Teenage bandsmen and women who stopped to help soldiers caught in the IRA’s Ballygawley bomb in 1988 still suffer serious emotional scars today, it has been revealed.
The IRA murdered eight solders from the Light Infantry Regiment in a landmine attack along the Ballygawley to Omagh road 25 years ago today, August 20.
A memorial service was held at the scene on Sunday, during which 12 wreaths were laid. The soldiers, in their teens or twenties, were in an unmarked bus returning to their Omagh base after a holiday.
Gordon Burnside was a member of the Omagh Protestant Boys band which happened upon the scene, along with members of Tullyally band from Londonderry.
“It still lives with me today,” he said. “At first some of us thought it was a car accident but I knew right away it was a bomb – there was a crater.
“It was dark. I ran back and told everyone on the bus ‘if you can come and help, come. If you are not good with blood then stay where you are’.”
There was quiet and then someone asked – ‘what if there is another bomb?’.
Gordon replied: “Look, we have got to go and help”.
“There was a fear in the back of all our minds of another bomb. We all thought it.”
Mr Burnside was the only person there who was first aid trained, which he had acquired through the Territorial Army.
“I made sure that everybody who was injured was with somebody else. From my training I knew that if somebody was injured they could drift off and die from shock if someone did not keep talking to them.”
One of the soldiers crawled off into a barn. He had internal injuries but he died alone from shock, Mr Burnside said.
“We had young girls and boys from our bands acting like men and women that night. T-shirts and shirts were ripped up to create bandages.
“They put their band jackets over the dead and injured. All our uniforms were ruined with blood, but it didn’t matter.
“There was carnage – people were lying dead all around. It was horrific.
“All the young people involved did a fabulous job. But they never got the recognition they deserved.
“I still talk to them today and many of them say they cannot go down that road even now. When I go past a nervous feeling goes all over me.
“The bus was upended in the crater and they lifted it up and crawled in underneath to pull out bodies.”
Mr Burnside had sold televisions to many soldiers from the Omagh barracks.
“I got quite a few letters from them and their families thanking me.
“In the darkness of that night it was eerie and scary. In the daylight you can see what to do but it is much scarier at night.
“Quite a lot of the fellas who were there that night say they would still feel scared if they are out somewhere at night. It would bring it all back them.”
The eight soliders murdered on August 20 1988 at Ballygawley were from the 1st Battalion of the Light Infantry. They were Privates Jason Burfitt, Blair Edgar Morris Bishop, Alexander Stephen Lewis, Stephen James Wilkinson, Peter Lloyd Bullock, Richard Greener, Mark Norsworthy, Jason Spencer Winter.
Soon afterwards, eight men from Carrickmore and Pomeroy were arrested. Reportedly, three of the same men were killed soon afterwards by the SAS; Gerard Harte, his brother Martin and Brian Mullin.
Also mentioned at Sunday’s memorial service at the scene were other men who were killed by bombs nearby; in July 1983 the IRA killed UDR men Cpl Thomas Herron, Pte John Roxborough, Pte Oswald Neely, Pte Ronald Roulston Alexander; in 1973 Lt Andrew Somervell of the 16/5 Lancers also died in a bomb attack on the same road, the Omagh to Aughnacloy Road.