Belfast Telegraph

'They came for peace, they died here for peace and we'll go from here to build peace'

General Sir Mike Jackson at the Narrow Water remembrance
General Sir Mike Jackson at the Narrow Water remembrance
Former Paratroopers and at the Narrow Water remembrance
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

It took a mere 53 seconds for a former soldier who survived the Narrow Water massacre to read out the names and ages of his friends and colleagues in the Parachute Regiment who were killed in two IRA bomb blasts, at the same place where hundreds of people gathered yesterday for a moving service to remember the victims 40 years on.

But reflecting on the roll of honour clearly took its toll on Tom Caughey. He abandoned plans to talk to the assembled media after the service about his horrific memories of the day the IRA triggered two huge bombs, 32 minutes apart, to devastate an Army convoy.

The attack on August 27, 1979 came hours after the Provos killed Lord Mountbatten more than 100 miles away in the Co Sligo village of Mullaghmore. Three others, including a Co Fermanagh schoolboy, also died in that blast.

A friend said: "Reading the 16 names of the Paras was difficult for Tom. They - and the two Queen's Own Highlanders whose names were also read separately - were all, like him, in the prime of their lives, many in their teens."

Mr Caughey, who was badly injured in the first explosion, read the roll of honour in the sunshine and standing against the backdrop of one of Ireland's most scenic beauty spots, just feet across an estuary from Co Louth where IRA bombers had been waiting to carry out what a minister said were their "murderous and ugly" attacks.

In front of Mr Caughey sat relatives, some wiping away tears, as they heard the names of the loved ones they lost at Narrow Water.

Also in the front row was one of the Army's best known and most controversial soldiers, General Sir Mike Jackson, who was commanding B Company of the Paras' 2nd Battalion in 1979 and flew by helicopter to Narrow Water where he witnessed the carnage.

Sir Mike, who has talked in the past about seeing human remains scattered around the roadway, in the trees and in the water, didn't speak yesterday.

Instead, he laid a wreath at the scene and bowed his head in respectful remembrance of the 18 soldiers who died.

A succession of old soldiers and relatives also laid wreaths at the scene, along with former members of the RUC.

The civilian victim of the Narrow Water carnage was also remembered by Raymond Todd, chairman of the Northern Ireland branch of the Parachute Regiment Association.

Londoner William Hudson was innocently watching the Narrow Water terror unfold from the other side of Carlingford Lough when soldiers opened fire, wrongly believing he was part of the IRA gang.

Mr Todd said his death was also "a tragedy".

Such were the sensitivities surrounding the service - and the threat still posed by dissident republicans - that many of the participants requested that only the backs of their heads should be photographed.

Police stood on either side of the main road from Newry to Warrenpoint but traffic wasn't stopped and the noise at times almost drowned out the addresses from the main speakers.

For some, the journey to Warrenpoint marked the first time they had been back to the scene of the massacre in 40 years.

One man said: "It's extremely emotional for all of us. Many of the people who are here haven't seen each other for four decades.

"I've been talking today to people who had to go to terrible crime scenes. But they have no doubt that this was the worst they ever attended."

Another Para, Graham Eve, who arrived at Narrow Water after the explosions, recalled how small body parts were being collected an d put into bags as soldiers and emergency services wondered whose fingers and thumbs they were lifting.

But he said it was time for people in his native Northern Ireland to put the Troubles behind them and he urged politicians to restore devolved government.

He added: "The Secretary of State should tell politicians that Stormont is going to reopen on Monday and if they turn up they'll get paid and if they don't, they'll be sacked."

Graham Eve said he hadn't wanted any politicians to be invited to the service yesterday.

Several politicians were there, however. Former Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kennedy said he still vividly recalls the shock and disbelief he felt in the immediate aftermath of what was the bloodiest day in the history of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

He added: "I think it's enormously important that Narrow Water is remembered. But it's sad, too, that 40 years on there's no permanent and properly respected memorial."

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who is from Kilkeel, heard the Narrow Water blasts but initially assumed they had come from a quarry near his home.

"That showed how big the blasts were - the sounds travelled right across the mountain," he said.

Church of Ireland clergyman the Rev Andrew Rawding, a former soldier who was caught up in an IRA blast which killed one of his friends on the border in May 1992, told the gathering that the soldiers who were killed at Narrow Water "gave their lives for peace".

Mr Rawding added: "Whatever anyone else might want to say, they might want to marginalise and stigmatise us, to politicise our pain, politicise our actions and say we were something else ... No, I came here for peace, and we are here today for peace.

"And anyone who uses these deaths in a way to cause more conflict, to create more turmoil, to create more instability or a lack of peace, I am telling you now: you are not remembering them, because they came here for peace and they died here for peace and we will go from here to build peace."

Presbyterian minister the Rev Simon Hamilton thanked the thousands of soldiers and police who had served in Northern Ireland and had helped to establish the "relative and fragile peace" that now existed in Northern Ireland.

DUP MLA Jim Wells, who was also at the service, said he hoped the wreaths which had been laid during the memorial service would not be vandalised as had happened in the past.

"It's been a disgrace," said Mr Wells.

"I am glad that the PSNI have resolved to ensure that the memorials aren't smashed up again."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph