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Left to deal with trauma from the Troubles

 

Battle zone: the suffering caused by the Troubles goes on
Battle zone: the suffering caused by the Troubles goes on
The Maze prison
Nurses saw many horrific cases
The unforgiving: Samuel Malcolmson could not work as a policeman again because of his injuries
Rev David Latimer

Five extracts from Gladys Ganiel’s moving book, Considering Grace: Presbyterians and the Troubles

The murdered RUC man's mother — ‘I just leave it up tothe day of judgement’

Jane's son, Alan, was a policeman. He was murdered on duty when he was just 25-years-old. "The police sent out a welfare man after he was murdered. We laughed at the stupid questions he asked: 'How do you feel on Remembrance Sunday?' Sure, every day is Remembrance Day. People who haven't come through it don't know what it's like."

Jane feels Alan's loss just as much now, perhaps even more. "On Father's Day in church, you see his friends there with their families.

"You see the children riding down the road with their daddies in the tractors. That hurts. We have lost the next generation. Nothing was ever the same from when he died. You go through life, but there's not the same joy in it."

The minister, elders and others from Jane's congregation and community visited regularly. "People called with us for ages and ages after. Our Catholic neighbours, too. There is more of a bond in the country, so there is."

There is a memorial for Alan in her church. "That will be there when we're all gone." There is another memorial in the location where he died. "The Catholic priest was there when they dedicated it."

The minister who was the Moderator when Alan died has stayed in touch, which means a lot. "It's been some 25 years but he came up on a Sunday to our church not so terribly long ago and he visited the grave and took a photograph of the headstone."

Each year on Remembrance Day, there's a wreath laid at Alan's memorial in the church. During the service, the congregation sings, 'Be Still My soul, the Lord is on Thy Side'. In the years after Alan's death, Jane got through by praying and thinking about the words of that hymn. "At night, when things were dark and you would have liked to cry, you thought: Lord, be still my soul. Before you came to the end of it, you would have calmed down."

No-one was ever arrested for Alan's murder. Jane has no desire to learn the identity of his killer.

"Alan's gone and me knowing who killed him isn't going to ease the burden in any way. I wouldn't like to be there when he's meeting his Maker.

"I wouldn't want to be with him on his deathbed, either. He'll think about it, for everybody has a conscience. Through my faith I know there will be a day of judgement and he'll have to answer for it.

"For him to truly repent I think he would have to come here first of all, and meet whoever belongs to Alan."

Jane blamed the Rev Ian Paisley for stirring up the hatred that led to her son's death.

"If Paisley had been more Christian, I don't think Alan would be dead today. I think the Troubles would have gotten nowhere and there wouldn't have been so many lives lost.

"And then, when he got to the top, he sat down with a murderer. Whereas the likes of Gerry Fitt - he was a good man - but he wouldn't have given him the time of day."

Jane's late husband wanted to know who murdered their son. "Maybe my faith was stronger. I just leave it up to the day of judgement."

 

The seriously injured RUC man — ‘If you forgive, ministers will nearly give you a clap on the back... but there’s no forgiveness in me’

Samuel Malcolmson, a police officer, was seriously injured in an IRA gun attack. He knows who shot him, but he was never prosecuted.

"On the second day down at the hospital, my mother dropped dead at my bedside. She was 48 years of age. I've often wanted to say to him: 'When you shot us, did you feel any remorse when you realised my mum dropped dead at my bedside, or did you feel great? I got two for the price of one.'" Samuel was in hospital for a year and his family's minister brought his father to visit. "But ministers since then, they think, 'I don't need to do anything'."

His wife Gayus recalled: "I went to church on Sundays and I took the children to church. But I can honestly say that the minister, nobody from the church, ever asked how we coped, or offered help." Samuel added: "At the same time, some congregations in the Presbyterian Church did stand by us, and helped us financially."

Samuel continued: "This is a problem I have with church: ministers will come and, if you forgive (the perpetrator), you nearly get a clap on the back: 'Good, you've moved on.' I have moved on, but no way will I ever forgive. If he wants forgiveness, let him come and ask me. There's no forgiveness in me, but it doesn't stop me from moving on." Samuel could not work again because of his injuries. He joined a group for wounded police. Some churches have hosted this group for special services or talks.

He recalled speaking in one church and explaining how members of the security forces were "living a lie" by instructing their children to conceal their parents' occupations.

"The minister in that particular congregation interrupted me. He said: 'You need to explain more.' I just happened to look round and five or six people stood up and there were two or three police officers, a prison officer and a UDR man. I looked round at the Rev, indicating that these people maybe want to say something. Each of those people said: 'He is right, we're living a lie.' That minister apologised to me and said: 'Sorry, I'm out of touch.' He didn't even realise members of his own congregation had to live a lie and security force people are still living that lie."

