John Potter MBE

Major John Potter MBE
Major Potter on a 3 UDR search operation in 1983

John Potter was born into a military family as his father, Lieutenant Colonel Claud Potter, had commanded an artillery brigade supporting the 36th (Ulster) Division in the final year of the First World War. Born in Ilkley, North Yorkshire, he moved to Northern Ireland in 1927 when his father became the bursar of Campbell College and was for some time, chairman of the Northern Ireland Branch of ‘The Old Contempables Association’. John would later tread in his grandfather's footsteps as he had been a pioneering railway engineer in India (and Japan) between 1880-1890.

John was educated at Marlborough College, Wiltshire, and following a Short Course at Queen’s University Belfast, enlisted, aged 18, in the Royal Artillery in 1943. He served as a Gunner in 25 Medium and Heavy Training Regiment Royal Artillery on the North Yorkshire coast, training on 5.5 inch medium guns, before being commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Artillery in November 1943. Subsequently he served on the North West Frontier of India during Partition and then in Egypt, UK and finally Germany during the Cold War, where he commanded a battery of 7.2 inch guns capable of firing nuclear shells. He retired in October 1970, returning home to Northern Ireland where he almost immediately joined the newly formed Ulster Defence Regiment, becoming the Adjutant and Operations Officer of the 3rd (County Down) Battalion (3 UDR) based at Ballykinler.

Potter Taj Mahal 1946(Left, at the Taj Mahal, Agra, in 1946)

On his retirement from 3 UDR, John was appointed Regimental Secretary for the UDR. His office was in Thiepval Barracks and he held the appointment for seven years before retiring in January 1992. He spent the next eight years writing the definitive history of The Ulster Defence Regiment 'A Testimony to Courage: The History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969-1992'. Published in September 2001, he vividly described the dangers faced by UDR soldiers and their families, recording details of the 197 members killed by terrorists.

This book was followed by the story of his father's service during the First World War 'Scarce Heard Amid the Guns', as well as historical pamphlets covering various aspects of Irish military history, including the Belfast blitz in 1941 that he had witnessed as a teenager.

His son, Colonel A M F (Tony) Potter OBE was the first commanding officer of the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment when The Ulster Defence Regiment was merged with The Royal Irish Rangers in July 1992 and later, his grandson, Michael Potter, also served in the 1st Battalion as the company commander of A Company.

Major John Potter MBE died in the Somme Nursing Home, Belfast on 17 February 2019 and below is his poem that he leaves to remember the fallen men and women of The Ulster Defence Regiment.

The UDR Soldier

As poppy petals gently fall
Remember us who gave our all
Not in the mud of foreign lands
Nor buried in the desert sands.
In Ulster field and farm and town,
Fermanagh's lanes and drumlin'd Down
We died that violent death should cease
And Ulstermen might live in peace.

We did not serve because we hate
Nor bitterness our hearts dictate.
But we were they who must aspire
To quench the flame of terror's fire.
As buglers sound and pipers play
The proud battalions march away
Now may the weary violence cease
And let our country live
in peace.

by John Potter