Belfast Telegraph

Deal barracks attack: Shattered watch found in debris had stopped at 8.22am, the exact time IRA bomb went off, killing 11 Royal Marines

Thirty years after the devastating attack at Deal barracks claimed the lives of the young bandsmen, Ivan Little talks to survivors about their memories of the day — and hears of anger that no one has ever faced justice for the atrocity

Derek Lindars at the Deal Memorial Bandstand
Derek Lindars at the Deal Memorial Bandstand
‘Open sore’: Ken Funston of SEFF
Julian Smith
Margaret Thatcher
The aftermath of the bomb attack in 1989
Prince Philip visiting the scene
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Thirty years may have gone by, but retired Royal Marine bandsman Derek Lindars can still vividly remember the moment that the IRA's sound of terror suddenly silenced the sound of music around his military base in Deal, Kent, killing 10 of his young colleagues.

Derek knew the outcome of that deafening explosion was going to be bad. But the then 33-year-old cornet and trumpet player had no idea just how awful it would turn out to be as the dust settled and the debris was lifted off the casualties on September 22, 1989.

Derek recalls that it was a bright autumn morning and musicians were playing Aces High, the Ron Goodwin tune from movie The Battle Of Britain, when at precisely 8.22am the IRA's bomb went off in the recreation room of the staff band.

Ten musicians, most of them in their 20s and six of them married men, died that fateful day, with another succumbing to his horrific injuries just over a month later. Another 20 were hurt, five of them critically.

But the death toll at the Marines' School of Music from the bomb which had been hidden under a sofa could have been much higher. Many of the bandsmen had been offered a lie-in at their accommodation block because they'd been playing at a retirement party the night before.

Only 25 Marines were in the rest area they called the Coffee Boat, whereas upwards of 70 musicians would normally have been relaxing in the building, which collapsed after the explosion.

For the IRA it was just another day on the offensive in England. An aerial picture of the barracks after the blast captured the scale of utter devastation left by a 15lb bomb that must have surprised even hardened terrorists.

The explosion was so massive that one body was found on the roof of a nearby house.

Yesterday, just like every other year, Derek Lindars joined relatives of the victims and survivors in Deal for a remembrance service to commemorate the tragedy they simply cannot - and don't want to - forget.

The band of HM Royal Marines were in Deal to pay their respects to their fallen comrades, many of whom had only just joined up with the primary intention of playing music and training to help people as battlefield medics.

Yesterday marked not only a significant anniversary for Deal, it was also a personal milestone for Derek, who was attending his first service as the new chairman of the Deal Memorial Bandstand Trust. It was there that a concert was staged yesterday afternoon following the memorial service in the morning.

Derek, who joined the Royal Marines Band Service in 1972 as a 16-year-old, and completed his training three years later, was working in the East Barracks of the Marines' School of Music when the bomb exploded.

He says: "Like everyone else I made my way to the scene as quickly as I could to do whatever I could to help in the recovery of people from the wreckage.

"It was very difficult. Even at first sight it was clear that there would be many casualties and fatalities, which unfortunately was the case."

It took hours before the last bandsmen were pulled from the carnage with the help of heavy lifting gear.

Former Marines officer Richard Dixon recalls: "The men who escaped the blast were diving into the rubble and clawing away at the masonry with their bare hands to rescue those trapped."

One of the rescuers was Warrant Officer Si Tripp, who was 17 and now edits the Royal Marines band magazine. "I remember the shock, disbelief and chaos," he says. "The training band had been on the parade ground only a few hundred yards away."

Derek Lindars says: "My overriding memory 30 years on is of the selfless way in which people came forward to physically help at the bomb site to rescue people.

"Local GPs rushed to assist the emergency services."

Hundreds of people from Deal responded to urgent calls for blood donations and queued round the block of a converted gymnasium in silence.

Derek is proud of them and the thousands who turned out a week after the explosion to show that no matter what the IRA did, it wouldn't be enough to extinguish the spirit of Deal or the Marines band.

The streets were thronged as what remained of the band marched through Deal with a symbolic note of defiance tinged with a poignant reminder of the victims.

"There was a space left for every bandsman who was killed," says Derek. "It was a deeply emotional parade but the town and the band sent out a message."

A local newspaper recorded the Marines' resolve for posterity, saying: "Cowardly bombers will not silence our drums."

Derek, who is now the human resources director for a charity employing 1,300 people, lost friends in the explosion and he says it's important to remember the 11 victims and their families as well as the survivors who are still suffering 30 years after the outrage.

"I know people who struggle to this day with the effects of the explosion. The pain for many is still raw, just as it is for many victims and survivors in Northern Ireland.

"I spent some time in Belfast in the Eighties and I understand the difficulties," says Derek, who prefers not to talk in detail about how the explosion has impacted on his life.

He also declines to discuss the ongoing controversy over the prosecution of former soldiers for Troubles-related killings.

Not so reticent is the local Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke, who has written to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith and other Government ministers to demand a fresh inquiry.

He says: "This was an appalling attack on our community. Totally innocent band members lost their lives at the hands of terrorists.

"Yet all the Northern Ireland Office seems interested in is hounding our Army veterans - for trying to protect us from the same evil people.

"This is abhorrent and I strongly believe our efforts should be focused on securing justice for the band members and their families. We must have a fresh inquiry. No whitewash or cover-up by Northern Ireland ministers."

No one was ever prosecuted for the atrocity and the police have now renewed their appeal for help from the public.

Detective Superintendent Paul Fotheringham of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate says the original investigation was one of the most extensive ever undertaken in Kent.

He says progress was made, and even though it was established that three suspected bombers had rented a house opposite the barracks, there wasn't apparently enough evidence to bring anyone to court.

He adds: "This case continues to be subject to extensive review and if any further new information is received, this will be looked at. We continue to appeal for information that may help us identify new lines of inquiry."

The stark reality, however, is that few people in Deal are holding their breath for a breakthrough.

Three months after the bombing two IRA men were captured by police at an arms dump on an isolated beach in Pembrokeshire, south Wales.

Damien McComb and Liam O'Dhuibhir were caught after a seven-week stakeout called Operation Pebble. Semtex from the cache was said by police to have been used in the Deal barracks bombing.

The Royal Marines Association has also called for a full inquiry into the bombing, saying the carnage is "unfinished business".

Ken Funston of the victims' group South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF), which has offered support to the people of Deal, says the barracks bomb "remains an open sore". Others have said there are still unanswered questions over the gaps in security which allowed the Provos to smuggle their deadly device into the barracks, which was guarded by a private firm.

The passage of time also means that yesterday's memorial service will probably be the final one, according to Derek Lindars.

He explains: "People are getting older and this will probably be the last occasion when we draw so many people together to remember our 11 friends."

Derek, who's 63, retired from the Royal Marines Band in 1996 after 24 years during which time he progressed through the ranks to become the bandmaster.

The trust he chairs helps with the maintenance of the bandstand in Deal, which was built as a memorial to the 11 dead Marines whose names are inscribed on plaques around it.

Jay O'Neill's name could have been on the bandstand too. The now 62-year-old colour sergeant was in the foyer of the Coffee Boat and the blast, which he compares to a hurricane, blew him out of a window and trapped his legs under a collapsed roof.

Incredibly, eye-witnesses spoke of seeing Jay sitting upright and organising the rescue operation.

He eventually recovered from his serious injuries but the thoughts of his dead colleagues are never far from his mind.

"The band service was like a family, the men became your brothers and we looked after each other," he says.

To the anger of many in Deal, the Royal Marines' School of Music was moved from the town in 1996 to its old base in Portsmouth, where there's a memorial to the 11 bandsmen.

Among the items on show is a Marine's shattered watch stopped at 8.22am, when the bomb went off.

The condemnation of the bomb was swift. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who narrowly escaped death in an IRA bomb attack 100 miles away in Brighton five years earlier, condemned the Provisionals' "monsters" and said their targets weren't fighting men but rather musicians.

But the most outspoken criticism of the IRA came from Lt General Sir Martin Garrod, who was the Commandant General of the Royal Marines.

He called them "thugs, extortionists, torturers, murderers and cowards, the scum of the Earth".

The Duke of Edinburgh went to Deal shortly after the blast and in a rare interview said the attack had been senseless and appalling. "It certainly won't help the IRA to win anything."

Standing by the duke's side was the Vice-Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Countess Mountbatten, who had survived the IRA bomb which killed her father Lord Mountbatten at Mullaghmore in the Republic just over 10 years earlier.

Thirty years after the devastating attack at Deal barracks claimed the lives of the young bandsmen, Ivan Little talks to survivors about their memories of the day - and hears of anger that no one has ever faced justice for the atrocity

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph