Henry (“Harry”) Gow is in a unique position to write a comprehensive account of the undercover war in Ireland from the British perspective. Harry is the best-selling author of the ‘SAS memoir’ Killing Zone (writing as Harry McCallion, 1995, Bloomsbury). Killing Zone stands out among the other major memoirs of the 1990s for its unflinchingly honest portrayal of the brutality of life in the Special Forces and its refusal to fetishise or glamourise the business of killing. This kind of honesty is essential for the writing of a history of undercover operations during the Troubles.
Harry’s own career and personal experiences give him a unique insight into, and knowledge of, the actions and operations that took place in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1998. Harry joined the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in 1970, deploying to Northern Ireland for the first time just a few months out of training. He served three tours in the province between 1970 and 1972, the period that saw the formation of the Military Reaction Force (MRF) and the first shots fired in the undercover war. After a fourth tour in 1973, Harry passed the second ever selection course for the newly-formed 14 Intelligence Company (‘The Det’). Harry returned to 2 Para and served a further three tours in the province between 1974 and 1977.
From 1977 to the end of 1979, Harry served in the South African Special Forces, fighting in the bloody battles of the bush wars first as a member of 2 Recce Commando and then later as a founding member of the seaborne 4 Recce Commando. When Harry returned to the UK, he reenlisted in the British Army and immediately took and passed SAS selection. Harry was badged and posted to A Squadron in early 1980, just in time to return to Northern Ireland for the last ever Squadron-level tour. Shortly after, Harry moved to B Squadron, where he served the rest of his 6 year career with the Regiment. During this period Harry was twice part of the regiment’s Anti-Terrorism Team (the second time as second in command of the Entry and Assault Team). He took part in dozens of operations in Northern Ireland, including serving on a secondment to the Det in 1983.
In 1985, after 15 years in the military, Harry took the decision to leave in order both to widen his career possibilities and to continue his own ‘private deployment’ in Northern Ireland. Harry joined the RUC in August and spent the next five years policing Belfast and the border districts. During this time Harry received two commendations for bravery, served six months plainclothes with CID and passed the Sergeant’s exam. Harry’s life in the RUC and as a permanent resident of Northern Ireland gave him a new, more balanced, perspective on the conflict, as well as broadening his social circle to take in well-placed sources in the Police, including in Special Branch. A serious car crash ended Harry’s active service career and he was discharged from the RUC on medical grounds in 1992.
Harry’s personal experience of the conflict in Northern Ireland gives him an unparalleled insight into the roles and lives of soldiers, the Special Forces, Det operators, and the police in the fight against republican paramilitary organisations. Just as importantly, the strong professional and social bonds Harry developed throughout his military and police careers give him direct access to first-hand accounts of almost every significant operation to take place in the province between 1970 and 1998.
After his accident, Harry returned to live in Hereford while he recovered and began his study of the law. Harry is now a highly successful barrister based in the North West of England, where he works in the civil and criminal courts. 15 years of legal experience have helped hone Harry’s forensic eye for the important details in a story, as well as for the implications of questionable actions and ambiguous events. The focus of Harry’s legal career is holding the authorities to account, in particular through pursuing cases of police brutality and the infringement of rights. This willingness to question the official line brings a fresh and open honesty to Harry’s writing about Northern Ireland.
In summary, Harry Gow is a practised writer with an incisive, questioning mind and a close eye for detail. He has a unique personal experience of the conflict in Northern Ireland as well as access to an unparalleled range of first-hand sources. Harry is the ideal person to write the definitive account of the undercover war from the British perspective.