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Author Topic: The Droppin Well Pub Bombing  (Read 700 times)

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Offline Che Guevaras Flip Flops

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The Droppin Well Pub Bombing
« on: Thursday 06 December 2012, 1227 »
Today (06 Dec) is the 30th anniversary of the Droppin Well pub bombing in which 17 people died,  11 of which were soldiers - 8 directly from my Regiment  3 attached to it.

We (The Cheshire Regiment) were about 10 months into a 2 year tour in Northern Ireland.    At that time there were two types of tour of the Province - 6 month ones - where you were in small 'forts' in places such as West Belfast, South Armagh etc and the families and a small Rear Party remained back on the mainland or in Germany in the garrisons.    Then there were 2 year tours - where you were posted complete and were garrisoned in 'safe areas' - with married quarter estates, the kids going to local schools etc etc.   We were on such a tour.

Ballykelly - where we were garissoned,  is a village near the north coast of the province, near the small town of Limavady,  between Londonderry and Coleraine.  A former WW2 airbase for Shackletons gave it it's name - Shackleton Barracks.      Life consisted of the 4 fighting companies rotating on a monthly programme through Leave & Training,  Bde Reserve (South Derry),   Ops (East Tyrone),   Garrison Security (Shackleton Bks & Magilligan Prison).  The HQ company carried out their relevant service & support roles.    It was a predictable routine - which soldiers and the wives like because they can plan around it with some confidence, and we quickly settled in.

Ballykelly itself was a tiny village - probably comparable in size to Aberffraw.   The population was 50/50 Protestant/Catholic and like most of Northern Ireland the 'Troubles' had passed it by without incident.   The Married Quarters were an estate about a mile up the road and not even fenced-off.  The soldiers kids attended the local schools.  Down-time consisted of (for single soldiers) going to the pub/disco not far from the barracks main gate (The Droppin Well) or venturing further afield to the nightspots of Coleraine, Port Rush and Port Stewart.   Married soldiers fulfilled their shopping obligations in the shops of Limavady, Coleraine and the Waterside district of Londonderry City.  Life - when you weren't on Ops or Bde Reserve, was just like being back on the   UK mainland.

Every soldier has a story of the bomb from their perspective.  Mine starts several weeks before.   

On 13 November me and the original Mrs W were out shopping in Limavady.   She was heavily pregnant.      When we got home she went into labour.  She was rushed to Altnagelvin Hospital because it was 7 weeks early.  They couldn't stop it and on checking found she was actually carrying twins.  Forceps delivery, identical girls, weighing 2lbs each at birth and immediately put in incubators.  They were perfectly OK, but because they weighed so little and were so small (like little dolls)m they had to go into incubators until they weighed 5lbs.   I didn't like going in there because most of the babies in there were seriously ill, dying etc and it wasn't unusual to see the Last Rites being carried out or prayer sessions over the dead babies.

Anyways,  my company were on leave/training which meant I could accompany my wife to Altnagelvin every evening to visit them - which, because I was setting a routine,  meant that an armed soldier in civilian clothes also had to go and mooch around while a seconds waited in a car in the car park just in case PIRA twigged that I would be there every evening and decided I would be a 'soft kill'.

About two weeks later - they still in the incubators,  my platoon were out doing night stuff up near the Bellarena rail crossing,.  Around about midnight I had the unfortunate experience of having a Volkswagon Golf collide with me at 70mph, nearly killing me.    I was taken to Altnagelvin, stabilised and then moved by Air Corps Lynx to the Military Wing of Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast.       This meant that my then wife was brought daily by staff car to visit me 80 miles away then taken back the other way to visit the twins.

The military ward had armed guards in it and consisted of 8 man bays.   Over the days,  those that had significant injuries and were bed-ridden were moved up one end till after a week I was in a bay that contained a guy from my regiment who had shattered his knee,  I lad who had lost part of his skull in a bomb and was in a coma,  a copper who had been shot three times and a couple of others with broken legs from bomb attacks.   There's no rush in military hospitals and the care is second to none so I was wrapped literally in cotton wool while they waited for the swellings to go down with the intention of then putting screws and plates into me.  It was actually good fun - we used to get the cleaners to bring us cans of beer in and the following morning get rid of the empties before Matron did her rounds.  Bottles of coke brought in by wives and friends were actually vodka and coke.

So there we are one night.  All settled down asleep.  All of a sudden all the lights came on and all the nurses appeared - in their civvies, some in disco clobber.   There seemed to be a massive sense of urgency - lots of rushing,  stacking bedding in the middle of the floor,  crates of drips being literally dumped on the floor.  No shouting, no running, just bustle bustle bustle.    It was difficult getting the attention of anyone but it was obvious something big was going on.  Surgical team appeared - Colonel Donovan (the chief surgeon) was still in a black jacket and tie!    Then the matron appeared - a frosty non nonsense Major from the QARANCS barked a few instructions and every soldier that wasn't bed-ridden was got up and moved to temporary cots in the TV area.   Still we didn't know what was going on.   Finally I managed to get the attention of a nurse and as she was stripping a bed - she said 'pub bombing, near Derry. Some dead, many injured'.

Then it got like MASH - helicopters were queuing up to land on the grass outside.   Minutes later,  they were rushing the injured past us down the corridor.  Covered in dust and blood.     Then I started seeing people I knew.  One after another after another.  I have never felt so helpless in my life before or since.

So,  that is my memory of that tragic night.

Of the bombing itself,  the Droppin Well was a pub under neath a little shopping arcade called the Shoppin Well.    It had a side room used as a disco the roof of which was the concrete walk way of the arcade above.     The bomb wasn't particularly big - probably no more than 2lbs of commecial explosive, in a handbag (not the initial 5lb widely reported).    It was left at the foot of a support pillar and one soldier was actually leaning over it when it went off.  It blew all of his clothes off except for his belt, shoes and socks.   He walked back to camp.    The blast wave however has to escape and the weakest place for it to get out was where the concrete slab rested on the side wall. The side wall collapsed and the entire roof dropped in one piece crushing everything below.    It took hours to get all of the bodies and injured out.  Horror stories include having to cut through one of the dead to get at someone injured under neath them,  and one soldier being prepared by a surgical team to have his legs amputated so that they could get a concrete beam off him - which was lifted just before they operated.  He subsequently lost both legs anyway.    The following day was a school day.  The schools were on the other side of village to the miltary and civilian housing estates.   They taped blankets over the school bus windows so that the children wouldn't see the dead still being dragged out and wounded waiting for ambulances to ferry them onwards to hospital.

Several days later the republican INLA (headed by Dominic McGlinchy) claimed responsibility,  dismissing the civilian deaths and casualties as self-deserved as they were merely consorts.   Shortly After, the Republic of Ireland declared the INLA an illegal organisation.

There is a monument.   The names of the dead are listed in alphabetical order without preference to miltary or civilian or to rank,  That was at the insistance of the families  - they died together,  they will be remembered together without favour.

A news clip from the time is here.

Several years later 4 people - were tried and sentenced for the attack. A fifthewas tried later.  Two were sisters, all were related by relationship etc.    Dominic McGlinchy died twelve years later in 1994 in a shooting incident in Drogheda.

Wikipedia carries a reasonable entry (with some minor inaccuracies such as the bomb size) with onward links for people who wish to read more.
« Last Edit: Thursday 06 December 2012, 1334 by Che Guevaras Flip Flops »