I still feel guilty for driving my brother to his death in IRA bomb

What remains of the rear end of the civilian coach which was carrying servicemen and their families on the M62 near Bradford in 1974 when an IRA bomb in the boot ripped it apart, killing 12 people.
What remains of the rear end of the civilian coach which was carrying servicemen and their families on the M62 near Bradford in 1974 when an IRA bomb in the boot ripped it apart, killing 12 people.

An IRA bomb on a coach on the M62 which killed 12 people still leaves the brother of one victim racked with guilt and led directly to the break up of their wider family.

Albert Walsh was speaking about one of the forgotten IRA attacks in England, the M62 coach bombing on 4 February 1974, which took place 45 years ago on Monday.

Les Walsh, 17, was killed in the IRA coach bombing on the M62 in 1974.

Les Walsh, 17, was killed in the IRA coach bombing on the M62 in 1974.

It killed his brother, Signalman Leslie Walsh, 17, and horrifically, an entire family of four; Cpl Clifford Haughton and his wife Linda, both 23, and their two sons, Lee, aged five, and his brother Robert, who was only three. Another six-year-old boy suffered serious burns.

The civilian coach was taking over 50 soldiers and their families from Manchester back to their army base in Catterick after weekend leave when the 50lb bomb hidden in the boot detonated on the M62 near Bradford. The explosion was heard over several miles and scattered bodies for 250 yards along the motorway.

The others killed were Cpl Terence Griffin, 24, Gunner Leonard Godden, 22, Signalman Michael Waugh, 23, Signalman Paul Reid, 17, L/Cpl James McShane, 29, Fusilier Jack Hynes, 20, and Fusilier Stephen Whalley, 18. Another dozen passengers were seriously injured.

M62: I didn’t get to sit on bomb as I was late for coach

Albert Walsh, whose 17-year-old brother Les was killed in the IRA coach bomb on the M62 in 1974.

Albert Walsh, whose 17-year-old brother Les was killed in the IRA coach bomb on the M62 in 1974.

The annual memorial service is at the memorial garden at Hartshead Moor service station, this year on Sunday, where Albert will be speaking.

“It is a very emotional day,” he told the News Letter. “As the time comes, it gets to me. Forty-five years is an awful long time but is still very fresh and quite raw. It doesn’t go away.

“It was forgotten for so many years, probably because it was at the height of the Troubles. It was a small portion of that, but for us it was huge.”

He has many photographs of his brother on display in his home.

“He would have been 63 now but in my mind he will always be 17, my little brother the rebel.”

Les used to steal whiskey from his father, who would then blame it on their uncle, who lived with them.

On one occasion their father caught them smoking and made them smoke his extra ‘Capston Full Strength’ cigarettes as punishment.

“I felt ill, but Les turned around and smiled: ‘They are alright them, dad’.”

They enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Blackpool. “We used to ride the donkeys from the stables to the beach and walk them along the beach for kids in the summer.”

In 1974 Albert’s distraught mother rang him at work to break the news of the bomb.

Les had just enjoyed a great weekend with friends and didn’t want to go back to barracks on Sunday night. But Albert insisted on driving his little brother to catch the ill-fated coach.

“It stays with me to this day. If I had turned around and brought him back home again he would still be with us.

“I have sort of lived with that.”

His wounds go too deep to see any irony in his family’s background.

“We were all brought up as Catholics. Walsh is the fifth most common name in Ireland, we must have some connections in Ireland somewhere.”

The IRA saw soldiers as legitimate targets, he says.

“But there was a full family wiped out - a mother father and two young children. That was absolutely horrendous.”

Some relatives feel they have been “stonewalled” in their search for truth. They have many press clippings linking the attack to leading south Armagh IRA figure Brian Keenan.

“Apparently he was a suspect but died in 2008.”

Judith Ward was jailed for the attack in 1974 but in 1992 it was declared a miscarriage of justice and she was freed.

Albert is familiar with government proposals for dealing with the past, through the Stormont House Agreement.

“It is going to be very selective in what investigations they carry out,” he said,

Among some relatives there was a meeting with the IRA and INLA with a view to “working towards peace and reconciliation”.

However the conclusion was that only those killed could really forgive.

Personally he would feel angry at the thought of meeting those responsible.

“I would be angry, it is a long time ago. I don’t know whether I could face somebody like that. I certainly wouldn’t like to meet any of the commanders of the IRA.

“You just question them don’t you? Why would you do such a thing? Why would you cause so much harm and distress to so many people?

“They have broken so many people’s lives.”

M62: I didn’t get to sit on bomb as I was late for coach