Matt McBirney - 1945 - 2008
 
 
Served in 249 Signal Squadron (FARELF) 1967 to 1970
 
 
 
 

Born in Glasgow, raised in the Gorbals Matt McBirney started his Army career in 1962 with Minden Platoon, AAJLR Tonfanau. In 1963 he qualified as a Radio Telegraphist at 24 Signal Regiment in Catterick. Seeking more adventure and excitement Matt volunteered for Airborne Forces. He survived the inevitable 'P' Coy at Maida Barracks, Aldershot and in common with many before him said the subsequent Parachute Course at RAF Abingdon was a welcome relief. In 1964 he joined 216 Parachute Signal Squadron at Ellis Barracks, Farnborough. He hardly had time to unpack before the Squadron deployed to Cyprus for operational duty with UNFICYP. 1964 was to prove a busy year with another operational deployment to Borneo with Patrol Company, 2 PARA. In 1965 he joined 2 PARA again this time for active service in the Radfan - adventure and excitement indeed!

Those of us fortunate to know him will remember Matt as a complete rascal with a legendary sense of humour. Nothing and no-one was sacred - from his early antics in Aldershot impersonating "Dr Kildare" whenever he encountered young QARANC recruits on their first foray into the NAAFI Club - through to the penultimate prize-winning performance that earned him a permanent place in Corps folklore. Not many ride a horse through a Sergeants' Mess and come away unscathed by injury or official retribution let alone with First Prize and the coveted Blue Rosette.

Some would say it was this sense of fun and a few days unsanctioned leave (AWOL) in Blackpool with the late John Angus, (the two of them should have been on a 216 Squadron parachuting exercise), that combined, not in his downfall as you might expect, but in his redemption. How so? Well, following the "Blackpool" incident, the powers-that-be decided Matt needed to "broaden his horizons" and he was posted to Air Support Troop, 249 Signal Squadron (FARELF). There he was to meet Jan Walkingshaw of 4 Company WRAC, a fellow Scot, his future life partner and, given this was exotic Singapore in the 1960s, his undoubted saviour.

Having (some would say) fortuitously survived the exotic Far East Matt, new wife Jan, and first child Lorraine, returned to 216 Signal Squadron in 1971. There followed a Northern Ireland tour to Lurgan with 16 Para Brigade, a Drill Course at Pirbright and numerous para/radio exercises in UK, Norway, Cyprus, Turkey, Sardinia, and Germany. Throughout this time he firmly established himself as an outstanding NCO and a highly experienced radio det commander. Matt excelled at sport, particularly football, and represented the Squadron at Brigade level and the Corps at Army level.

While in Aldershot Matt and Jan were further blessed with a son, Gary. In 1976 when 16 Para Brigade disbanded Matt went as a SSgt to 7 Signal Regiment in BAOR. Promoted WO2 in 1979 he joined Queen's (Belfast) UOTC as PSI. There he endeared himself to his Officer Cadets by hand-painting his ½ ton Land Rover primrose-yellow. "To disguise it from the IRA." he said. In addition a memorable prize-winning skit, during a UOTC's Ex Northern Lights, saw the debut performance of S'arnt Major "Stan Dateese".

His artistically successful UOTC tour was followed in 1981 by a posting as SSM to the newly-formed Junior Signals Regiment at Ousten where he swopped stage footlights for the Drill Square. His last move was to Cyprus in 1983 as RQMS with 9 Signal Regiment at Ayios Nikolias. It was at the end of his final posting he was awarded the aforementioned Corps rosette for "Sergeants' Mess Equitation." Matt retired from the Army in 1985 having completed 24 years regular service.

On leaving the army Matt, Jan and family moved back to Scotland, to Cumbernauld, and a job with Tennant's Brewery. That's right the perfect job, initially driving a beer tanker before moving into Aladdin's Cave itself and a plumb job in the depot. In later years he served briefly with 32 Signal Regiment (V) in Glasgow. In 2007 mobility problems forced him to retire early from full-time work. Both his knees were knackered by years of parachuting and football and he found it both difficult and painful to walk. In spite of this Matt found time to offer comfort and support to Myrtle and Steve Marshall during Steve's final months and later at The Marie Curie Hospice. Myrtle was very grateful for Matt's kindness at this distressing time.

By the end of 2007 NHS Scotland had scheduled Matt for double knee-replacement surgery. In February 2008 he had the first operation which was successful. However a week later he was rushed back into hospital with peritonitis, septicemia and kidney failure. The family were told he might not live through the night. Ever the fighter he did recover and after eight days Intensive Care and five weeks hospital care he was allowed home. Well on the mend he planned a summer cruise with Jan. Tragically, a week after leaving hospital, his heart failed. Matt died peacefully in his sleep on the 23rd March 2008.

A funeral service was held at Falkirk Crematorium on 3rd April attended by his family and scores of friends and work-colleagues. Some old comrades from 216, 244, and 249 Signal Squadrons helped fill the chapel to capacity. There were many floral tributes, sent from near and far, and numerous messages of condolence posted on the Guestbook at http://www.216parasigs.org.uk.

Matt was a devoted husband to Jan with whom he shared 39 happily married years. He was a fond father to Lorraine and Gary, and in latter years a tremendously proud Grandad to Linzie, Dan, and Georgia. Matt will be fondly remembered by his countless friends and comrades throughout Royal Signals and the Airborne. Deepest sympathies are extended to his loving family.

RIP Matt McBirney - a wonderful brother-in-arms - sorely missed and never forgotten.

Authors:
Grumpy Hamilton (Shetland) and Pete Thornton (Australia)
18 April 2008