Sir Mike Penning MP: My former Captain, Robert Nairac GC, paid with his life and ensured the peace that Northern Ireland enjoys today
Former Grenadier Guardsman Sir Mike Penning MP writes about the abduction and murder of his former Captain, Robert Nairac GC, who was murdered by the IRA 41 years ago, and whose body has never been found.
It is widely accepted that on Saturday evening 14th May 1977 Captain Robert Nairac GC was undercover drinking and singing Republican folk songs in the Three Steps Inn in Dromintee, south Armagh. He was posing as a Catholic from the Ardoyne area of north Belfast.
As he left the bar at the end of the night, he was attacked in the car park and abducted. It is pretty much accepted that he was tortured before being brutally murdered by the IRA. The IRA later put out a statement saying he had been shot. Despite wide-ranging searches at the time, his body has never been found. He was 28.
On 15th May this year I raised a Point of Order in the House of Commons to mark the 41st anniversary of the murder. Captain Nairac was serving as a liaison officer for military intelligence when he was murdered, although it appears he was working very much on his own on the night in question.
Robert Nairac wasn’t in any way a typical Guards officer. He was a Catholic, born in Mauritius, of Anglo/French/Mauritian descent. I knew him well, not least because he was the first of many to break my nose. When I came to know him, he had just been transferred from the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards based in Hong Kong to our company - 3 Company 1st Battalion based at Chelsea Barracks. On arrival in 3 Company, he started a new boxing club in the gym and many of the young soldiers signed up. He was a very good boxer, having boxed at Ampleforth, and having earned a boxing blue at Oxford. He was very down to earth; if you caught him with a good punch, he would often acknowledge it later in the evening by leaving several pints on the bar of the NAFFI!
As a soldier, Robert Nairac is best described as a soldier’s soldier; one minute leaving my nose in a mess, the next dishing out military discipline. As he was my Captain in 3 Company, I seemed to be on the receiving end of both all too often. He had a real presence and to us troops was a great Captain and we would follow him anywhere.
When we deployed to Northern Ireland in 1975 though, he wasn’t with us. By then, he had moved to another unit also in Northern Ireland.
It is often reported that he was either unbelievably brave or incredibly reckless. Without doubt, he was certainly a bit of a maverick. It appears that on that fateful night he was acting purely alone, without the army knowing what he was doing or where he was, but I don’t buy the notion that he was reckless. He was far too clever and calculating to be that. Just as with his boxing, he would have carefully calculated the risks of what he was doing and weighed them against the need for intelligence. On that fateful night in May 1977, however, he paid with his life.
To this day nobody has come forward to tell us all what happened to him. The cowards who, almost certainly, tortured him following his abduction and then murdered him in cold blood, know where he lies.
He, and so many others, gave so much for the peace that Northern Ireland enjoys today. But for Captain Robert Nairac’s family, there cannot be any true peace until they know the truth and can lay him to rest.
To me, he was most definitely an incredibly brave young man. Isn’t it time my former Captain can rest in peace?
Rt Hon Sir Mike Penning is the Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead