Miami Showband massacre: ‘I didn’t know whether to beg for my life or play dead’
It was the last night we were all happy. It was the 31st of July 1975. I can never forget it and neither could anybody else.
Our careers were ruined that night. After that, even though those who were left played on, we were never going to be seen as anything other than the survivors.
I had joined the Miami Showband just one month earlier and it was a huge thrill because we were such a big band at that time. I was just 24, the youngest in the band, although Tony Geraghty always joked that he was younger than me.
But it turned out he was six months older. I was the bass guitarist.
I was only married exactly a year at the time and I needed to pay the mortgage.
I was only in the band six weeks when we played that night in Banbridge.
I think we were going to have a night off the following day, which would have been pretty rare for us. It was lovely summer time. There were lots of young people at the Banbridge gig and we got a great reception.
We had delayed a bit leaving the gig because the lady in Banbridge had insisted that we have some Irish stew. All the people in the north were very hospitable to us.
We were on our way home in the van at 2am when we were stopped. The lads would have been stopped at checkpoints before, but I’d never been asked to get out of the van before. We had our guitars with us — which we were always precious about.
It was quite a jovial atmosphere when we got out of the van, but then I got worried about my guitar because I heard the ‘soldiers’ fiddling about in the back. So I naively took my hands down from my head. I thought they were just going through the motions.
But when I took my hands down, Brian McCoy nudged my elbow and said “Don’t worry Steve, this is the British Army”. He said that because this officer had just arrived. He was dressed differently from the other soldiers. He had much lighter-coloured combat clothes. He looked like Action Man and he spoke with a distinct English accent.
I came out of the line-up to check my guitar in the van. I wanted them to allow me to open the guitar case so they wouldn’t damage it. I was then punched back into line and this time I was at Brian’s right side and shortly after that the explosion happened.
They had been planting a bomb behind the driver’s seat, but we didn’t know that at the time. I was second closest to the van. Des Lee was on my right. I was blown into the air. When all the shooting happened, I tried to run but I was off the ground. I fell about eight or nine feet into a field. Everything was in slow motion then I came crashing down into the field.
All the other guys fell on top of me — Fran and Tony and, I imagine, Brian — and they tried to drag me away, but I had been shot. I was lying face down in the field. Fran and Tony tried to run but they were caught. The soldiers ran after them. They shot Tony in the back of the head and the back. Fran fell down and he was lying on his back when they shot him.
I heard the gunshots and heard them crying. I heard one of them saying “please don’t”. Can you imagine what you would say with someone standing over you at point-blank range?
I was shot with a dum-dum bullet in the right hip, it travelled up my side, punctured my lung and exited through the side of my left arm.
One of the soldiers came close to me and kicked Brian. I thought he was going to come to me, but then I heard someone shout from the road “C’mon those b******s are dead, I got them with dum-dums”. I had never heard the word dum-dums before. I didn’t know whether to get up on my knees and beg for my life or lie still. I’m glad I didn’t move. He actually walked away.
Your mind is racing, it’s the adrenaline. I wasn’t actually in pain, my only problem was I couldn’t breathe properly because my lung had collapsed.
I heard Des. He had hid in the ditch and called to me “are you ok”? I said “I’m grand”. There was no blood coming from me, but it was all internal bleeding.
Des got up on to the road and managed to get a car to take him to Newry police station. They eventually came out for me, but they had to take their time. They didn’t know what had happened. The bodies could have been booby-trapped.
They brought me back to Daisy Hill hospital, where they did a fabulous job.
Stephen Travers was speaking to Anne Madden