Belfast Telegraph

Ex-soldier rewrites history books to show more troops and police died in Troubles than previously thought

The scenes of devastation at Oxford Street bus station
The scenes of devastation at Oxford Street bus station
The scenes of devastation at York Road train station in 1972 on the day that became known as ‘Bloody Friday’
Adrian Ismay
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

A retired soldier has rewritten the history books of the Troubles after 10 years of exhaustive research backed up his claim that many more troops, police officers and prison staff died than official records show.

The casualties listed in the roll of honour by Mark Stevenson (not his real name) are double the 1,200-plus personnel that the security forces say were killed in terrorist attacks.

He explained: "I have found the names of 2,400 men and women who died as result of the Troubles. I have included in my list officers who took their own lives or were killed in accidents or died from stress-related illnesses because of the job they were doing.

"I wanted to ensure that no one was forgotten," added Mark, who walks with the aid of a cane because of serious leg injuries he sustained in an accident in south Armagh.

"It will let people know the gravity of the death toll and how big a part stress and pressure played on the hundreds of thousands who served during the Troubles.

"Some will say many of the deaths were down to heart attacks or to strokes, but if you ask widows about those deaths they will say that their husbands were victims of stress caused by the Troubles and they want them to be remembered too."

Mark (59) is preparing to take a major step in that direction. All 2,400 names that he uncovered in his decade of searching will appear on a large screen and in books which will be on show during a special day of remembrance in Lisburn during the summer.

It will mark the 50th anniversary of Operation Banner, the name for the British armed forces' operation that began in Northern Ireland in August 1969 with the deployment of troops on the streets. The operation ended in July 2007 when Army and police chiefs were satisfied that peace had come.

Photographs of the headstones of the graves of many people who died will also be included in Mark's montages.

Mark joined the Army in 1976 and spent five years with the Royal Artillery including one tour in Northern Ireland in 1979.

Two years later he became an officer in the UDR, but seven years afterwards he was medically discharged following an accident at a vehicle checkpoint in Newtownhamilton in south Armagh.

His father and his brother, who were both in the RUC, were injured in terrorist attacks.

Mark decided to begin compiling his roll of honour even before he joined NIVA. He said he became a man on a mission to make sure that no one would be overlooked.

He added: "I started my research using newspapers and contacting military associations to see if they could give me information about how service personnel had died. I was able to liaise with other people in different parts of the world who were undertaking similar projects.

"And we hope that no one has slipped through the net."

Mark is still suffering severe pain many years after his accident.

He explained: "I've had nine operations on my knee and I will need a new one. I also attend regular counselling sessions for post-traumatic stress."

Even before Mark enlisted in the Army, his home was damaged in a bomb attack carried out by republicans because of his family's links to the RUC.

Mark also recalled seeing one of the Bloody Friday bombs exploding in 1972 in Belfast not far from where he lived.

He added: "I was about 12 or 13 at the time and I was playing close to Creighton's garage on the Lisburn Road. After the blast two soldiers approached the garage and a fuel pump exploded. I think one of them lost an arm.

"Minutes later I heard another bomb going off at Finaghy Road bridge and another one exploded down the road at Windsor Park. It's a day that I will never forget."

Speaking on a personal level and not for NIVA, Mark said he feels that people like him who served in the armed forces have been let down by the Government.

He claimed terrorists on both sides have been appeased by Westminster in their attempts to establish what he calls a "phoney peace".

Mark's NIVA colleague Ian Simpson, who is the media spokesman for the organisation, retired from the Northern Ireland Prison Service on medical grounds after 30 years' service. He sustained serious head injuries after he was attacked by a prisoner in Maghaberry jail.

He said: "I think his plan was to kill me and then take his own life which he did a while later. But he has left me suffering from headaches every day, memory loss and I'm also being treated for PTSD."

Ian, who is 56, lost a number of colleagues in the prison service in terrorist attacks. Adrian Ismay, who died 11 days after he was injured in a booby trap bomb blast near his Cregagh home in 2016, was a close friend.

Ian added: "We joined the prison service on the same day and we were promoted on the same day. We socialised together and we went regularly for days out on our motor bikes. We were like brothers. And his death was one of the most difficult times in my life."

As a friend and as chairman of the Prison Service Benevolent Fund, Ian was asked to speak to the media on behalf of Mr Ismay's family and he also helped to organise his funeral.

Ian, who said his former colleagues in the prison service are still under intense threat, especially from dissident republicans, shares Mark's concerns about the Government's response to terrorists in the wake of the ceasefires.

Again speaking in a personal capacity, Ian added: "They got all the benefits with the early release of prisoners and funding for their community organisations. Yet victims are still waiting to see the same benefits as are the people who were in the Army, police and prison service.

"Obviously I have been closely involved with ex-prison officers and some of my colleagues went out of the job with huge mental scars and physical ailments. Yet they have been just left to get on with it. To my mind we were seen very much as behind the wall, the forgotten service.

"What many people forget is that prison officers were the ones in daily contact with the terrorists. We had 32 colleagues murdered and the pressure of prisoners asking you every day about your wife and children whose names they knew was appalling and it was an attempt to grind you down so that you wouldn't do your job.

"We remained professional, however, even when the prisoners said, as they did to me, that they were going to shoot us. My standard answer was that I was going to die some day and that I just hoped I would end up in a different place from them.

"That might have been black humour on my part, but it was the only way to cope."

Ian and Mark agree that "for 99.9% of the time" their former colleagues acted professionally and a number of incidents had been "blown out of proportion".

"But what we'll be doing in Lisburn is paying our own tributes in our ways to all the men and women who died or were injured to ensure that Northern Ireland didn't completely fall apart," added Mark, who even today isn't happy to allow his photograph or his real name to appear in newspapers in case he becomes another name on his own roll of honour.

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