sounds an interesting read. And as to aid from the US, I’ll put it this way – Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were a well-guarded state secret compared to Chicago residents’ knowledge of south-side money headed across the Atlantic. There were even attempts at launching telethons on local UHF TV stations, though that was a little TOO egregious for the City Council to tolerate.
    And for crying out loud, Mr. Daly, don’t you have a girlfriend to pay attention to? You are being FAR too productive in posts – I need a chance to catch up! ;)

    • James Daly

      She’s just started her own wordpress blog! If you can’t beat em join em I guess ;)

      A certain E. Kennedy features quite strongly in many British critiques of Irish-American collusion. There are some Foreign Office documents in the National Archives in London about how Kennedy managed to exert pressure to prevent a shipment of Sub-machine guns to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. How nice of him. One day it’s something I might look into.

      I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever really understand the depth of the Irish-American thing. I’m – wait for it – 1/16th Irish (southern Catholic descent), yet I’m probably more Irish than most Irish-Americans. Yet 99.9% of the time it really doesn’t occur to me.

  2. One of the best reviews of my books that I have ever read. Many thanks. Incidentally, it is the 5th book and my 6th and 7th will be out later this year. Many thanks again for the kind words.

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