Counter Recruitment in Belfast

Having been profoundly disturbed by recent figures suggesting that 1 in 10 prisoners in the UK prison system is an ex-soldier, disturbed by the amount of homeless people that come from an ex-service background and disturbed by how many of our ex-service men and women are cast adrift suffering post-traumatic stress after they leave the military, I was keen to see what mechanisms the Armed Forces had in place to remedy these issues. So, on Saturday 25th April I took myself off to the Armed Forces trades fair (Recruitment Day) in Belfast, to engage with serving personnel and the families of potential recruits. I decided that as well as quizzing the camouflaged salesmen, I would also approach the Mums and Dads with a view to informing them of the less appealing side of life as an Army recruit.

Bearing in mind the threat from those opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland, security at the recruitment day was very visible. This ranged from Police, walkthrough and handheld metal detectors. There was however, no way my back pocket full of VFP literature was going to be picked up by any of these counter measures.

Once inside I did a quick walk round to survey my surroundings before approaching some of the soldiers, both Regular and TA. I spoke with serving representatives from various Regiments and Corps and I was very interested, although not surprised to hear, that the mechanisms the Army employ to those returning from combat have changed little from when I left the Army in 1993. The Soldiers spoke of a decompression period upon leaving the battlefield, which was basically a process of handing in weapons and going on a two week adventure training/beer drinking exercise in Cyprus. This was followed by a period of leave and then back into uniform. I pressed on the issue of combat stress and were there any manifestations of this whenever the men/women returned to duty. As expected there were tales of certain lads that had been arrested for fighting and even stories of men who had failed to return at all.

Everyone in uniform I spoke to knew of someone that had ‘Gone of the rails’ or someone who’s ‘Spring had come out’, directly as a result of their time in service. I was heartened to hear that none of the junior ranks were swallowing the ‘For Queen and Country’ line and most definitely, no one enjoyed the badge of hero that was being bestowed upon them by the war hungry media. I was very concerned at the amount of children that were being enthusiastically shown rifles and heavy machine guns, being encouraged to look through the sights and fire off the action and I felt it very irresponsible of Army not to also include details of what happens at the receiving end of these weapons. Then again like any rogue, second hand car salesman, you’re never going to get the whole story.

Despite the generally warm reception from the soldiers I spoke to, there is always an exception to any rule and this came in the form of an early twenties TA Officer who when I offered some VFP material to, went like an obedient puppy to his superiors which promptly caused a bit of a comical furore and I was confronted by no less than six security personnel of varying sorts that confiscated my VFP material. I was informed that if I handed out anymore literature I would be asked to leave.

From this point onward I was closely followed by a mixture of PSNI Officers, civilian security and Military Police. Every time I stopped to talk to the military personnel I was surrounded by several of my new, close friends. This continued for a few more occasions until I was asked to leave for being a disruptive influence.

So, out I went in a polite and dignified fashion after demanding that my VFP material was handed back, which it was. However, I wasn’t finished yet. Outside there were a number of families leaving the event with bags of camouflage tat, posters and Oath’s of Allegiances (One imagines), so I decided to stop them and let them know that I was a veteran who had served in Iraq and up the road in Antrim. I explained that what they had heard inside was the best case of sugar coating they were ever likely to hear. I explained about the Army’s ingrained system of bullying, collective punishment and general brainwashing of minors. I informed them of the way in which the Army casts their soldiers adrift like a rudderless boat once their time had been served and I furnished them with the statistics of homelessness and incarceration. Most Mums and Dads were aware of the damage our Nation had caused through our military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and I encouraged them to think very carefully about allowing their Sons and Daughters to become the next in a very long line of victims that our Government will use as war capital on Remembrance Sunday.

I will never be able to measure what, if anything, good at all came of my intervention at the Army recruitment fair, but if I have gotten into the minds of just one potential recruit or his parents, then it was a good day’s work.

