Belfast Telegraph

A special birthday gift for bus bomb soldier from woman who saved him

By Rebecca Black

An Ulster woman who tended on the roadside to a soldier injured in the Ballygawley bus bombing has written him a touching poem to celebrate a landmark birthday they once feared he would never see.

Grace Curry nursed a seriously injured James Leatherbarrow on her lap in August 1988 after the IRA detonated a 200lb bomb as a coach the soldiers were travelling in passed through Curr in Co Tyrone.

The devastating blast killed eight of James's colleagues. Grace's husband Kingsley - now passed away - was among a group of bandsmen who dragged James from the wreckage. She sat with him trying to keep him talking and conscious until an ambulance arrived.

They were reunited for the first time in 2015 following efforts by the Belfast Telegraph.

A number of bandsmen and women who helped the soldiers on that night attended James's 50th birthday celebrations in Liverpool at the weekend.

Grace presented James with a poem she had written for the occasion on a special mount, illustrated with a photograph of the bomb wreckage.

The poem reflects on "hurt, pain and suffering on that terrible night".

It reads: "We were all crying at the horrible sight.

"We ran to save you all in that dark and lonely road but it was not to be as eight young soldiers never made it that night.

"After great effort we got you off the bus.

"You had a thousand questions and wanted to sleep.

"But we talked about everything even your new leather jacket and friends and family too.

"So stand up tall, your head held high as soldiers like you we want the world to know just what you went through."

She described the birthday celebrations in Liverpool as "a great weekend filled with great people".

Another survivor of the bomb is set to turn 60 next weekend.

The force of the explosion hurled the bus down the road, threw soldiers into fields and left a six-foot crater.

As well as the eight fatalities, 28 were injured.

They had been travelling from Belfast International Airport to their barracks at Lisanelly in Omagh.

Two coaches carrying members of the Omagh Protestant Boys Flute Band and Londonderry's Star of the Valley Band came across the scene and immediately rushed to help the casualties.

James, who was 21 at the time, suffered a broken back and perforated eardrums.

He says the trauma of the bombing has haunted him ever since.

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