Members of the Ulster Defence Regiment were particularly vulnerable during the troubles in Northern Ireland. They lived in the local community and when not on duty were a soft target for terrorist groups, living in ordinary houses, going to work by car along the streets etc. Regular soldiers were protected behind high fences and lived in barracks when on a tour of Ulster, the UDR had to live normal lives. Added to this there was more political capital to be made by murdering members of the UDR as it helped sow fear into the local community and discouraged others from joining the regiment. As such members of the UDR were recognised as needing protection off duty. This took the form of increased security procedures, permission to carry personal side arms in day to day life and special body armour that could be worn under every day clothing and offered some protection without being too obvious. It is an example of this concealed body armour we are looking at today. The armour is fitted into a pale cream cover which helps it appear less visible when worn under a light coloured shirt:
The armour cover is of a wraparound design so there are strips of Velcro on the front. The neck is adjusted to size, then the armour put on over the head before the sides are pulled across and secured to hold it snuggly to the body:
By contrast the rear face of the cover is entirely plain:
The cover has a simple label sewn into it which indicates that it is specifically for the UDR:
The armour itself has been purchased form the civilian market and this large label shows one of the panels was manufactured back in 1982 by Highmark:
Note the different calibres of ammunition it is rated for- it will stop a pistol round but not a rifle bullet. Interestingly the other panel was produced by Bristol Armour, indicating that the contracts were placed with multiple manufacturers and the finished panels were interchangeable:
These vests were some of the first widely issued and used sets of concealable armour used by British forces and although it is impossible to know how many lives they might have saved, it was certainly better than the alternative. Modern body armour is lighter and more effective but for the time these vests would have been revolutionary and at least offered a chance of survival to targeted members of the Ulster Defence Regiment.