The sole survivor of the Kingsmills massacre says his mind is fixed on counting down the hours until today’s 40th anniversary of the murder of 10 work colleagues.
The Protestant workmen were gunned down in south Armagh as they travelled home from work on January 4, 1976.
Alan Black was hit 18 times but survived,
“At this time of the year my mind goes into countdown,” he told the News Letter. “I am looking at the clock now - and the boys have 29 hours to live. Then 28. Then 27.”
“And then coming up near the time of it - they have five minutes to live - and then they are dead.
“It is very hard to put into words. There is an awful sadness attached to it.
“I think of Jim McConville, who would have been a missionary and probably would have been a grandfather now. I think of Robert Chambers - 17 years old - he would probably be a grandfather now. I think of them all but especially the sadness of the young ones who had all their life in front of them. Kenny Worton had two wee girls, Raquel and Suzanne.”
Mr Black was 32 and had two young sons and a one-year-old daughter at the time.
He rejects justification for the massacre as a backlash for the UVF murder of three Reavey brothers in nearby Whitecross and three members of the O’Dowd family in Lurgan, both the day before.
There was no sense of alarm getting out of the minibus on that fateful night.
“It was the most natural thing in the world that an Army patrol would be on the road after what happened to the Reaveys the day before.
“It was only when they took Richard Hughes out of the line because he was Catholic and told him to run that I thought ‘the British Army don’t normally do that’.
“After Richard ran down the road, a man with a clipped English accent shouted ‘right’ and the gunmen opened fire.
“We were all hit. I think they shot us waist-high to stop anyone running.
“But nobody was dead. There was quite a lot of pain. Quite a lot of moaning and screaming.
“But then this same guy said ‘finish them off’. And I watched - staying as quiet as I could - and saw them shooting the boys on the ground.
“And when it was my turn, the bullet did hit my head but it didn’t penetrate my skull. I didn’t even flinch because I knew if I moved there would be another one.”
The fact that they then “casually” walked away made it all the more sinister, he felt.
Mr Black described the other witness, Mr Hughes, as “a true gentleman” and said they both suffer survivor guilt.
And he noted that the Reavey brothers’ mother Sadie was “an absolute lady”.
She went daily to visit Mr Black in hospital and took toys for his children every Christmas.
“What really grates on me is the fact that the Kingsmills investigation was wound up very quickly. It became obvious they didn’t want to catch these boys.”
He added: “We were sacrifices to an informant so he would not blow his cover. That is my firm belief.”
Police gave many reasons for missing files - flood, fire, explosion and asbestos; “the only one missing was a plague of locusts”.
“Senior policemen and senior politicians - I have absolutely no time for them. There is blood on their hands.”
He is also sceptical of people trying to pin the blame on English Army officer Captain Robert Nairac.
Mr Black was part of a delegation which met Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2012 and asked for an apology for his government’s border security failures in the 1970s.
“He said he wasn’t going to apologise for the IRA. So whether it was a politician’s answer or whether it was that he misread the question, I don’t know.”
Mr Kenny is “a very humane man” but Mr Black noted the Irish government were, by contrast, able to seal the border entirely during the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001.
What would give him peace of mind would be an admission of how badly the authorities let the families down.
“Successive chief constables have been sitting on this.”
He hopes that the pending inquest and an ongoing Police Ombudsman investigation will bear fruit.
“As far as the people who carried it out, in an ideal world they would walk into a police barracks and own up to it. They would only get two years anyway. If they have a conscience at all it has to be playing on them.
“We are 40 years down the line and we are all looking at our mortality. I don’t know how they are going to meet their maker.”
As for the gunmen, Mr Black said: “I know who they all were. So do the police.”
Two of them, from a republican family, grew up in Bessbrook, he said.
“They never joined in like other people.”
Mr Black would be open to ‘reconciliation’ with them, but added: “With their mindset, they would not want it.”
He dismissed common justification for the shootings on grounds of sectarian tit-for-tat killings.
“There was no sectarian stuff in Bessbrook; I am a very proud Bessbrook man because of the way people there reacted to Kingsmills.
“We are all still neighbours and all still get on.”
See other ‘Kingsmills 40 years on’ reports: