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Soldiers who came to quell riots ended up fighting a war.

TODAY marks 50 years since the start of British Army operation in Northern Ireland.

It was the beginning of the lengthiest continuous campaign in British military history.

Operation Banner lasted from August 1969 to July 2007 and cost 722 soldiers' lives.

They came when Northern Ireland's then government at Stormont had urged the UK to deploy troops after sustained sectarian violence.

Soon soldiers on the streets provided a ready target and in some areas - like South Armagh - it became so dangerous soldiers were confined to helicopter airlifts.

Two have died since violence largely ended and the Army was withdrawn from operations.

HAUNTED The violence cost thousands of lives and scared generations of people who found themselves thrown into conflict.

A Conservative MP and former British Army officer said a republican pub bombing in Co Derry was probably the worst thing to happen in his life.

The INLA detonated a bomb at the Droppin' Well pub in Ballykelly in 1982 - killing 17 people, including 11 soldiers and six civilians.

Former Colonel Bob Stewart said: "I held a girl, who I think was a Catholic, as she died. She had lost both legs and an arm - she was 18."

Today some members of the army are under investigation for high-profile cases of alleged wrongful killing - leading to renewed tension as some MPs call for them to be granted immunity.

On the other side stand the victims of state killings seeking justice for the deaths of loved ones.

A mother of eight who had served tea to British soldiers at her family home was shot dead by the Army some 12 months later.

Joan Connolly welcomed soldiers into her home where she lived with her husband and children in a Catholic area of Belfast.

In August 1971, Joan was one of 10 people shot dead by soldiers in what later became known as the Ballymurphy massacre.

Her daughter Briege Voyle said: "The Army just seemed to turn. One minute they were our friends, the next minute they weren't."

Martyn McCready said the arrival of soldiers changed the atmosphere "for the better".

His father John was shot dead by the IRA as he walked home in North Belfast in 1976. He added: "They were sent here as a peace force to look after both sides."

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 14, 2019
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