A surgeon who helped treat survivors of the 1988 Ballygawley bus bombing says that republicans threatened his family in the aftermath of his work.
Rodney Peyton OBE, an internationally recognised consultant trauma surgeon, was a senior member of staff in the Dungannon hospital team which treated survivors of the attack, which took place 30 years ago today, 20 August 1988.
The soldiers were returning from leave and were targeted at Ballygawley as they made their way from Belfast airport to their base in Omagh.
Asked if the tightly knit medical community saw more suffering up close than any other group during the Troubles, Dr Peyton replied: “We did. And then you got threatened from time to time depending on who you just treated. After the Ballygawley bomb the republican movement threatened my family. And after IRA men were shot, the loyalists threatened us ... for a while you were warned to look under your car in case you were targeted.
“If you treated soldiers you would be called a Brit. If you treated IRA men you would be treated as a republican.”
A local priest came to warn him once about a threat and local newspapers investigated. Then after a few days the message came back that the threat had been lifted.
“The feature of terrorism that is different to war is that you live in the community. And the community is divided ... they can’t see that you are neutral. Hotheads are hotheads.”
He paid tribute to a local GP, consultants, doctors and nurses in two hospitals who put in “a big team effort” to treat the Ballygawley soldiers.
Grace Curry from Londonderry was a member of Londonderry’s Star of the Valley Band that came upon the scene minutes after the bombing.
“You just feel so sad when I look around and see the families that lost their loved ones,” she said.
“I always have guilt that I could not save their people.”
They were driving along in their bus when a man in the middle of the road waved them down.
“He got on the bus and he was bleeding in different places and he said: ‘Could you help me mates?’”
They assumed he was a civilian and thought it was just a car accident.
“A girl called Anne comforted him on the bus and the older members of the band got off to see what they could do.
“I have never described the scene. It was just awful.
“There were people scattered around quite far apart. Most of them were thrown out of the bus.”
There was a 30ft crater in the road from the bomb.
“At first when we were running up towards the scene I thought it was children crying. But the closer you got you just knew that there was something wrong. It was the most eerie, dark feeling that could ever come over you.
“It was the loneliest dark road. It still haunts me to this day – how dark it was and how cold.
“There was not much light. You just did your best.”
She would not describe herself as religious.
“But I just prayed to God that I could deal with whatever was meant to be,” she added.
“There were bodies of people that didn’t survive there and there were people that did survive. They were just crying and moaning and there were screams.
“Some of the screams will live with me forever.”
She had no first aid training but when soldier James Leatherbarrow got off the bus she calmed him down. The two still maintain a special bond.
“We chatted about his family. I just wanted him to stay awake. I said to him ‘stay with me, stay with me’.
“He was quite anxious and was in a state. I tried to calm him down and we just talked about different things.
“He was worried about his legs, and I said, ‘no your legs were there’.”
Grace has since had to have counselling to deal with the trauma of the experience.