‘Seeing dad’s body and the blood, that’s something I’ll never forget’

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A Co Londonderry woman says she still feels angry over 40 years after the IRA shot her father outside their home - leaving her to attend his funeral on her 17th birthday.

In 1976 father-of-three Jimmy Speer ran his own car repair and sales business opposite the family home in the Co Londonderry village of Desertmartin.

“My father was a part-timer in the Ulster Defence Regiment, one of many locals who similarly valued their community and Ulster,” said his daughter Deirdre Speer Whyte.

“At 16, I was interested in politics. I watched the news and saw the aftermath of the bombs and the murders, but no 16-year-old ever believes they will experience the brutality they see on TV.”

On the fateful day of November 9, 1976, the Speer family were getting ready to go out.

Deirdre recalled: “I heard a few bangs, not unusual when you live near a garage. Then the phone rang, my mother screamed and ran out of the house and across the road. Of course, we followed. The sight of our father’s dead body and the blood is something we will never forget. Nor will I forget my 17th birthday, spent at his funeral.”

The Speer’s family life changed irrevocably from that point.

“The pain, the disbelief, the anger that murder brings to a family cannot be imagined,” said Deirdre. “Nothing seemed important as we struggled with the idea that an IRA murder gang had struck in our village, in our home.”

The family realised the killers spent time watching from the darkness, gathering information, and assembling weapons before they struck.

“Time just stopped; plans for the future meant nothing. My father was not just my father, he was a son who left parents and siblings bereft, a soldier who left comrades behind, a community leader who would no longer contribute to his community.

“He was a grandfather who would never meet the next generation. I remember he had beautiful blue eyes and I still feel bitterness that the last person his eyes smiled at was his murderer.”

There might still be hope that her family may get “a fragment of justice”, Deirdre said.

“After all the IRA terrorists have got apologies and payouts, after the republican politicians have abused their power and destroyed Ulster. Long after his contemporaries are dead maybe there will be justice for my father. And for the men and women like him, who died protecting their country, they deserve to be more than just statistics.”

The Operation Banner parade is important in reminding everyone that such sacrifices are still remembered, Deirdre said.

“To my family and to those of us who subsequently served, the Op Banner parade is evidence that our fallen family members are not forgotten,” she said. “There have been parades and services of thanks for the fallen of World War I; World War II commemorations are just beginning. Our dead deserve remembrance too. Without events such as the Lisburn parade, our sacrifices could be obliterated from history too easily, because we are too often the silent majority.”