Mervyn McCord CBE MC, Brigadier


CoR McCordDescribed as an archetypal Ulsterman, Brigadier M N S McCord CBE MC is remembered as an energetic, resourceful and brave leader and soldier.

Mervyn Noel Samuel McCord was born in Armagh on Christmas Day 1929 and died, aged 83, on 8 February 2013. He was schooled at Coleraine Academical Institution before attending Queen’s University Belfast to read Medicine. He left QUB after one year to join the Army and attend the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where he captained the cross-country team before being commissioned into the Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR) on 16 December 1949. On 1 October 1950, he embarked on HMT Empire Pride and sailed from Liverpool with the 1st Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles (1 RUR) as part of the reinforcing 29 Infantry Brigade. The Rifles arrived some six weeks later in Pusan harbour, Korea. Commanding his platoon, 2Lt McCord found himself digging defensive positions on New Year’s Eve 1951 in readiness for a Chinese offensive.

McCord Korea(Left, 2Lt McCord (seated right) tendering to board HMS Belfast)

He was soon to be awarded the Military Cross for actions on the night of 1/2 January 1951. Following the decision to withdraw behind the Han River to the south of 1 RUR’s position, following intense pressure from the Chinese, it was 2Lt McCord's platoon that brought up the rear. The valley through which 1 RUR withdrew became a killing ground. Facing an enemy machine gun, McCord rallied his Riflemen before finally charging the position. He led his Riflemen to success in destroying the position, thus clearing the way to continue the (by now) retreat and led his men over the mountains to safety. His citation stated:

On the morning of 3 January 1951, 2nd Lt McCord led his platoon in a successful counter attack to restore positions from which his battalion had been forced to give ground. Later, at night when the battalion was ambushed as it started to withdraw from its position, he did everything in his power to extract the vehicles trapped on the track, rallying both scattered men and vehicles before successfully fighting them forward under fire. He assisted in another attack to break out of the ambush and finally helped wounded men over the mountains to safety. During this, his first action which took place at night, at close quarters and in considerable confusion, 2nd Lt McCord showed great powers of leadership and complete disregard for his own safety. His personal action undoubtedly helped to extricate a number of men safely from a situation in which they would otherwise have been killed or captured.

MontyAfter the Korean War, he was Regimental Signals Officer for a period before being appointed Adjutant of the RUR Depot in 1955. On returning to the Battalion in 1961, he commanded a company before attending the Staff College. He left Camberley in 1963 and proceeded on an exchange posting with the Canadian Army in HQ Eastern Command at Halifax, Nova Scotia, as a logistics staff officer. During the tour, and to the astonishment of his Canadian General, he announced that his family would spend a one month leave period driving a huge car towing a caravan across Canada from Halifax Nova Scotia to the West Coast, down to Los Angeles, returning back to Halifax across the USA. The General was so astounded that he granted him an extra two weeks leave. Towards the end of his tour he was involved in organising the first Canadian contingent to join the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).

(Above right, Bulford 1966: Major McCord's company being inspected by Field Marshal Montgomery)

Major McCord returned to 1 RUR as a company commander in 1965 and In 1967 left the Battalion to be the Brigade Major, HQ 6 Inf Bde after which he attended the Joint Services Staff College. He returned to the 1st Battalion of the newly formed Royal Irish Rangers as the Second in Command in October 1969. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 30 June 1970 and posted to Headquarters Northern Ireland (HQNI). He assumed command of the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers in October 1971 in Hemer (West Germany) in BAOR. Despite attempts during that time by extremists from all factions to persuade his Rangers to obtain arms, ammunition and equipment - none succeeded. Lt Col McCord insisted on the highest standards and maintained a scrupulous impartiality. He was appointed OBE on 1 January 1974 at the end of a most testing period of command. His citation stated:

Lieutenant Colonel McCord MC’s period in command included a 6 month unaccompanied tour with UN forces in Cyprus during which his battalion acquitted itself with distinction. In Cyprus and still more on return to BAOR the battalion has been subjected to many pressures on its loyalty due to the fact that it is composed almost equally of Protestants and Catholics from Ireland including the Republic. The extremists amongst the communities there have repeatedly attempted to suborn members of the battalion directly or by threatening their families. Attempts have been made using bribes or threats to persuade soldiers to obtain arms, ammunition and equipment and to spy on their comrades. The fact that these attempts have failed is due in the first instance to the determination and leadership of Lieutenant Colonel McCord MC. An Irishman himself, he has maintained a scrupulous impartiality. He has insisted on high standards in every facet of his battalion’s life and set all ranks a superb example in professional and moral integrity. The consequence is that, with few exceptions, his battalion continues to serve in loyalty and comradeship regardless of the divisions in their homeland. It should not be supposed that exercise of command in these extraordinarily difficult circumstances have been accomplished without considerable strain upon Lieutenant Colonel McCord MC personally. The burden would have broken a lesser man; thanks to his courage he prevailed.

In 1976 he was due to be promoted to Brigadier and assume one of the most challenging appointments in the mid-1970s, Command of The Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), a new regiment raised at a time when the political and operational situations in Northern Ireland were at their most intense. Ten days before he took over as Commander UDR he attended a UDR conference and gained an impression of the general morale:

It was clear that the Company Commanders [four of whom had been at school with him] felt that they were not trusted, that they were kept in the dark about operations in their area, and that nobody in HQNI was interested in their problems, particularly on the question of personal security and they told me privately with great sincerity and sadness that they felt the Regiment had reached a crossroads. Unless they were used properly would die and many of the easily led would fall under the influence of the extremists in such organisations as the UDA [a proscribed paramilitary organisation].'

In April 1977, a group known as the United Unionist Action Council threatened to call a strike if the government did not take effective action against the IRA. Reinforcement battalions were flown into Northern Ireland to maintain essential supplies. Initially HQNI decided not to call out the UDR. Brigadier McCord reasoned that this would look as if HQNI and the Army did not trust the UDR soldiers to respond and he was prepared to resign if the decision was not rescinded. The General Officer Commanding HQNI relented, and the UDR, unaware that there had been any doubt, responded magnificently.

Brigadier McCord was advanced to CBE on 6 June 1978; his citation stating:

Brigadier McCord CBE MC devoted great effort to raising the standards of the Regiment in every way. Training was practical and conducted with enthusiasm and vigour. As a result of his outstanding leadership, the Regiment has developed to such a high standard that it is increasingly taking over areas of operational responsibility from the Regular Army. He has borne a heavy responsibility but never flagged, overcoming temporary setbacks with determination and initiative.

During his tenure as Commander UDR he was appointed Deputy Colonel of the Regiment (The Royal Irish Rangers) on 1 September 1976. Handing over his command of the UDR in 1978, his next appointment was Deputy Commander Eastern District in England from 1978, after which he served for his final three years, from 1981 to 1984, as the Divisional Brigadier of The Kings Division.

Following retirement, he was appointed the Colonel of the Regiment (The Royal Irish Rangers) from 27 August 1985 until 27 August 1990 and devoted much of his restless energy to the completion of The Regimental Chapel in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. It also fell to him to lead the planning and celebrations of the Regiment’s Tercentenary.