‘My brother was killed by IRA on Yorkshire motorway’

The remains of the coach which was carrying the servicemen and their family members in 1974 on the M62 motorway in England.
The remains of the coach which was carrying the servicemen and their family members in 1974 on the M62 motorway in England.

A victim of an IRA bomb attack on a motorway coach says he will be “humbled” to tell his story at a landmark event for Great Britain Troubles victims on Sunday in Manchester.

Albert Walsh, 63 and from Burnley, lost his brother Les, 17, in the bomb attack on an army coach on the M62 in Yorkshire on February 3, 1974.

Albert Walsh. His brother Les was killed in the IRA coach bombing by the IRA, which killed 11 people and injured 14 others on the M62 motorway near Batley in 1974.

Albert Walsh. His brother Les was killed in the IRA coach bombing by the IRA, which killed 11 people and injured 14 others on the M62 motorway near Batley in 1974.

It claimed 12 lives, including an entire family of four.

He is to be a guest of honour at the 25th anniversary for the 1992 Manchester bomb attack in the city which injured 65 people this Sunday.

The event, at St Ann’s Parish Church, is being used to formally launch a new support service for survivors and victims of Troubles-related terror, with supporters travelling from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to attend.

“We had a great childhood together, growing up in Blackpool,” Albert says of his brother, who was two years younger.

Les Walsh was killed in the IRA coach bombing by the IRA, which killed 11 people and injured 14 others on the M62 motorway near Batley in 1974.

Les Walsh was killed in the IRA coach bombing by the IRA, which killed 11 people and injured 14 others on the M62 motorway near Batley in 1974.

“My fondest memory was me getting told off by the headmaster for him smoking and fighting. I had to suppress a smile because I was the headmaster’s pet.

“But Les was never going to listen to me, he was always the rebel. However when the joined the Army, he did learn some respect.”

Although he was 17, Les knew pubs would not refuse to serve him in his uniform, so he stopped in every one of the 20 bars in their neighbourhood at Tyldesley, Manchester.

“When he finally arrived home he fell through the door,” said Albert.

The M62 IRA bombing memorial plaque at a service station near the scene of the atrocity

The M62 IRA bombing memorial plaque at a service station near the scene of the atrocity

“He would have been 61 in a couple of weeks. You just wonder how his life would have gone on. I have two grown up kids now. His death was the worst day of my life.”

It was a Sunday evening and Les had come home for the weekend. The trains were on strike and Albert took his brother to Manchester Piccadilly where he caught a coach to his barracks in Catterick.

“He didn’t want to go back, he had such a great weekend out drinking with his mates. I told him if he didn’t go back to barracks they would stop him coming home on weekends.”

The back three quarters of the coach was destroyed. He did not look at his brother’s remains as his injuries were too severe, and it “would have broken my heart”.

Corporal Clifford Houghton, 23, also died along with his wife and two young sons. Judith Ward was initially jailed over the bombing in 1974, but then cleared of the crime in 1992.

In recent years an annual memorial service has been held at the nearest service station, where there is now a memorial.

“Sunday means a lot to me,” Albert said, adding that he will be “humbled” to tell people his own story when he speaks at Sunday’s launch event.

“I think the fact that all the victims together can talk over these things is important. For so long all these things were forgotten. It broke my mum’s heart. She never got over it. It upsets me even now.”

His father “took solace in drink”, and his parents’ marriage broke down less than a year after the bombing.

As Albert was speaking to the News Letter he added: “I am standing here look at a picture of Les now. I have all the photographs of him on show in our dining room. I am keeping his memory alive.”

Sunday’s event to mark 25 years since the 1992 Manchester IRA bombing has been organised by Kenny Donaldson from Lisnaskea-based South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF).

“Great Britain-based victims and survivors from across Great Britain will come together in Manchester to acknowledge the 25th Anniversary of the 1992 Manchester bomb, but also for the launch of SEFF’s GB support service,” he said. “We are honoured that Albert Walsh and his family will be amongst those attending.”

A memorial quilt featuring the M62 victims will also be on show.

• The new victims’ service will be called the South East Fermanagh Foundation’s’s GB Support Service for Victims & Survivors – see Monday’s paper for more details.