Northern Ireland

'Battle of St Matthew's' remembered 50 years on

British army logs from June 27, 1970
British army logs from June 27, 1970 British army logs from June 27, 1970

BRITISH army records offer a fascinating insight into the events surrounding the Battle of St Matthew's.

Researcher Ciarán MacAirt from the research charity Paper Trail has pored over dozens of logs generated on June 27/28, 1970.

While it was previously understood the British army did not engage during the battle, new documents suggest that they did in fact use CS gas on those positioned at St Matthew's Church.

They also reveal information about an arms find in Short Strand hours after the battle took place.

A military report shows that at 8.24pm on June 27 a local RUC district inspector was concerned that serious trouble may erupt in the area.

“DI (district inspector) is worried about the situation in east Belfast. Worried that all the work done in the last year will be destroyed in one night,” the log read.

“DI feels that something may well develop (very quickly) in Ballymacarrett to relieve the situation in west and central Belfast.”

Later that night a similar report confirms that at 10.06pm two Catholic men met with the DI and warned there would be trouble between10.30pm and 4am

“Two men are people the police vouch for,” the report concludes.

At 11.35 police reported that shots had been fired in Seaforde St and that several people were injured.

At exactly 12.30am the RUC reported “fire from snipers at St Matthews Chapel, Bryson Street, onto Newtownards Road."

At 1.41 it was reported by police that a man was lying injured in the grounds of St Matthew's Church.

At 2.37am the records show that the RUC were talking to a Protestant crowd at Bryson street while the British army launched what appears to be 31 CS gas cannisters at the church.

“C/S gas now in church with limited success. Crowd now happy,” it reads.

At 2.51am the log confirms that “30 CS carts into the church.”

It has also emerged that two men were arrested in the Short Strand area and a weapon and ammunition seized after a tip-off.

The logs reported that during the operation three men got away and that a .32 Colt and 71 rounds were recovered.

Another entry at 8.24 the next morning also discusses an arms find.

This is believed to relate to the same location as the earlier entry.

The arrests were made in the Madrid Street/Bryson Street area and two Thompson machine guns, a British army issue SLR (Self Loading Rifle) a Browning automatic pistol and five shotguns were recovered.