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Ballygawley coach bomb victim: Now I want to find young bandswoman who helped to save my life

By Rebecca Black

Published 07/10/2015

The wreckage of the coach in which the soldiers were travelling
The wreckage of the coach in which the soldiers were travelling
James Leatherbarrow with his wife Emma
James Leatherbarrow on duty in Fermanagh just a few months before the bus bomb
Eight crosses placed at the side of the road in tribute to those who died in the 1988 attack

James Leatherbarrow wants to find a young bandswoman who saved his life.

Members of Londonderry's Star of the Valley Band were travelling home from Portadown in coaches behind the unmarked bus carrying the soldiers when the Ballygawley bomb went off in August 1988, killing eight.

Mr Leatherbarrow paid tribute to the band members for their help trying to rescue as many of the soldiers on board as possible.

He particularly praised a young girl from the band who nursed him with his head on her lap as he lay seriously injured.

"She kept me alive," he said. "I don't remember too much after the explosion, I was lying trapped under the bus. All I can remember are people lifting the bus up and dragging me out. I had died on the roadside but this young girl put my head on her lap and somehow kept me alive.

"I didn't find out until after that two buses were travelling behind us with the band members. There were a lot of younger children, around 11 and 12 years old, giving us first aid. They were told to stay on the bus but came out to try and help us."

The girl who helped Mr Leatherbarrow is believed to have been just 12 at the time, and is thought to be around 39 now.

The former soldier has met several members of the band but has never found the girl who nursed him. "It'd be really lovely to meet her again and thank her for saving my life," he said.

Lord Maginnis, then a UDR soldier, was among the first on the scene and praised the band members' composure.

"They rallied round to give whatever first aid was possible.

"The men took off their jackets to wrap around the wounded to give them heat and comfort and bandages made from their shorts were used to stop bleeding," he said.

"There were no hysterics, although the young people must have felt very angry and outraged by what they witnessed. I was very proud of their actions and by their self-control under very difficult circumstances."

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