The couple who were killed with their two young boys in the M62 IRA bomb fell in love at first sight, aged just 15, and were married only three years later.
The bomb killed 12 people on a coach carrying military personnel from Manchester to Catterick after weekend leave. It exploded on the M62 near Bradford 45 years ago yesterday.
Among the fatalities were an entire family; Cpl Clifford Haughton and his wife Linda, both 23, and their two sons, Lee, aged five, and his brother Robert, who was only two.
Linda’s sister Jean Whittle, now 78, told the News Letter that like all the other young people in their area of Manchester in 1974, the young couple left school at 15 and went to work in the local mill.
“It was true love with Linda and Cliff, they met each other in the mill and that was it for those two,” Jean said. “It was just love at first sight. They had never been out with anyone else.
“Linda was quite shy. She was very gentle and I never heard her swear. She idolised Cliff.”
It was true love with Linda and Cliff, they met each other in the mill and that was it for those twoJean Whittle Aunt of Linda Haughton
The baby girl among six sisters and three brothers, she was spoiled and would never have to wash the dishes.
When Cliff was 16 his mother died and he asked Linda’s mum, Kitty, to ‘adopt’ him.
“I remember him saying to my mam, ‘will you be my mam now?’. She just went over to him and just loved him. She was everybody’s mum.
“Cliff loved being in the Army. It was his life. He was proud of it. He used to tell us everything he did. He was very handsome.”
His brother-in-law was always talking about the Army and that’s why he joined.
“Robert was a little beggar, he was into everything, he used to make you laugh and he was very handsome. They both were.
“He was a shy little boy but Lee would get into mischief were Robert wouldn’t.
“And Lee loved Robert, he always had his arm round him to protect him.”
Robert’s favourite song was ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree’. “A neighbour tied yellow paper around an old oak tree nearby and he loved it. He thought it was for him.”
Cliff had just come back from Northern Ireland .
“Then his car wouldn’t start so they went and got on the coach instead. It was just how it happened.”
Jean’s brother rang her in the mill to break the news about the bomb. She took a taxi home to her mother.
“To be honest, you just felt dead inside. You just don’t comprehend what is happening. When I went to my mum’s there were always reporters outside.
“It was nice that there were loads of letters from Ireland saying how sorry they were. But there were also some saying they deserved it.”
There were two big coffins and two small ones.
“It was awful. You were sort of in a daze. You don’t think it is happening to you. They said there was nobody left to carry on the family line.”
Jean’s mother, Kitty, never recovered.
“She was heartbroken. I don’t remember her crying, I think she was in a daze. She used to like to go out and have a drink before, but she stopped doing all that. She lost everything, she just became dull.”
Their family name was Malone and they were brought up as Catholics. “When we were kids we always said we were Irish. I think my dad’s father was Irish.”
The wider family gathered last week for her elder sister’s 80th birthday.
“Linda should have been there with her kids and her kids should have been there with kids of their own.
“My sister Anne was very bitter. The bomb exploded on her birthday. She never celebrated it again.
“She said it was all just forgotten about, that nobody cared about our family.”
The South East Fermanagh Foundation this week invited the family to design four patches for inclusion on a victims’ memorial quilt. “I think that is really nice, what a lovely idea,” Jean said.
A record number of military standard bearers turned out for the 45th anniversary commemoration service.
Albert Walsh, whose brother Les was one of those killed, said: “There were several hundred people and possibly over 40 military standard bearers on Sunday, more than ever before.
“Even after 45 years the support is stronger than ever, in particular the family following. I think the Royal British Legion put the word out and everyone showed up in solidarity.”
The memorial area is at the Hartshead Moor service area off the M62.
Elizabeth Poole, a niece of Linda’s said: “It was a really moving commemoration. It was nice, but of course it was also very sad at the same time.”