Monday, 14 September 2009
Idle spent his weekend in unbroken sunshine in Ulster. It looked lovely, but there is pain behind the beauty of the benighted province.
Some parts of Northern Ireland really are beautiful, such as Narrow Water above Warrenpoint. The layby just downstream of the old castle tower jutting into the water from the dual carriageway, and the gates opposite, were the scene of the second of two cowardly IRA atrocities on 27 August 1979, the first of which had killed Lord Mountbatten and members of his family at Mullaghmore. It was a warm and beautiful August Bank Holiday. A trailer of straw sat in the layby.
This is what the first Warrenpoint bomb would have looked like (the picture is of a simulation, carried out after the event). It was set off from across the water/border in Ireland, as a convoy of two army trucks and a land rover passed. Though targetted at Royal Marines, whose duties included safety at the small port at Warrenpoint, the victims were in fact a detachment of Paras, who were providing an extra company to the Queen's Own Highlanders, the battalion responsible for the bandit country of South Armagh.
The first bomb, about half a ton of explosive, killed six paras. The survivors, believing themselves to be under attack from across the border (the heat of the explosion having caused bullets and ammunition in the wrecked land rover to explode), returned fire across the water. A most unlucky civilian, a footman from the Queen's Household on holiday in Ireland was shot dead. (Independent reports afterwards confirmed sniper fire from the Republic). Immediately, the CO of the Queen's Own Highlanders scrambled with his signaller and medical team by helicopter from Bessbrook, a few miles to the north. Standard operational procedure required an incident command point to have been set up close to the explosion. Lt Col David Blair arrived to find that a stone gatehouse across the road from the old castle tower had been chosen.
His immediate concerns were to secure the area and evacuate the seriously wounded, which took time. He felt the gatehouse too obvious a location for the ICP and ordered those that could, to fall back further into the park behind the gatehouse (in the gateway bay opposite the castle tower in the top photograph, no longer there). But there was no time; the second explosion, half an hour after the first, was devastating (left). The IRA set it off just as a helicopter was taking off with wounded. Even larger than the first bomb, it destroyed the gatehouse and killed another twelve soldiers, including Lt Col Blair. Extraordinarily, the helicopter managed to just about escape the blast and ditch successfully, but the IRA's low cunning of second-guessing operational procedure had worked. To this day, the Queen's Own Highlander colonel is the highest ranked victim to have been killed in action by the IRA.
The Colonel's widow, together with many officers and Warrant Officers, marked the thirtieth anniversary of the horror last weekend. Services at Warrenpoint, at Ballykinlar and at Palace Barracks, Holywood were sombre occasions. But the drinking and carousing in honour of all the dead were less sombre. At a time when our armed forces are being starved of equipment whilst fighting unpopular and unwinnable wars, it gives us a melancholy pride to know that the tours of duty that we carried out in Ulster were done for a righteous cause, and were done superbly. It was said the Troubles could not be won militarily, but eventually the IRA sued for peace, by then infiltrated at every level and unable to sustain their war.
création d' idle at 6:42 pm