Obituary: John Potter (C1 1939-43)

Henry John Furniss Potter, always known as John, has died aged 93 on 17 February 2019 at the Somme Nursing Home in Belfast.

He was born in Ilkley, Yorkshire, on 4 July 1925, following his father, uncles and older brother, David, into C1.

Following Marlborough, John enlisted, aged 18, in the Royal Artillery in Belfast in 1943 on a University Short Course at Queen’s University, Belfast. He served as a Gunner in 25 Training Regiment at Marske-by-Sea on the North Yorkshire coast, training on 5.5” medium guns, before being commissioned in November 1943 from 123 Officer Cadet Training Unit based at Catterick.

Immediately posted to India – the fourth generation of his family to serve there – John arrived by troopship at Bombay (now Mumbai) on Victory-in-Europe (VE) Day on 8 May 1945. On arrival he was attached to the 1st Indian Medium Regiment, equipped with 5.5” guns, whose soldiers were Madrassis. The Regiment had begun embarking for the invasion of Malaya when the Japanese surrendered and the only element of the Regiment to participate in the landings on the west coast of Malaya was the REME Light Aid Detachment!

John remained with the same Regiment until 1947, subsequently serving in Madras, Secunderabad, Nowshera, Peshawar and in Bihar, by which time partition had led to the creation of Pakistan. On Independence Day, 15 August 1947, John was serving with his Troop in Razmak on the North West Frontier, detached from their Regiment. His Indian soldiers, who were mainly Hindu, were about as far away from home in Madras and as far inside the newly created Pakistan as was possible. Those months in Razmak provided John with the only opportunity during nearly fifty years service to fire in anger, when his Troop engaged the camel gun belonging to the notorious Faqir of Ipi, whilst it was shelling Miram Shah, the administrative headquarters for North Wazirastan, on what is now the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The target was at the extreme range of the 5.5” guns and involved using ‘Super Charge’ giving them a range of 18,000 years.

Meanwhile, whilst John and his Troop were in Razmak, the 1st Indian Medium Regiment had moved to Bihar and the Troop followed, having handed-over its guns to a Pakistani Medium Artillery Troop. He remembered the handover being somewhat acrimonious and John later took a certain malicious pleasure on hearing that the Faqir of Ipi’s gun had shelled Razmak a few days later, coving the Pakistani Troop Commander in soot when one of the shells hit the roof of the Officers’ Mess!

John’s Troop had next to escort a refugee train from Rawalpindi to Amritsar. By then the appalling sectarian slaughter following Partition had almost stopped and the journey was without violent incident. During a break in New Delhi, John attended one of Mahatma Ghandi’s prayer meetings in Birla House.

John left India in December 1947 with an abiding admiration for his Madrassi soldiers, who, though not generally regarded as the traditional military backbone of the old Indian Army, had remained loyal to their officers to the last. Along with the Ghurkhas, the Madrassi soldiers could be relied upon to conduct internal security duties without favouring one side or the other.

After serving in 34 Training Regiment in Rhyl, North Wales, and 60 Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) Regiment in Palace Barracks, Holywood, John was posted to 71 HAA Regiment in Fayid, Egypt in June 1952, initially as a Troop Commander in 187 Battery, and then as the Adjutant. He was then responsible for running down the Regiment, leaving a few weeks before its final disbandment, as he had obtained a Competitive Entry to the Army Staff College in Camberley, Surrey, attending the course in 1956.

After Staff College he was a Grade 3 staff officer in Military Operations 5 in the War Office (now the Ministry of Defence), where his branch was responsible for the defence of the UK mainland during the abortive campaign by the IRA in the 1950s. After two years in the War Office he was posted in 1958 to 50 HAA Regiment in Troon, on the west coast of Scotland, followed by being selected as the Brigade Major 1st Artillery Brigade in Dortmund, West Germany, which was equipped with CORPORAL tactical nuclear missiles and included two US missile battalions under operational control.

From Dortmund, John next moved down the road to Paderborn, where he was a Battery Commander in 24 Missile Regiment, although he commanded a battery of 7.2” howitzers, capable of firing nuclear shells. After commanding a battery, John returned to staff, as the Grade 2 staff officer in the NATO Northern Army Group (NORTHAG), followed then by two years in the Defence Operations Analysis Establishment at West Byfleet in Surrey. From there he returned to BAOR as DAAG Headquarters Rhine Area in Dusseldorf, where he was able to indulge his love of opera by regularly attending the local opera house.

John retired in October 1970, returning home to Northern Ireland. He almost immediately joined the newly formed Ulster Defence Regiment in a full-time capacity, becoming the Adjutant and Operations Officer of the 3rd (County Down) Battalion (3 UDR) based at Ballykinler. For a second time in his career he came under fire when the IRA mortared the camp.

On his retirement from 3 UDR, John was appointed the Regimental Secretary for the UDR, based in Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn, which he did for seven years, finally retiring in January 1992. He then spent the next eight years writing the history of the Ulster Defence Regiment “Testimony to Courage” published in September 2001. This was followed by a second book ‘Scarce Heard Amid the Guns’ in 2013 about his father’s experiences during the First World War.

He was Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Co Down.