Army widow: I hope death of my Jock won’t be in vain

Linda McHugh lobbying Tom Arthur MSP in Edinburgh for reinstatement of war widow pensions
Linda McHugh lobbying Tom Arthur MSP in Edinburgh for reinstatement of war widow pensions

A woman whose husband was killed by the IRA near Crossmaglen says she hopes that the “horror” of her experience will not be in vain but will contribute to a better future for Northern Ireland.

Trooper John Gibbons, 22, from the 17/21st Lancers, died after a double IRA bomb attack near Crossmaglen on May 5, 1973. The attack also killed Sergeant Major William Vines, based in Aldershot, and Corporal Terence Williams, 35, from Kent.

Trooper John 'Jock' Gibbons from Edinburgh was killed in Crossmaglen in 1973 in an IRA bomb attack

Trooper John 'Jock' Gibbons from Edinburgh was killed in Crossmaglen in 1973 in an IRA bomb attack

Edinburgh man, John – known as ‘Jock’ to his friends – had gone on tour to Northern Ireland after his son was born.

His widow, Linda McHugh, said she decided to stay at their home in Germany and look after their child.

“The day Jock left we kept the mood light and mostly talked about our plans for his return,” she said.

“Jock had a great sense of humour and kept me laughing as he ran down the apartment stairs to his transport. I am grateful for this because it was to be the last time I saw him and I remember the sound of his laugh.”

It was early afternoon when she heard the knock on the door. “To describe the utter disbelief and horror as you are told this devastating news is impossible.”

She added: “I was advised at the time not to view the body when he was returned as his injuries were too horrific.

“For the first few years of grieving I held on to an irrational hope that his body wasn’t in the coffin and Jock would come home.”

Over this period she had little contact from the MoD or his regiment and felt “completely abandoned”.

“The only visit I would have was when the MoD pension’s officer came to make sure I was single and living alone. These visits made me feel like a criminal but I was a victim.”

However, she grew strong and her new son gave her joy and a reason to move forward.

She remarried a “wonderful man” but at that point her compensation pension was taken away, removing her sense of financial security and independence. She was told that “you will be looked after by another man”.

The government withdrew the “cruel” new rules between 2005 and 2015, however Linda is one of 300 war widows who have still not had their pensions reinstated.

“This has brought to the surface the pain and suffering that I had managed to hide away for so long.”

She joined with other Army widows to lobby Scottish Parliamentary Liaison Officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Tom Arthur MSP, last month as part of a delegation organised by the South East Fermanagh Foundation.

She hopes by honouring her husband’s memory she will “find peace again”.

The recent death of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness saw him hailed by many as a great peacemaker, but rejected by others for his IRA past.

“I don’t have any thoughts or feelings for him, he has left a trail of sadness behind and my thoughts and prayers are only for the innocent victims,” she said. “I understand reconciliation has to take place and my hopes for Northern Ireland are that peace will continue and the sacrifice that Jock and others gave will not be in vain.”