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Kingsmills: When the firing stopped, 10 men lay dead on road

It occurred during one of the darkest years of the Troubles.

But even by the bloody standards of Northern Ireland in 1976, the Kingsmills massacre, in which 10 men were killed, stood out for its sheer horror.

On the night of January 5, a group of textile workers were travelling home from work in the dark and rain on a minibus in the rural heartland of Co Armagh.

Just after the van cleared the rise of a hill, there was a man standing in the road flashing a torch. They stopped and there was the sudden, ominous movement of 11 other men, all armed, emerging from the hedges around them. Their first thought was that it was the Army, but the gunmen were masked.

A man asked their religions. There was only one Catholic left on the bus, Richard Hughes. Fearing it was a loyalist attack, several of his workmates and friends tried to stop him from identifying himself. But Mr Hughes was identified and ordered away. The other men were lined up. The lead gunman spoke one other word — “Right” — and the shooting began. 136 rounds were fired. Alan Black was the only one to survive. He was shot 18 times.

After the initial screams, he recalled years later, “there was silence. I was semi-conscious and passed out several times with the deadly pain and cold. I must have been lying at the roadside waiting on the ambulance for up to 30 minutes. It was like an eternity.”

Bessbrook, a small village that because of the Troubles had a massive Army base, was devastated. Nine of the men lived in Bessbrook. They had 14 children.

They were Joseph Lemmon, whose wife was preparing his tea as he died; Reginald Chapman, a Sunday school teacher; his younger brother Walter Chapman; Kenneth Worton, whose youngest daughter had not started school; James McWhirter, who belonged to the local Orange lodge; Robert Chambers, a teenager living with his parents; James McConville, who was planning to train as a missionary; John Bryans, a widower who left two children orphaned, and Robert Freeburn, also a father-of-two. The van driver, Robert Walker, came from near Glenanne.

The South Armagh Republican Action Force claimed the attack. Within days of the killings Government officials took the decision to deploy the SAS to south Armagh for the first time.

In the first week of 1976, 19 people were killed in violent attacks and by the end of the year that number had risen to 308 — the second highest yearly death toll during the Troubles.

Belfast Telegraph

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