Kieran Devlin served with the British Army in Iraq (Gulf War) and N Ireland, he is active with VFP Belfast 


  1. Great work, Kieran, So proud of the work done by our newest foreign chapter of VFP.

    Barry Ladendorf
    Veterans For Peace
    San Diego, California, USA

  2. kenny williams says:

    Nice one Kieran,
    Next time do what I do and buy a spy pen or record them on a camera or phone.
    Either way positive or negative you get the footage to share with thousands of peeps… it works well
    I would of taken the micheal out of the lollypop men, I mean psni “policy officers” pathetic jobsworths ha ha.
    My daughters are dating two “junior leaders” as we used to call them based in harrogate. Ive had a good chat with them on the reality of what they are training for. We have talked about the methods used to train them and I have tried to warn them of the bullying and "Macho" BS used to mould them.
    At that age they are tuned in to the shooting, their faces light up when you speak about marksmanship principles and various weapons and techniques used to fire them, they can relate to it by playing video games from an early age and can
    t wait to shoot one for real?
    They see it as a pay packet at the end of the month and cant wait to blow it on flash trainers fags and drink! Im not saying to them “get out” Im telling them what they should expect and how to deal with the experiences some which will be brutal and at that age its not fun.
    I remember when I joined up, Status Quo released “Your in the Army now” whenever I hear it I`m straight back to 1988 cold wet and exhausted getting “beasted” for sixteen weeks… happy days eh?

    Peace and Love
    Kenny Williams VFP UK

  3. Aly Renwick says:

    Great work Kieran, the Establishment need for cannon fodder goes on and on.
    I read your article just after I had been looking at The Vagrancy Act of 1824, which was enacted to deal with homeless and jobless veterans following the Napoleonic Wars. Next month we will hear a lot about the battle of Waterloo – 200th anniversary – but nothing about what happened to many of the ordinary soldiers afterwards.

  4. Answering Gus, yes, I am a member of VFP UK & also VFP Ireland.
    There are VOLUMES more to tell. For a start, you could go to Youtube & type my name. Also see though a technical glitch means it only goes up to July 2012. It does NOT include the unbelievable story of the hounding of me which happened from then on. Though not strictly relevant to VFP, there is a connection. To avoid cluttering up this thread, if you would like to know more, please contact me direct,
    PS: Though you will see support for me on the internet, you will also see some poison. Not everyone loves me! (:-(

  5. I am greatly encouraged to learn of Counter-Recruitment activity in the UK, & greatly regret not being able to play may part. This is because I have been forced to flee the land of my birth for safety abroad, & dare not set foot in Britain again.. A Royal Navy veteran of WW2, from the age of 75 I was one of the ex-servicemen who make up “1 in 10 prisoners in the UK prison system”, spending six years in many different prisons & two so-called ‘Mental Hospitals’. In my case, it was NOT because I had ‘Gone off the rails’ as a result of my wartime experiences.
    On the contrary, for fifty years after the.war I had worked honestly & hard as a small farmer. Being neither a criminal nor mentally ill, my incarceration came about because, learning late in life that corruption is rampant in British courts, I made it my mission in life to expose it. Imprisoned again at the age of 85 (& with more in store for me), I belatedly realised that Britain is not a safe place for those who dare to expose corruption: Hence my flight to the Republic of Ireland. .

    1. Gus Hales says:

      Firstly, Well done Kieran direct action, lone action. The powers that be don’t like it. Secondly, Intriguing story Norman tell us more and are you a member of VFP?

  6. Lenny says:

    Job well done Kieran. We need more of this type of ‘informaction’. Yes, that’s not a word but I’ve coined it. Informing not only ourselves but also the general public of the true face of service whilst simultaneously taking action.

    Thank you Kieran.


  7. Will Thomas says:

    Kieran, thank you for trying to both inform and educate the young (and their parents) about the true costs of war, of what the promotion of militarism does to human beings and to the waste of our natural resources and our tax money on military spending.

  8. tim says:


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