THOUSANDS of people turned out to hear a service in Royal Avenue on Saturday in memory of two members of the Ulster Defence Regiment who were murdered by the IRA.
Private Fred Starrett and Private James Cummings died in a bomb blast up as they closed a security gate on Royal Avenue on 24th February 1988.
Saturday’s parade, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of the soldiers, was organised by the Ulster Defenders of the Realm LOL 710 - an Orange lodge made up of former UDR members.
Five bands marched from Templemore Avenue in East Belfast to Royal Avenue for the memorial service just outside Castlecourt Shopping Centre.
The bands marched behind the banners of Banner of the Cross LOL 1310 and Johnston’s Golden Star LOL 1934, of which Pte Starrett and Pte Cummings were members respectively, as well as the banner of LOL 710.
The site of the service was one of devastation 25 years ago, when the IRA detonated a 200lb bomb behind a hoarding during the construction of Castlecourt.
The blast killed Pte Cummings instantly, however Pte Starrett clung to life and was rushed to Belfast City Hospital. Doctors were unable to save him and, tragically, he died of his injuries the following morning.
A second bomb intended for police and soldiers conducting a follow-up operation failed to explode and was defused by the army.
Saturday was a day of emotions for James’ brother Neill Cummings, who said: “It’s important for everybody to come here today... this day has to be a day to remember the two soldiers who sacrificed their lives for this country, and that’s it, and nothing else.”
James joined the UDR as a part-time soldier while also working in a hardware store on Belfast’s Cregagh Road. He was affectionately known as ‘Boon’ after the TV series because of the leather biker’s jacket he wore and his love for motorbikes.
Many former servicemen came to the service to pay their respects to James and Fred. One of them was Colin Patterson from Belfast, a former member of the Royal Logistic Corps who said it was important, “to commemorate the service and sacrifice of two guys who were murdered in the line of duty.
“To my knowledge nobody has ever been prosecuted, done jail time for it or anything else... People should be doing time for it; why isn’t there more being done to track these people down?”
During the service the Rev David McIlveen paid tribute to the families whose lives were rocked by the deaths of their loved ones. For them, he said, “each day has been a day of personal affliction, a month of emotional pain, and a year of loss.
“I do believe their grief has been compounded by the fact that the perpetrators of these evil acts of murder walk our streets... and pose as respected members of our society.”
Rev McIlveen described this as “morally wrong” and “judicially unjust”.
He added: “I said at his funeral service 25 years ago that Fred was the messenger of life, but his murderers were the messengers of death. That message of life is still preserved.”
Fred was involved in the production of Gospel tracts for distribution around the world. A tribute to him described the young soldier as a “brave, professional and committed member of the Ulster Defence Regiment”.
During the service wreaths were laid by the families of the two UDR men, members of the Orange Lodges to which they belonged, and the Lord Mayor of Belfast Gavin Robinson.
At 11.40am the return parade began at Royal Avenue, turning left onto Castle Place and High Street before proceeding into East Belfast via Queen’s Bridge.