Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1971 Gunner Robert Curtis (156 (Inkerman) Battery, 94 Locating Regiment, Royal Artillery) became the first British soldier to die in the line of duty in Ireland since 1921.
156 Battery were deployed to Northern Ireland a month earlier; there had been major violence in republican areas of Belfast when the army launched a series of searches for IRA arms. Rioting in the republican area of the New Lodge escalated, a large crowd gathered at the junction of New Lodge Road and Lepper Street, soldiers from 156 Battery, including Gunner Curtis, were deployed to disperse the crowd. They were attacked with stones and bottles by the mob and deployed in riot-formation with shields as protection. A nail bomb was thrown at the troop and in the aftermath of the blast the crowd split, allowing a gunman to fire a long burst of automatic fire from a Sterling submachine gun. The crowd then reformed, allowing the gunman to escape. Gunner Curtis was hit by a ricochet which passed through the shoulder opening of his flak jacket, penetrating his heart. He died almost instantly. The gunman believed responsible was killed later that year in a gunfight.
Robert was 20 years old and had just found out that his wife was pregnant. Their baby girl was born six months later – when she eventually married she wore her father’s wedding ring, and when she had a son of her own she named him after her father.