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Cpl Dent gets his gloves back after 43 years

Welcome to the Orihuela Costa and District Branch of The Royal British Legion

Patrick Coffey was a young soldier in The 1st Battalion of the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire.  To save space and ink, we’ll use its short title, 1PWO.

Patrick worked in Battalion Headquarters, as a clerk.  Torrevieja resident and member of the Orihuela Costa Branch of the Royal British Legion, Brian Dent was a Local Corporal in the Mortar Platoon of 1PWO.  In the normal course of Regimental life, their paths would not have crossed.  Fate decided to intervene, however, in that, as a precautionary measure, the Battalion were ordered, as the UK Spearhead Unit, to move to Northern Ireland.

The Battalion was billeted at “Ballykinler Weekend Training Camp”, normally used for the Territorial Army.  Brian Dent was left behind, in Colchester, to complete an education course but despite being on an external course Brian was purloined to be the guard commander,

Brian’s guard comprised himself, plus a dozy Lance Corporal from the Regimental Band as 2i/c, and one private soldier as “the guard”.  It might not have been a problem, except that there were 13 inmates, all rounded up by various constabularies earlier in the day. Unfortunately the said dozy flautist wasn’t watching the “Dirty Dozen + one” as they ate breakfast.  Soon they were the “Dirty Dozen” as number 13 “legged it” out of a window.  Brian was demoted to Lance Corporal, which technically, he was anyway.

He subsequently finished and passed the course for promotion!  It was later found that he was actually exempt from doing the course, as his “Selective Service Grading” was sufficient for promotion!  Brian and several others made their way to Ballykinler, via Liverpool Street station, which he knew well from his days as a fireman on the locomotives based at Stratford, East London.  Onwards they went, to Liverpool, and an overnight crossing to Belfast, thence to Ballykinler.

After guarding electricity sub stations, water reservoirs and sundry other public utilities, the Battalion was ordered to move to the north of Ulster, in preparation for possible unrest in Londonderry.  As Brian had been one of several in the Mortar Platoon to have travelled to Magilligan Point, he was tasked to take a convoy there.

Leading the convoy, on 18th June 1969, in pouring rain, Brian’s party rounded a bend, and entered the town of Ballymoney.  The scene witnessed, by Brian, was one of devastation.  A 4 ton Bedford S type had seemingly spun on the wet tarmac, tossed its occupants out and half demolished a shop.  After a quick appraisal, the convoy continued its journey whilst Brian and his driver assessed the scene.  The driver, of the Bedford, and its occupants were all clerks from Battalion HQ.  Some were walking around in a daze.  No change there then, he thought.  However there was one of them totally inert, trapped under the tailboard, which had parted company with the truck.  He didn’t look pretty, having suffered multiple breaks and fractures to all limbs.

Worse was to come when Brian looked at his head.  His skull had been sliced open and completely detached. One could see the inner lining, the Meninges.   The occupants of the shop, whose home and business had been almost destroyed, were hanging out from an upstairs window.  Brian urged them to call an ambulance, but they were more concerned about the state of their abode, as one would expect!  Eventually an ambulance arrived, staffed by a driver and a nurse.  The nurse assumed control, until Brian flipped open Patrick’s skull, to show her his injuries. She fainted!

Brian, his driver and the ambulance driver, lifted Patrick and the nurse into the ambulance which set off for the nearest hospital with Patrick sporting a new hairpiece; one Brian’s military woollen gloves, brown, soldier for the use of, and now steeped in blood, holding his skull together.

Brian didn’t hear anything further of Patrick and assumed that he had gone to the great garrison in the heavens.  It was a hectic period that saw 1PWO moving into Londonderry to separate the rival factions.  The battalion was there for 2 weeks before being relieved and flown back to take up residence in Colchester.  The battalion then moved to Cyprus so Corporal Dent, and family, went to Episkopi & Dhekelia, with Support Company of 1PWO.

Back now to Patrick who finally woke some 3 months later in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.  He was on the critically injured list, where a board at the foot of his bed listed the major events that had happened while he was in his coma, including the first landing on the moon.  He was later transferred to the “Military Wing” at Musgrave Park Hospital where he stayed for several months.  He was transferred to the “Royal Herbert Military Hospital” at Woolwich, South East London where he stayed there for another several months prior to moving to RAF Rehabilitation Centres at Chessington & Headley Court, for rebuilding his physical and mental state.  He was there, receiving treatment and rehabilitation, for almost 2 years.

Patrick was eventually moved to Colchester Military Hospital.  Following his discharge from hospital he managed a fairly full career, including a posting to Kenya, Kahawa Barracks, and got married in 1978.  He was retired on medical grounds in 1991. He and his wife had two sons, with Patrick having custody upon their divorce in 1992.

Some years later Brian was at the Annual Sergeants’ Dining Club of The Prince of Wales’s own Regiment of Yorkshire.  This event was open to any Sergeants, of any Arms or Corps, who had served as a sergeant or warrant officer, in the 1st or 3rd Battalion of the Regiment. He was still unaware that Patrick was back in the land of the living.

At the dinner, Brian was in conversation with a colleague who had served with Brian in Oman.  On asking where he was billeted the response was, “At the Fulford Arms, down the road, along with Patrick Coffey”.  Patrick was indeed at the dinner, where Brian had great delight at meeting up with him once again, however he casually made mention of the fact that he had left an army glove stuck to Patrick’s head, and could he have it back!

Patrick was the first soldier of the battalion to be awarded the “General Service Medal, Northern Ireland”.  This was because the Battalion were relieved in the line after 2 weeks in Londonderry while 21 days on operations were required for eligibility!

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The photograph shows Patrick (right) presenting a new pair of military gloves to Brian Dent in the Leader Newspaper offices in La Zenia 43 years later, in 2012

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