1968-78 When the Light Infantry was formed on 10th July 1968 the 1st Battalion (1LI) was in Gravesend and, within a month, moved to Ballykinler in Northern Ireland for a two year tour. The 2nd Battalion (2LI) was in Berlin - at that time a divided city - and moved to Colchester in April 1969 to join 19 Airportable Brigade and take over Meeanee Barracks, formerly occupied by 1DLI. The 3rd Battalion (3LI) was based at Terendak Camp near Malacca in Malaysia as part of 28 Commonwealth Brigade, with companies detached on internal security duties in Mauritius; an operation for which the Battalion was subsequently awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace. The last elements of 3LI left Mauritius in November 1968 and 3LI moved to Seaton Barracks, Plymouth. The 4th Battalion (4LI) was in Cyprus as part of the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and returned to Meeanee Barracks, Colchester in October 1968. The Colours of 1DLI were laid up in Durham Cathedral in a very moving ceremony in December 1968 and 4LI was progressively run down until, on 31st March 1969, it disbanded.
The early years of the Regiment were to witness a constant conflict between the primary role of battalions and the short notice demands of a rapidly deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, periods as 'Spearhead Battalion', the infantry element of a short notice rapid reaction force, were regularly imposed on all battalions, often disrupting long planned periods of special to role training or leave. The late summer and autumn of 1968 saw a series of increasingly violent marches and demonstrations in Northern Ireland under the auspices of the Norther Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).
By April 1969 the situation required the deployment of 1LI to guard key facilities in the Province. Nevertheless, a brief period of calm allowed the Battalion to exercise in Kenya from May to August 1969; returning to find the Province in turmoil. As part of the Strategic Reserve 2LI exercised in Malaysia in mid-1969 and by the autumn all three regular battalions were on operations in Northern Ireland, with elements of each being involved in the so-called 'Battle of the Shankill' in Belfast in October 1969.
A very brief stay in Plymouth between tours in Northern Ireland gave 3LI the opportunity to lay up the Colours of 1 KSLI in Bridgnorth on 16th April 1970, after which the Battalion moved to Cyprus for a six month UNFICYP tour, returning in October 1970. In May 1970 1LI moved from Northern Ireland to Lemgo in West Germany to join 20 Armoured Brigade as a mechanized infantry battalion. After one brief season of mechanized training 1LI returned to Northern Ireland in March 1971 to take over the notorious West Belfast area from 3LI. In July 1971 1LI returned to Lemgo to pick up the threads of regimental life and mechanized warfare. In April 1970 2LI, setting aside the demands of Northern Ireland, emplaned for Malaysia on Exercise 'BERSATU PADU', a three month Strategic Reserve reinforcement exercise.
On return from the Far East 2LI enjoyed a period of Public Duties in London in October and November. On 7th May 1971 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, the Colonel-in-Chief, presented new Colours to 2LI, 3LI and LI(V) at Colchester. In June 1971 3LI had the task of organising the parade and other ceremonies associated with the departure of the Army from Plymouth and move of Headquarters 24 Airportable Brigade to Barnard Castle. This was followed in November 1971 by the move of 3LI to Clifton Barracks in Minden, West Germany to become a mechanized infantry battalion. Meanwhile 2LI had deployed to East Tyrone for what was to prove an extremely active tour and included the mass internment of IRA suspects on 9th August 1971, an event which provoked widespread rioting and which was to be marked every year thereafter with IRA inspired riots throughout the Province.
In early 1972 2LI deployed at short notice to Northern Ireland in anticipation of unrest following the events that came to known as 'Bloody Sunday' incident in Londonderry on 30th January 1972. In the event there was little disturbance and the Battalion remained to cover the threatened 'Day of Disruption' on 9th February before returning to Colchester. In Lemgo Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra, the Deputy Colonel-in-Chief, presented new Colours to 1LI on 25th May 1972. The Battalion deployed to West Belfast in July 1972, just in time to take part in Operation 'MOTORMAN' - the clearance of barricades and opening up of the so-called 'no go' areas. Operation 'CARCAN', which had a similar objective, took place in Londonderry on 31st July 1972, during 2LI's tour in the city from June to October 1972.
