Belfast Telegraph

Ballygawley bus bomb survivor to finally meet sisters who saved him

IRA bombing of bus near Ballygawley in 1988 left eight soldiers dead
IRA bombing of bus near Ballygawley in 1988 left eight soldiers dead
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

A soldier who survived the Ballygawley bus bomb horror has revealed that he is "quite nervous" about meeting two sisters who he believes saved his life.

Private Mike Drew from Bristol, who is now aged 49, was left for dead when the bus on which he was travelling was destroyed by an IRA bomb in the early hours of August 20, 1988.

Eight soldiers aged between 18 and 21 attached to the Light Infantry were killed in the blast in the townland of Curr, near Ballygawley, Co Tyrone.

The soldiers, who came from England, had just finished 18 months of a two-year tour of duty in Northern Ireland and were returning to base after a short holiday.

Mr Drew, who was 18 at the time of the atrocity and still suffers from post-traumatic stress, sustained severe injuries to his hands and also required around 500 stitches to his head, neck and face.

But he revealed that he can still recall a young woman, possibly two, from a Londonderry-based flute band putting a jacket over him and refusing to allow him to lose consciousness in the aftermath of the bomb.

"I understand both woman have suffered somewhat over the years," he said.

"I was left with post-traumatic stress - I tried to bury my head in the sand and ignore everything. It's only now in the last few years I have become reconnected."

Mr Drew said that because of Kenny Donaldson, the director of the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) victims' group, he is looking forward to finally meeting the women in Omagh in November.

"I'm quite nervous thinking about it just now, but it's something I have got to do," he told the Tyrone Constitution.

"There's not a day gone by that I haven't thought about it."

Reflecting on how the women cared for him that night, Mr Drew said he is "99.9% sure" he wouldn't have survived the ordeal without their assistance.

"I had given up," he recalled.

"I just wanted to go to sleep because I thought I was dying. But this lady got me a jacket, kept shouting at me to keep me awake and she kept me going.

"It felt like an eternity I was there but I believe quite an elderly couple turned up in a camper van and she made sure I got into the vehicle and into hospital. If I had not received treatment when I did, I would have died because of the large amount of blood I had lost.

"I lost something like five-and-a-half pints worth of blood."

He added: "That's why I can't give a clear description of the girl because my eyes were full of blood.

"I can remember her shouting at me in her lovely Irish voice, but I can't see a face."

Mr Drew said the doctor who treated him in intensive care told him the women saved his life because he "had less than 10 or 15 minutes in me with the rate I was bleeding".

Now that he is getting an opportunity to thank his saviours in person, the grandfather said he was looking forward to it.

"When I look back on my time in Ireland, it was the best time of my life in spite of what happened," he said.

"I wish I could have made more memories and served longer in the Army.

"I always regret not getting on in the Army to see how far I could have gone."

Mr Drew had not returned to Ireland after what happened until last year. That visit was the 30th anniversary roadside service, alongside others who had also suffered in the bomb attack three decades ago.

This November he and other survivors will return to Omagh and the Ballygawley Road to face the scene, which in many ways has had a transformative impact on their lives thanks to SEFF.

Mr Donaldson said he was looking forward to the event.

"We are honoured to once again be hosting the families in partnership with the Ballygawley Road families and with the input of the ILI Regimental Association," he said.

"We have been supporting a number of soldiers in their personal appeals to track down individuals who assisted them on the night of August 20, 1988, and thankfully a number of people came forward who we have been able to verify were there and gave assistance.

"The Ballygawley Road bus bomb was a brutal act of premeditated terrorism which stole eight young lives, but also cut short many others as well as causing pain to a further number - both physically and psychologically.

"But in recent years we have been able to work with others in bringing a level of acknowledgement, care and hope to those who were impacted, and we will continue to strive to do so in the years to come."

Regarding his forthcoming reunion with the two women in Omagh in two months, Mr Drew said he is more than ready.

He added: "After all this time I wanted to meet with them in person."

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