Belfast Telegraph

Family's hurt at military memorial name policy

Ambush: Lt-Col David Blair
Ambush: Lt-Col David Blair

By Lisa Smyth

The daughter of a soldier killed in an IRA ambush has hit out at a decision to stop families from adding the names of their loved ones to a memorial in their honour.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Blair, who served with the Queen's Own Highlanders (QOH), was among 18 soldiers killed in two roadside bomb attacks at Warrenpoint, Co Down, in August 1979.

Last June QOH unveiled a statue to honour 14 of the regiment's soldiers at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Staffordshire, which has been Britain's national site of remembrance for military and civilian sacrifice since the end of the Second World War.

It had been hoped that the names of the 14 soldiers, including Lt-Col Blair, could be added to the memorial.

However, Lt-Col David Whimpenny, chairman of the NMA, wrote to the QOH regimental association last month and said: "The policy does not allow individual names on memorials and this policy has been in place for some time and there is no intention to change this policy."

He added that the names of post-war fallen are honoured on the arboretum's main armed forces memorial elsewhere in the 150-acre park. However, the 14 families affected by the ruling have launched a public appeal for a change in the policy, with Alexandra Nevill, Lt-Col Blair's daughter, branding it "despotic, small-minded reasoning".

She responded to Lt-Col Whimpenny in a letter, in which she said: "I have just had my mother in floods of tears on the phone.

"It is utterly disgraceful and I think you should all be ashamed of yourselves."

A statement from the QOH said "bureaucratic convenience" should not produce "nameless memorials" which "in years to come no one will know for whom the memorial has been erected".

It added: "Without the names of those 14 soldiers, [the statue] remains a beautiful sculpture to the memory of men whom the next generation will not know."

According to The Sunday Times, Andy Ansell, the head of estates at the NMA, said the policy may be reviewed.

He said: "Given the renewed interest in this policy, I will ask the [landscape and memorials] committee to consider the matter again... with the understanding that the policy must be one of fairness to all current memorial holders and future applicants."

However, Ms Nevill said the 14 families will not celebrate until the names of their relatives appear on the memorial.

At the time of his murder, Lt-Col Blair was the most senior Army officer killed in Northern Ireland.

In 2007 General Sir Michael Jackson revealed that Blair was "identified only by the crown and the star of his rank on his epaulette".

Sir Michael, who later became head of the British Army, was then a Major in the Parachute Regiment.

Brigadier David Thorne, who briefed Margaret Thatcher 36 hours later, laid Blair's epaulette on the table beside her and reminded the later Prime Minister that the soldier had a son.

One other QOH soldier, Major Peter Fursman, also died in the IRA's massacre at Warrenpoint.

The atrocity came only hours after the Queen's cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed in an IRA bomb attack in Co Sligo.

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