Two battalions of the Regiment spent most of 1973 in Northern Ireland, ILI in South Armagh from July until October, and 2LI from March to July in West Belfast - their fifth tour in the Province since the emergency began. For 3LI 1973 offered a valuable opportunity to develop the necessary mechanized warfare skills and to practise them at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Canada. In 1970 an expansion of the Territorial Army had been announced and many of the old Territorial Army and Yeomanry units which had been reduced to cadre form were expanded. By the summer of 1972 a new Light Infantry Volunteer battalion - 6LI(V) had been raised in the West Country, and LI(V) became 5LI(V).
Throughout the 1970s the Infantry and the Regiment were heavily committed to operations in Northern Ireland, either on planned tours or as emergency reinforcements. It was not unusual for a battalion's next tour in the Province to be announced before a tour was completed. The frequent separation arising from these tours and the intensity of operations placed a great burden on the families and underlined the importance of the regimental and battalion 'family' in times of hardship. In January 1974 the Colours of 1 KOYLI were laid up in York Minster.
In March 1974 1LI and 2LI exchanged barracks and roles, 1LI hardly firm in Colchester before being sent to Northern Ireland in May to assist with the maintenance of essential services during industrial action by the Ulster Workers Council. In August 1974 1LI moved to Belize to form the core of the force held there to deter Guatemalan aggression. However, almost as the Battalion arrived a hurricane caused extensive damage and elements of the battalion were temporarily deployed to Honduras on relief work.
Fortunately 2LI were to have the bulk of their first training season in Germany free of Northern Ireland commitments, and only moved to Londonderry in March 1975. Virtually the whole of 1974 was spent by 3LI in West Belfast, although the Battalion did return to Germany for the main field training period in the autumn. On retum from Belize in February 1975 1LI found themselves collecting refuse from the streets of Glasgow during a prolonged strike by dustmen, Battalion Tactical Headquarters being located at the Govan incinerator.
Exercise 'Pond Jump West' held during the summer in Wainwright, Alberta offered the chance to work and play with members of the North Saskatchewan Regiment, and this was followed by an emergency tour in Northern Ireland in September and October before the Battalion and its families could leave for Hong Kong in December 1975. Having had a full fourteen months away from Northern Ireland 3LI moved to Londonderry in November 1975. In April 1975 a new Territorial Army battalion of the Regiment, 7LI(V) was formed in the North East, most of its companies being in County Durham.
During 1976 and 1977 1LI in Hong Kong undertook duties on the Sino-Hong Kong border to prevent illegal immigration, found guards of honour for UN duties in Korea and exercised all over the Far East and in New Zealand. For 2LI life was less exotic but just as stimulating, the Battalion completing its seventh tour, this time in West Belfast, between August and December 1976.
On 7th July 1977 2LI was privileged to take part in a magnificent parade staged by the British Army of the Rhine to mark the Silver Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen. In March 1976 3LI returned to Minden and, after a flurry of exercises , moved to Alma Barracks, Catterick in August 1976 as a home defence battalion. In September 3LI was tasked to find the guard at Edinburgh Castle, a duty which was much enjoyed and which lasted until early January 1977.
In June 1977 3LI returned to the now very familiar streets of West Belfast for another four month tour at the end of which, almost without drawing breath, the Battalion deployed in a fire-fighting role in Tyne and Wear. The Battalion provided a skeleton fire service for the area for nine weeks until industrial action by the firemen was resolved. In February 1978 1LI assembled at Lucknow Barracks, Tidworth and prepared themselves for a return to West Belfast for four months starting in June. In January 1978, 2LI moved from Germany to Abercorn Barracks, Ballykinler at the start of a two year tour as a resident battalion. After an exciting and interesting exercise in Kenya, during which links were renewed with the Kenya Rifles, 3LI moved to Cyprus in November 1978 for a six month tour with UNFICYP. On 14th July 1978 Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra presented new Colours to 7LI(V) at that most spectacular of settings, Palace Green, Durham. An Infantry Demonstration Battalion, to which the Regiment contributed a number of Light Infantrymen, was raised at the School of Infantry, Warminster in 1978.
Given its ancestry it is perhaps not surprising that, in the first ten years of its existence, the Light Infantry established a wide reputation for the quality of its operations. This reputation had not been easily earned and the Regiment had suffered a number of casualties; but the courage and professionalism of Light Infantrymen was now widely recognised by both friend and foe. The links with the counties from which the Regiment springs had been enhanced by the expansion of the Territorial Army and there was now a regimental presence in each county.