A former British soldier who is to speak in Derry next week has told the ‘Journal’ he is now against war.
Glenn Bradley said he naively joined the army when he was 16 years-old thinking he could hit back at the IRA. And he’s had his own conflict trauma - in 1990 his uncle was abducted and killed by the IRA.
Glenn, from Belfast is now actively involved in reconciliation work with Interaction and is a member of Veterans for Peace, a voluntary ex-services organisation of men and women who through non-violent action, involving protest, discussion, debate and education, oppose war and militarism.
Glenn will share his testimony at a lunchtime event at the Junction on Wednesday, January 20 at 12.30pm.
“I grew up in West Belfast between the Woodvale Road and Springfield Road,” explained Glenn. “I was born before the peace line became permanent, before it became a barricade, so as a family living one hundred metres from what the became the West Belfast peace line, we would have largely done our shopping on the Springfield and Falls Road.
“Then as the conflict erupted, the barricade went in first, and that wall just got higher and higher and higher.”
Glenn described his childhood during the conflict as growing up in a “war zone”.
“When I was growing up as I did in a unionist tradition, I had a great sense of community and a great sense of wanting to protect our community. So at 16 I joined the army because I wanted to hit back at the IRA.
“I was quite naive, what 16 year has got any experience of life? At 16 I naively thought I would be given a gun and deployed back to Northern Ireland fairly sharpish.
“I was quite naive about what the army actually did to you in training and what could evolve.”
Joining the army did the opposite of what Glenn thought it would do - it actually took him away from Northern Ireland - while he did five tours in Northern Ireland he also ended up serving in many other theatres of conflict.
“The good thing about it was it meant I was living outside of the fish tank of what was Ireland at that time,” he said. “And obviously when you don’t live here and you are not caught up in it, you can sort of look at things with a wider lens.
“I left as a boy who was quite sectarian entrenched and quite blinkered. For me the IRA’s war was sectarian, that was all I had ever experienced. I had only ever experienced Irish Republican violence on me and my kin and my community. The wider causes of conflict, the wider nuances of the IRA fighting the British Army was beyond me.
“All I knew was Irish Republican violence was killing people in my area, greatly killing people, In our small area of the Woodvale we suffered 468 casualties over the period of the conflict.
“At 16 I wanted to hit back at what I perceived to be the enemy which at that time was the Provisional IRA and I naively joined the army thinking that would service that desire.”
In 1990 Glenn’s uncle Constable Louis Robinson was abducted and held by the Provisional IRA.
“He was brutally tortured and summarily shot execution style and his body dumped and booby trapped on the border,” explained Glenn. “We are one family among 3,600 that lost in the conflict.”
Post military Glenn entered local politics and was a Party Officer being involved within the Ulster Unionist Party’s wider team in the negotiations that delivered the Good Friday Agreement.
He became the West Belfast constituency chairman for the Unionist party and was on the Ulster Unionist Council.
But his life was to take a heavy blow.
“In 1997 my wife had contracted breast cancer,” explained Glenn. “Like most families when we were hit with the initial diagnosis we struggled on and tried to cope. By 1999 we knew it was terminal. My kids were only 10 and 6 so obviously the priority was to protect them. I completely withdrew from public life in 1999.
“When my wife passed away it was an awfully tragic time. In the space of six months I had lost everything. I was still a young man in my early 30s and I was a single parent.
“We put the head down and survived. My oldest boy is now 27, the other 23 and I am a grandad.”
More recently Glenn, who is now happily married again, to the lovely Jo, joined Veterans for Peace UK (VFP).
“I am a British army veteran and I would be against war,” he said.
“I saw VFP as a way for me to become actively involved in the anti-war movement. It also came down to that fact that at 16 I really didn’t have a clue or any life experience when I joined the army even though at the time I thought I knew everything.
“The role VFP plays in educating young people on the true nature of military service and war is something that really interests me.
“These kids start in the boys brigade and scouts and are encouraged to go into army cadets, sea cadets or RAF cadets and they are being conditioned in miltarism from an early age by patriotic, for want of a better description, lunatics, who tell them how great it is to serve your country and go to war. But they never discuss what it’s like to kill for your country, engage in battle or be absolutely s**t scared in a fire fight.
“At VFP we’re a collective of former veterans who oppose and resist war. Our group is going from strength to strength and our numbers are increasing as the British Army’s are decreasing.
“VFP resist war miltarism through non violent actions and we stand in solidarity with others who are resisting war. Most recently if you think of the Syrian experience, VFP were heavily involved in trying to lobby the government not to bomb Syria.
For Glenn the future is about moving forward and engaging in “quiet conversations.”
“For me it is simple, we can all go back anytime, we can reignite things by arguing about the past and the causes of conflict and literally revert back to the conflict or we can have quiet conversations where people
listen to each other and we explore through dialogue what it was like for one another. We each try to walk in
each other’s shoes.
“If we do that, we can eradicate ignorance, bust myths and be capable as a people of rising above the brutal past and say I don’t want that any more.
“Let us together say we are sorry and express we want no more suffering. Let’s create interdependency and move this community forward.
“The fact is that the people need to come together and I believe the best way for this to happen is through conversation and listening.
“People must come together eyeball to eyeball, look each other in the eye and discuss what they felt at the time and what they feel now.”
Glenn will share his testimony at the Junction next Wednesday, 20th January.
The testimony event will begin with a light lunch at 12.30pm and conclude at 2pm.