Gayus recalled that while there were prayers in their congregation for people who were injured: "There was never any in-depth consideration of why things were happening." She had questions that have not been answered. "How do bad things happen if God has a plan? There was no explanation from a minister or anybody as to why (atrocities) were allowed to happen. I believe in Christian beliefs and Christian ideals, but I couldn't honestly say I believe God has a plan."

Samuel and Gayus thought PCI had been "silent" about victims. They were hurt when Rev. David Latimer from First Derry Presbyterian publicly befriended Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, speaking at a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in 2011 and at McGuinness' funeral in 2017. McGuinness had been an IRA member in Londonderry. Samuel said: "You don't win any support among victims by getting up there and saying Martin McGuinness was a saint, or words to that effect. If Latimer realised just how damaging that performance on television was to victims, I think he would hang his head in shame. Those that gave their lives and suffered were the real peacemakers."

 

The police officer whose father was murdered - ‘When Rev Latimer described Martin McGuinness as near to a saint, it was like a knife going through my heart’

David joined the RUC when he was 18 and served 34 years, ending his career in the PSNI. Other members of his family served in the security forces. His father was shot dead as he returned home after UDR training. "I remember every minute of what happened. I remember going to identify him and half his head blown off. It's something you don't forget. I am aware of the people who did it, members of the PIRA, and I believe I know the person who ordered it be done."

His father's killers were never prosecuted. "When you look at some of these politicians, and I know that some of them were involved in terrorism - it's difficult. You hear people now talking on the news, saying the RUC were part of the problem. I didn't join to be part of the problem, I joined because I wanted to serve the community."

His wife Violet added: "Your worry is that when the history of this is all written, the RUC will be put in the same bracket as the paramilitaries, the terrorists." David agreed: 'I wasn't a combatant, I was a police officer."

David's mother was a widow for 31 years and from the day her husband was murdered, she never spoke his name. A decade after his death, David and Violet took out their wedding album to look at with his mother, hoping that the photographs of her husband in it would encourage her to talk about him. Violet said: "It came to a photo with him in it and she just turned the page. No comment. It came to the group photograph at the end of the album, and she started pointing to this one and that one and saying something about them.

"She pointed to some and said they had died. David pointed to his dad and said, 'Mum, what about that man there?' She just turned to David and looked him straight in the eye and said, 'It's a long time since I've seen him'. That was it. She never, ever mentioned it again. That was heart-breaking."

David was initially angry about his father's murder, but this subsided after a few months. Violet said: "We were taught the difference between right and wrong. You knew in your heart of hearts, going out and looking for revenge was not the Christian way to do things. We were taught to turn the other cheek."

Unlike many police families, David and Violet told their children what their father's job was and said not to conceal it from their friends. Violet said: "We always thought what if, God forbid, anything happened to David when he was out on duty and then I had told them that daddy was a postman for example. I was going to have to turn round and tell them I'd been lying all along."

David worked long hours, but Violet received support from their congregation and other police wives. She said: "That support did help, but it was still scary. One Christmas Eve, I had to do Santa Claus because he was out working. I can remember me sitting looking at the hands of the clock and praying: 'Lord, just let us get to Christmas Day with nothing happening.' And watching the hands go from twelve into Christmas morning and thanking God that we'd got to Christmas and nothing had happened. I did have my faith to call on. But prayers weren't always answered."

David and Violet thought that some in PCI did not fully understand the experiences of victims and those who worked in the security forces. Violet believed that during the Troubles, Presbyterian leaders in the Republic should have pressured their government to pursue paramilitaries who had fled across the border. David recalled attending a function and speaking with a former Moderator. "He found out my father was killed. He asked me about a particular member of Sinn Fein and I told him what I thought. He whispered in my ear and said: "You're too close to it." I thought: 'Isn't that an awful thing to say?' He wanted me to forget about this man's past." Violet added: "That person had not experienced what David had experienced. I think if he had experienced it, he wouldn't have said that."

They were also upset by what Rev David Latimer said at Martin McGuinness' funeral. David said: "It was just like a knife going through my heart when I heard the Rev Latimer describe Martin McGuinness as near to a saint. It really was, to the point that I could have left the church at that stage. I phoned Church House (PCI headquarters) about that because I thought it was an awful, awful statement."

Violet agreed, "We were hoping Church House would say something (in response to Latimer) but that never really did come." David reflected: "It might be easier for people to reconcile who weren't directly involved.

"Whenever people talk about reconciliation, I think about the people that were killed on the border because they were supposedly touts.

"I remember going and lifting their bodies and seeing cigarette burns on their faces and a hole in their head.

