Major Mike Coldrick, who has died aged 83, was an expert bomb-disposal operative who at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland played a central role in countering the threat posed by terrorists’ improvised bombs; among his achievements, he is credited with pioneering the use of shotguns to disrupt the detonation mechanisms.
Michael Coldrick was born on May 1 1940 in Sheffield, the only child of John and Kathryn Coldrick. His father was a cinema manager and his job involved periods in Stoke-on-Trent and Chester. Mike (also known as Mick) Coldrick described his parents as loving but with little time for him, and his father was strict to the point of brutality.
John Coldrick died young and Mike’s mother remarried, to a man who managed public houses, so more moves followed. Michael attended in turn Queen’s Park Grammar School in Chester, Firth Park Grammar School in Sheffield and finally Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Mansfield, where after the school day was finished he would work in the forestry section of the nearby Chatsworth estate.
In 1957, aged 17, Mike joined the regular Army. Having been an Army Cadet he was determined to join the infantry, but as he was a grammar-school boy the Army was determined to give him a trade, so he was assigned to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (now part of the Royal Logistics Corps) as a trainee Ammunition Examiner.
Coldrick was the only regular soldier on his course of 30, the remainder being mostly graduates in their early twenties who had deferred their National Service until they had completed their degrees. Being the one regular, he was appointed the course leader, responsible for parading the men on time, turn-out and billets.
It was a daunting task at so young an age, but – an imposing figure at almost 6ft 5in – he accepted the challenge and soon gained the necessary experience and respect. After nine months’ training, they all qualified as Ammunition Examiners and were promoted to full corporal.
Their duties were to inspect, repair, test, investigate ammunition incidents and failures and blow up blinds. The small print of their job description stated that they would “render safe all stray ordnance and infernal machines in public places”, today known as Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs.
His first operational tour, in 1963, was to British Guiana (now Guyana), where civil disturbance had broken out, with riots, murders and occasional bomb incidents. Although junior in rank and experience, Coldrick would be the only explosives expert in the colony and would remain on duty 24/7 throughout his tour.
At the time bomb-disposal operatives had little in the way of specialised equipment, and Coldrick purchased out of petty cash what tools he thought might be useful from a local hardware store.
He defused a number of devices, but such was his innocence at the time that “a sophisticated bomber could have killed me within a month”, as he later remarked.
Although not trained in forensic science, Coldrick was proud to be able to prove, by examining recovered bullet heads and expended cartridge cases, that 19 local militia men charged with the murder of a family could not possibly have killed the victims with their issue Lee Enfield .303 rifles and the men were acquitted.
In January 1972 Coldrick was posted to 321 EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Unit in support of 3 Infantry Brigade and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Lurgan, Co Armagh. The IRA were growing increasingly sophisticated in making IEDs and booby-trapping. Coldrick and his colleagues had to develop tactics and procedures to neutralise the deadly devices.
The price was heavy and the Belfast EOD unit lost three Ammunition Technical Officers (ATOs) killed, and one wounded, during one 14-day period. Coldrick, by now a Warrant Officer, 1st Class, was sent to Belfast as a replacement. He personally dealt with 91 explosive incidents there.
Apart from explosives, another of Coldrick’s great interests was shooting: he competed for both his Corps and for the Army. As a result, one of the innovations for which he is credited was the use of shotguns to disrupt IEDs.
This involved considerable risk because of the need to approach as close as 20 yards to the device or the vehicle in which it might be contained. Had the bomb exploded, Coldrick would have gone with it. The use of shotguns, albeit fired from remote-controlled vehicles, is now standard practice all over the world.
When dealing with one incident Coldrick and his team came under fire from terrorists and were pinned down for five hours in what became a protracted firefight.
Coldrick was Mentioned in Despatches for his work in Co Armagh and Belfast, and in 1973 he was awarded the George Medal. The citation stated: “His cool, calm approaches to car bombs were a constant source of admiration from Security Forces at incidents.” It continued: “His presence and example have been in the finest traditions of the British Army.”
Coldrick was elected the Army Man of the Year 1973.
After service in West Germany he returned to Northern Ireland in 1975 for two years and was involved in weapons and explosives intelligence, including covert operations, for which he was appointed MBE (Military). After a short break he was back in Ulster in a higher rank before being posted to Kuwait as an adviser in 1979.
It was there, in December 1980, that he was injured in an explosion and repatriated to the UK with 55 per cent burns and ruptured eardrums. He was subsequently medically discharged from the Army.
Coldrick had a strong work ethic and a powerful sense of his duty to protect others; he always regarded service in his trade as an honour, and in the words of a comrade, “wore his bravery under his coat”.
He was determined not to waste his considerable experience so he subsequently joined the Metropolitan Police as a bomb-disposal officer and, always a team player, he remained with them, dealing with many explosive incidents, for the next 17 years.
Following retirement from the Met he consulted and trained bomb-disposal officers all over the world and was an adviser to the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, and chairman of the World EOD Foundation.
He married, in 1967, Faye Wildgoose. She predeceased him and he is survived by a daughter and two sons.
Major Mike Coldrick, born May 1 1940, died September 3 2023