My Account of the
Ballygawley Bus Bombing
20th Aug 1988
8 soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Light Infantry were killed in a landmine attack at Curr near Ballygawley roundabout,
County Tyrone , while travelling back by coach to base in Omagh from the International Airport at Aldergrove.
Private B Bishop
Private P L Bullock
Private J Burfitt
Private R Greener
Private A S Lewis
Private M A Norworthy
Private S J Wilkinson
Private J Winter
THIS IS THE STORY OF ONE SURVIVOR
I am going to go back a little on this day, I think you need to get the picture of events.
I left the UK around lunchtime to arrive in Ireland 1 hour later, but we were driven backwards and forwards from airport to airport picking up soldiers, some flights where late, some delayed, so we finally left Belfast international around 11.30pm or 23.30 hours.
Just as we were about to leave the airport, I can remember this guy standing outside the bus looking at me and as he did so he pulled his finger across his throat, you know when you see it on tele when they give the sign to behead some one, that sign or motion, I though about that every day since.. IF ONLY, I had gotten off, told someone, got off and asked him why, but if only me auntie had bal** she would have been my uncle. So I lay a cross the seats my feet on the seats at the other side of the bus, my head was vibrating on the window, so I pulled my leather bikers jacket over it to stop the vibration and dozed off.
The terrorists made a mistake that night, they got their calculations wrong - just a bit. I am pleased that they did as I might not be here to tell you about it.
Remember the equation Time= Distance= Speed - well that's the one that they got wrong.
The bus had already passed the bomb, by the way while I am on it was two fertilizer bags filled with semtex all 200lb of it, they just laid them on the road side and put a little dirt on top to cover them up. OK were was I, good this isn't it, ok they had used a telegraph pole as a mark when the bus reaches it we will detonate the bomb, the bus will be doing about 40mph, so what you do is put the bomb just after the pole so by the time the bus gets to the pole and you react and push the button the bus will just be passed the pole itself, right were the bomb is, WRONG - the bus driver knew that the lads just wanted to get back to barracks and get their head down as they were cream crackered with hanging a round all day, so the driver was speeding 50+ so the bus was well past the bomb by the time they set it off unlucky.
Just done the explosives course I could have leveled Durham Cathedral with 50 lb, you see semtex needs a resistance, ok put a lb on the living room floor and set it off, scorched carpet maybe a broken window, now stuff the same lb in to a tin with a screw top good by house, got it! good.
It was a beautiful summers night the full moon, was it ba*** it was August cold and raining as I lay there face down, I was on the verge pointing to wards the ditch I only know this because I was at an angle my head was lower than my body.
As I lay my vision started to come back and my brain started to kick in, like your pc when you first start it, it takes a little time to run through the various programs before you can start to do out with it.
My instinct was to get up to find out what had happened, but my body was telling my other wise, these extra joints seem to come from nowhere, my legs lay at a funny angle but there was no pain, then I heard crying moaning and groaning it sickened me to the gut, it went through me like someone scratching their nails down the black board, I never want to hear that again as long as I live.
As I lay there wondering why I could not stand up, this huge bright white light came from nowhere the light was so bright that it should have hurt you eyes but it didn't, as the light started to get brighter this over whelming feeling came over me of peace calm not a care in the world, (it was the most beautiful feeling that I have ever had). I believe it was death staring me in the face and if that was death I no longer fear it. I could no longer hear the sounds of the rain or the lads crying. All of a sudden this guy walked straight out of the light, I was not scared or worried he just said "everything is going to be all right" those words seam to fill the air around me. I could not see his face but I knew it was a guy I could see his arms, legs body and head but like a mist or fog were his face was. All that I can remember saying was "what do you mean every thing is going to be f****** all right, just help me get up" then with that everything went black again.
THIS NEXT BIT IS BASED ON WHAT I HAVE BEEN TOLD BY MY PARENTS, NURSES SURGEONS OR WHAT i HAVE READ IN MY MEDICAL NOTES.
I was taken to hospital in the back of a Range Rover by a local, and I thank him/her for it, we are not talking on the back seat here we are saying the back seat the back like boot and tail gate down.
On arriving at Dungannon or Duncannon hospital, they said there was nothing that they could do for me here and that I needed to go to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Belfast, this is about 50 mile or so away. I think I was airlifted be not sure. With that they splinted, bandaged, give fluids and I was on my way. In my records I was in and out of consciousness laughing and joking, with the nurses as you do, then my pupils went full blown, the though that I had a massive seizure but no one knows.