"How do you reconcile with people who do that? I've no issue with reconciliation. But it'll be reconciliation without forgetting what happened."

 

The terrorist's wife — ‘The paramilitaries were more supportive than the Presbyterian Church’

Claire's husband was imprisoned for paramilitary offences, leaving her with a three-month-old son. "The paramilitaries came to me with a turkey every Christmas. I know it's only a token thing, but the church never was there. They never came with anything, not even to talk to you. The paramilitaries were more supportive than the Presbyterian Church."

Claire went to Presbyterian Sunday School, was married in the church, and had her son baptised there. She did not attend regularly in the early part of her marriage, but the minister visited after her husband was imprisoned. He did not offer support.

She said: "He started shouting and saying: 'He was standing in my church. I married him. Not so long ago he stood in my church and I christened his son. How dare he!' He said to me: 'You change your name and you change that child's name, and don't you ever have nothing to do with him ever again.' Then he prayed and he went away.

"I never seen him again. I wouldn't have went near him if I was dying, if he was going to save my life. His attitude wasn't Christian for starters. it wasn't even a human attitude."

Claire continued: "He was just angry that this terrorist had the cheek to come into church.

"But Jesus would welcome people like that with open arms. Coming to church could change their lives.

"But not if they get shouted at and bawled at the way minsters did in them days.

"My sister and I, the minister we had when we were young, we were afraid of him, so we were. But it's not like that now, so it's not."

Claire grew up in a religiously mixed estate. When the Troubles began, her family were forced to leave. "We were intimidated. They were going to set the whole place on fire. That's just what happened on both sides in those days." The congregation she was part of then disbanded. "It was within the war zone."

When she moved, the congregations in her new area helped people who had lost their homes by bringing them supplies.

Claire recognised that people who attended church regularly, and had relatives in prison for paramilitary offences, received some support from ministers and congregations.

She also appreciated the Quakers, who ran a cafe for the prison visitors. Claire worked in a religiously mixed environment, and the Troubles impacted relationships with Catholics there. People withdrew into groups of their own religious background and avoided each other.

"You just wanted to be on your Protestant side. If I had been a Christian then, I might have been different. I might have tried to be a peacemaker and talk to people."

Claire described herself now as having given her life to God. "It's one of my prayers that no matter what religion you are, people should respect that and just let you get on with it.

"I don't know if reconciliation would be the right word, because they'll never be able to trust each other in this country.

"I hope this country never goes back to where we were, because there were so many lives ruined, so many lives lost senselessly."

 

The nurse - 'I can understand the civil rights movement but not the violence'

Liz started nursing in the Royal in 1975. "By the time I started, the big, big bombs were trailing off a little bit - it wasn't just as awful." But her duties still could be harrowing, especially when she worked in casualty.

"I remember (an incident) when the doors flung open and there was two soldiers. Both had been shot in the head. One died in the main room. I remember hushed tones that he was gone. I still feel emotional about it - even today. The other fella, I remember standing packing the gunshot wound with gauze, packing the side of his head that was messy. At the time it was okay, you just got on with it. His hand brushed against mine when we were moving him from the trolley, and he had a wedding ring on and I remember thinking: 'His wife has no idea where he is at the minute. She has no idea what's happening to him.' That actually felt like a privilege that I was there to try and do my wee bit to help. Then I went up with him to theatre and he died there."

Liz felt "ashamed" that British soldiers were required to guard the Royal. "I remember walking past them and feeling ashamed of us - of Northern Ireland people - that were taking these lives."

She worked with nurses of all backgrounds. They didn't talk about politics, or even about what they were experiencing.

"There was no talk about Catholic/Protestant/IRA. It was an unwritten policy that you just got on with it. There was no talk of us getting counselling for the things we saw or did. It was the nature of the work - you were busy and then the next day came and there was something else to do, so you didn't spend a long time reflecting on things."

Her faith helped. "It was a case of walking your Christian path and living your Christian life. I've found the Lord a great source of comfort. Not that there was a whole lot of answers to questions, but just to know He was in control. My Christianity was a great help to me for day-to-day living. I don't know how girls that wouldn't have been Christians got through it."

Liz has no sympathy for the IRA, but she has studied Irish history and gained a greater understanding of "British imperialism, and how they lorded it over the Irish people". She said Ulster Protestants had treated Catholics unfairly, adding: "I can understand the civil rights movement, but not the violence. With self-examination comes an understanding that you're not always right and maybe there's somebody else can have an element of truth on their side too.

"Now, from a Christian point of view, I can see how our kingdom isn't Protestant or Catholic, Britain or Ireland.

"Our kingdom is God's kingdom. So, if it was a united Ireland and the Gospel was free to move around, that would be okay."

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