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Remarried widow fights to restore pension 39 years after IRA killed her UDR husband

By Rebecca Black

Published 24/02/2016

Eileen Johnston, her daughter Serena Hamilton, and granddaughter Danielle, visit David Graham’s grave
Eileen Johnston, her daughter Serena Hamilton, and granddaughter Danielle, visit David Graham’s grave
Eileen and children Alan, Serena and Derek at the Cenotaph
David Graham

A Tyrone pensioner whose husband was murdered by the IRA has made an emotive appeal to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to restore her war widow's pension.

Eileen Johnston's first husband, UDR Corporal David Graham, died at the hands of the IRA aged 38 in 1977.

Mrs Johnston (73) and their three children received a war widow's pension for a number of years until she remarried, after which it was stopped.

The Dungannon woman told the Belfast Telegraph she was made to feel as if she had done something wrong.

Her plea came as English woman Susan Rimmer started a similar campaign.

Mrs Rimmer's first husband, Private James Lee, of the 1st Battalion the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, was killed by a bomb in Northern Ireland in July 1972.

Her war widow's pension was also cut off when she remarried.

In 2014, war widows' pensions were restored to the spouses of RUC officers who were killed but who went on to remarry.

Now, victims organisation Innocent Victims United has joined the Justice for War Widows campaign on behalf of UDR widows who were stripped of their pensions.

Mrs Johnston said she felt the anomaly was wrong and should be immediately rectified.

"My initial response to the issue of my widow's pension being withheld is that I never wanted to be a widow and it is not my fault that I lost my husband," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"The responsibility for that lies with the terrorists who shot and murdered my husband while he was working as a civilian in a factory in Coalisland.

"Corporal David Graham was shot by the IRA in Mastock factory in Coalisland on March 15, 1977. He lived for 10 days and died of his injuries .

"It is unfair to allow some widows to retain their war widows' pension after they remarried, while at the same time not allowing some others to keep theirs. This is wrong and adds to the injustice many widows and their families feel about a lack of justice which surrounds their murder, especially those who served with the UDR in Northern Ireland.

"I feel like I have done something wrong. My husband served the community to help protect everyone, and I feel that this pension issue is also a lack of respect towards him and his children, Derek, Serena and Alan, who continue to suffer from the horror of David's murder almost 39 years on.

"The murder of David Graham was wrong and this war widows' pension anomaly is also wrong. I reluctantly have to say this is a shame on the MoD, and it is a mystery how or why they think a difference should be made among war widows."

Innocent Victims United spokesman Kenny Donaldson said that the group knew of a number of UDR widows in Northern Ireland who have similarly lost their pensions.

"We are aware of a number of cases where the wives of UDR soldiers murdered in Northern Ireland have fallen foul of existing MoD rules, which state that any war widow who remarried between 1973 and 2005 cannot claim the war widows' pension that is rightfully theirs, but those who remarried before or after these arbitrary dates can," Mr Donaldson said.

"Those women who remarried between 1973 and 2005 are effectively being treated as pariahs.

"There is no right or wrong, and it is important to understand that for those who do remarry, that does not change the heartache that they suffered in losing a husband, who they will continue to grieve for, whether they are remarried or not".

Mr Donaldson also called for the law to be changed, criticising it as "unjust".

The MoD was contacted for a response to this article.

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