Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: RUC tribute will help build a better future

Ian Forbes MBE
Ian Forbes MBE

One of the paradoxes about visiting a graveyard is the fact that it is a place of headstones where the stories of the dead can come alive.

This is particularly so in the case of Ian Forbes, a former RUC member who has recently finished a huge personal project to photograph the graves of all of his police colleagues who were murdered during the Troubles.

Mr Forbes, who comes from a family steeped in the tradition of serving in the RUC, has his own dramatic story to tell. His father Thomas, an RUC officer, was murdered by the IRA in Dungannon in 1942.

Ian also came under attack from gunmen at his home in January 1973, and survived even though he was shot in the hip and a bullet passed his heart. The house was hit 26 times, and two bullets passed through the dress of his wife Carrie before the shooting stopped.

Mr Forbes travelled some 80,000 miles around Ireland to visit just over 300 graves. His motive was to ensure that the service of these victims of violence would not be forgotten in the way that he believed his father had been forgotten by everyone except his family and friends.

This noble act by Ian Forbes has been recognised by the presentation of the RUC George Cross Association Certificate of Appreciation, and deservedly so.

His is a form of tribute to dead colleagues that is rooted in traumatic personal experiences, and there is obviously a desire and a need to tell the stories of individuals, and not just a provide a collective tally of police deaths and suffering.

Mr Forbes' collection of photographs will remind us all of the huge sacrifice that was made by serving members of the RUC, including those who died or were injured.

The gravestones tell their grim stories of people of all ages who were affected, and of the loved ones they left behind.

They are a reminder of a harrowing story of the collective suffering of all the families, including the single parent left to raise young children, and the grief of parents, siblings and friends.

Sadly we have been so used to violence in Northern Ireland that we have used broad brush strokes to paint the picture of suffering, so that the deep trauma of individuals and families is too often overlooked.

Thoughtful acts of remembrance, like that of Mr Forbes, are all the more poignant because they are a personal project involving time and effort, and are informed by memory.

This is vitally important, and we need to be reminded continually of the pain and suffering of the past - and to stiffen our resolve to build a better future where this kind of savagery will not take place again.

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