Mean while my parents were at home in bed. My dad got up the next morning to go to work and as he was having breakfast he listened to the radio and heard what was going on, but they were not giving details, he told my mam, but they thought that the would have heard something by now so at around 7.00am he went to work.
At work he was still very worried that no details had been given yet and could not concentrate on his work so the boss sent him home, ten minutes after arriving home at a round 12.00 noon a police car pulled up out side the house, knocking on the door they said, are you Mr and Mrs *****, your son ***** has been injured you have five minutes to pack a bag your going to the airport.
Now my mam and dad had never flown before and had booked a holiday to Florida , my mam was worried about flying but when she landed in NI she had never given it a second thought.
As they sped a long the A1M to Newcastle Airport clocking 100+ mph they got to the airport, no passports never thought about them, straight on to the tarmac and on to the plane, but they had to go to Heathrow or Gatwick. Cannot remember if they held the plan there until they arrived, then they set off to NI. They were met by a Officer that said that he was my Platoon Commander or knew me anyway, then off to the hospital.
The time is now T+16.00 hrs since the incident.
LIST OF INJURIES
Left thigh broken in 2 places. This caused a rupture in the femoral artery, they had to take a lump of vain from my right leg to use as a sort of bandage.
Left shin and calf bone shattered with bone loss (1 inch shorter in this leg )
Left ankle rebuilt.
Left calf missing (had to replace it with muscle taken from stomach Free flap abdominal only, got a 3 pack he he )
Right shin and calf bone broken in 3 places.
Both left & right legs heavily skin grafted.
8 ribs broken.
Left fore arm broken.
Left upper arm broken.
Collapsed lungs (needed ventilating.)
Bleeding of the brain (three holes in the head to relieve pressure) (Subdural Hemorrhaging?).
3/4 blind in left eye.
21 pints of blood in one 11 hour operation taken out of theatre for 2 hours, then back in, 7 pints of blood in the next 14 hour op.
I was called, a poly traumatized person. That means you had one if not several injuries of which at least one was life threatening!
Ok - in the hospital, my mother was shown to were I was in I.C.U. The security was tight very tight, there were 2 R U C lads at the door at all times, all IDs had to be shown to get in, doctors, surgeons and nursing staff, when my mother first saw me she nearly fainted. Metal, bandages wires, tubes you name it, it was sticking out. She told me that she could just see my face just, every thing else was covered, as she removed my ring the one she got me for my 18th my whole body started to swell my head went to the size of a football my scrotum (ball sack) stared to swell under the sheet. At this time she says bell's and buzzers started to go off.
I was starting to come round more frequently, and for longer periods, though still under the influence of very high doses of morphine, as well as other drugs. Time was passing very slowly for my parents, but for me it was as though it didn't exist. I would be awake for brief periods, then out for the rest of the day.
I started to get my head around what had happened, but wanted to do so myself without input from others telling me what had happened. It was important to me that I did it my way, but it was very difficult as I couldn't concentrate on more than one person at a time. If there were two I became confused. It was a nightmare! It was like being in a pub, With fifty people talking, but you only hear what you need to hear, except in my case I couldn't listen to more than one. It was confusing, and frustrating and painful, and I couldn't handle it.
So I started asking questions, and even if the truth hurt, I wanted to know. The next few weeks were terrible, because all those suppressed emotions of sadness, grief, anger, and frustration started to come to the surface.
I think some Officer's came to see me, but I was never sure if they had come of their own accord, or had been directed to show some compassion.
The days passed, though the daily hospital routine was a logistical nightmare. It took six or more nurses to change the sheets every three days as the bed was full of dead skin and stained. Dressings were painful to change too as they had to be eased off, and even though I was on pain relief I could still feel them working. They gave me gas at these times though, and it made me float around the room. It was not only the dressings of course, all 24 pins and frames holding my legs together had to be cleaned every day. I felt a bit like a well-polished car. I realised by now the importance of changing the dressings daily, as I could smell the results! Things got better over the weeks, and I managed to joke that maggots might be cheaper than dressings!
I remember one nurse giving me a bed bath, which I looked forward to because I smelled, and she covered a sponge with foam and whacked me straight in the jewels. That woke me up I can tell you! I also had to have my teeth cleaned for me as I couldn't bend my arms, so I made that a goal to be able to move them. It took about two weeks, but I did it in the end.
I think that's what got me through it, setting little goals as I progressed. I never had any doubt that I would never walk again. I just thought I would be up and about in a couple of weeks, though my weeks were longer than anyone else's. That's because I was out for so long, and time meant nothing really.
The nurses were brilliant though, and I thank them.
One day, I had a visit from a female Captain who turned out to be a psychiatrist. She had some photo's with her and suggested I might like to look at them. I told her I didn't think so, and we chatted for a while before she left, but not before asking me if I was sure I didn't want to see them. After about a week (I think), she came back and put the photo's on the table that extended across my bed. I told her I still wasn't interested and to go away. She wasn't too happy at that and told me she thought I was ready to look at them! I pushed them away as I didn't want to look at them despite what she thought, and thing's began to get a bit heated.
She insisted, until I told her to leave and to take her F******g photo's with her. She then told me I couldn't talk to her like that! I was annoyed, and the drugs weren't helping matters, so I picked up the photo's and threw them at her and told her I could talk to her anyway I chose, and if she didn't leave the next thing she would receive would be the water jug, and anything else I could reach!
She stood her ground, saying I couldn't talk to an officer like that, but I told her to get out of my face and picked up the water jug. By now, my monitors were bleeping, and the nurses came running in and removed the water jug from me and sedated me, so out I went. I never saw her again. I couldn't believe someone in her profession would need to resort to her rank to apply psychiatric help.
Later, my brother came to see me and I asked him what he was doing, having totally forgotten he had joined the Army and was in 1LI, A Coy. I did my nut and told him to get a transfer to anywhere as long as it was out of the Infantry. He said he couldn't as he had just got there. I seem to recall at this time either my OC or CO came to see me, and I told him I wanted my brother transferred. Well, he must have been listening, (unlike that female) because in a month or so my brother was transferred to a Tank Regt. which he enjoyed and thanked me for later. He was later commended for saving Kate Adie's life, so I got something right!
My apologies folks for the delay in keeping you up with the story so far, but my Doctor has decided to increase my medication to 100 mgs of morphine a day. The body needs time to adjust to that!
Not long after the female officer psychiatrist had called, they told me they wanted to keep me in Northern Ireland for a few more months. This was fine until they discovered a cache of small arms in the basement. With this news, my mother intervened as there was a suspicion that these weapons had been hidden there to finish off myself and another lad, the only two still in hospital. Well my mother intervened and said she wanted me moved, and being mam she got her way! A few days later they put me into what looked like a small rubber boat and inflated it around me. Then something went wrong and my move was cancelled. The next time, the move was on, and I recall leaving my room and going down a long corridor, just like you see on ER, when you are on your back and all you can see are the lights going past. The corridor was lined with RUC policemen, just like an honour guard, except these guys were armed and where there for my protection.
I was loaded into an army Landover/ambulance, and even though I was heavily sedated, it was an uncomfortable ride and I felt every bump. The next thing I remember was being loaded into a Chinook, suspended from the roof and one wall. I knew it was a Chinook from the exhaust heat by the ramp. Just before we took off, a female nurse came to me as she could see I was uncomfortable. She said, "David, I have two needles here, one is good, the other better, which would you like?" I just smiled at her, and she said, "I thought so" and that was that for an hour or so
The next memory was being off-loaded from a Puma on a football field 200 yards from Woolwich Arsenal, near the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in London . Whatever she had given me, it was very good as I had slept right through the transfer from the Chinook to the Puma!
I came to in the hospital, but learned I was in quarantine, or isolation, in a room with no view, and surrounded by doctors and nurses, all wearing full gowns, masks, gloves, shower hats, and plastic feet, and all poking cotton buds on sticks into every imaginable orifice. It was very uncomfortable!
I had difficulty sleeping that night due to the noise of the air filtering system, but it was necessary to keep me in a sterile atmosphere, because I had two nasty bugs that the hospital didn't want; staphylococcus and pseudomonas, which is found in dirt, and is difficult to fix, or get rid of, that's why they put me in isolation nasty little bugs, you nurses/ex nurses out there will know what I mean.
This is were I stopped I will finish it 1 day, I hope you enjoyed reading it and got some sort of understanding what not only I went and was going through but to the mams and dads of those 8 that did not make.
NOTE FROM THE WEBMASTER.
I WOULD LIKE TO THANK DAVID FOR HIS KIND PERMISSION FOR ME TO USE HIS ACCOUNT OF THE ABOVE TRAGIC STORY AND ALSO A THANK YOU FOR GEOFF WHO MADE IT POSSIBLE.