Survivors of Bloody Sunday recall their experiences that day, by Martha McClelland (first published in 1997).
Alana and Annie Burke
18 year old Alana Burke wasn’t even on the march that day, when an armoured car deliberately ran her down in the car park at the back of the High Flats. Badly injured, with crushed vertebrae, disc damage and multiple internal injuries, she was left with very serious physical complications for which she attends hospital to this day.
“I just went to have a look, and met [the march] halfway down William Street...but when some stone-throwing started at Chamberlain Street and William Street I retreated. Even trying to get out of the way was difficult. I’d already been hit with dye, soaked by the water cannon, and I was sick from the CS gas. I remember someone from the Knights of Malta helping me, then I must’ve blacked out. I remember running hard, but I had this big Maxi coat on, and because I was soaked to my very underwear, it was dragging me down. A fellow running alongside me gave me his tie to hang on to, to pull me along.
“The general thought was that the best escape was through the car park at the back of the flats, through a wee alley into Rossville Street. An armoured car came quite fast behind us into the car park. We were running hard but as I ran I saw an elderly man try to get out past the Paras into Rossville Street. I saw one soldier raise his rifle and strike the man full in the face with the butt of his rifle. The man seemed to rise in the air, then fell to the ground, blood streaming from his face.
“Meanwhile the Saracen kept coming. Someone shouted to me that it was coming straight for us. It came up behind me and struck me on the right side of my back and leg. I still remember the thud, then I blacked out for a period. I remember crawling on all fours till someone lifted me. No one could see me well because I was on the ground. It was a stampede, thousands of people trying to get through that narrow alleyway at the front of the flats.
“I was taken to the first house in Joseph Place. As I was lying there, the Knights of Malta kept coming in and out with other casualties, and fresh reports of what was happening. I heard them saying Hugh Gilmour was shot dead, and then Barney McGuigan going out with a white hanky to someone - no one knew it was Paddy Doherty at the time - and being shot through the head just before he could reach him.
“Afterwards, my whole right side was numb. I couldn’t move for a long time, and had to use a walking stick then for ages. The doctors said my insides just wouldn’t heal. Nobody in the hospital ever referred to why I had to have all these operations after operations. No one ever said it was because of Bloody Sunday. There was a silence about it.”
Despite all this, Alana says, “I got off light, compared to some, who are walking around the town even today full of bullets and pain from Bloody Sunday.”
Her mother, Annie Burke, has her own memories of that day: “I was standing looking at this wee fellow who had been shot, a fair-haired boy, a lovely looking fellow, in William Street. I couldn’t stop crying. It seemed like I was there ages before anyone came for him. I just stood crying and crying, and then I went home. I cried all the way up Bishop Street. I couldn’t get him out of my mind. Why did he have to die? Then I got to my house and tried to tell them about it. Someone stopped me, and said, ‘Have you not heard? Alana’s in Altnagelvin.’ Of course everyone took it to mean the worst. Such was the confusion at the time, Fr Bradley came up to the house and told me that Alana was dead on arrival at Altnagelvin.
“You didn’t need to be shot that day to be injured. The entire community was injured by it. And there was nothing for anyone, no counselling, no help offered in dealing with the trauma. To this day, I’ll never be the same, never forget it.”
Alice and Jim Doherty
Only two gold medals have ever been awarded in Ireland by the Knights of Malta Ambulance Corps, and Alice Doherty was given one for her work on Bloody Sunday.
It wasn’t until later, until after the funerals, that she could sit down and think of what she had actually done. “Days later,” she recalls, “Halbridge McFadden told me with a look of pure amazement on his face that I scaled a 6 foot wall at Glenfada Park. I didn’t remember doing it, yet I know it’s true. I’m only mentioning it because there’s so much blocked out. You had to block it out, or you couldn’t have gone on.”
Alice has such horrific memories that I couldn’t write some of the details. Along with Fr Mulvey, Fr McLaughlin, and Leo Day (in charge of the Order of Malta that day) she was attending the wounded in Shiels’s house in Colmcille Court.
After treating John Johnston, more Knights came in with bad news. Alice was called aside by Day. “You have a white coat,” he said, “go around the back of Shiels’s to a Saracen there. We hear there are casualties in it.”
Alice recalls, “I went in, and there were bodies piled in like you see in films of corpses in Auschwicz. The body on the bottom was definitely moving. Fr Mulvey and Leo Day had got up there by this time, and Fr McLaughlin came soon after. We got as far as the Saracen and Fr Mulvey saw shells lying on the ground and said, ‘Get some of those.’ They were dum-dums, split all down the sides. I lifted three of them. The soldier with the rifle saw me and made me give them to him.”
Her husband Jim, also a Knight of Malta and there on the day, describes the scene as “a killing triangle. You were running out of it only to run into it. They covered all roads, shooting from the Walls, from Rossville Street, William Street, and Glenfada Park.”
Alice gave a detailed statement to the Widgery Tribunal, which was never used.
“They just took what they wanted. The important statements were never used. They didn’t use the priests’ statements or the statements from the Order of Malta workers.”
Jim remembers Widgery with anger and disgust: “You knew what happened, and then you saw Widgery. All those lies! All those lies.
“They claimed they were being fired on. Yet they were running into the firing zone, as they claimed it was. Trained soldiers don’t run into a firing line. These were the Paras, an elite. The soldier standing there talking to me at the Saracen wouldn’t have been standing there if there had been firing. He would have taken cover.”
Alice remembers one Para firing at her. “He was running and firing from the hip. Trained soldiers just don’t do that. Do you know,” she adds, “the worst part of that day was the pure hatred in those soldiers’ eyes. I’ve never seen hatred like that in anyone’s eyes, before or since. I wondered if they were drugged. They were definitely psyched up. Their eyes were wide open, really vicious, and them running after people, shooting them.”
Jim comments, “You know, in 23 years of marriage, we’ve never talked about it until this week. People, including reporters, would ask, ‘What do you remember about Bloody Sunday?’ I’d always say, ‘not much’. I couldn’t talk about it, I would be afraid to say something that would bring pain to the relatives.
“You just couldn’t keep thinking about it. I closed the doors on a whole lot of things. The whole town was the same. Everyone was numb until the funerals were over. I think people only realised that this had really happened as the last funerals ended.”
Alice remembers coming home: “I was sitting in the sitting room. My father hadn’t been there. He asked me, ‘what was going on there? I heard there were people hurt.’ I couldn’t say anything. I just got up and went into the kitchen to fix the tea. I started crying. I couldn’t speak. I gave him his tea and went straight to my bed and cried the whole night.”
She continues, “People always say the years will put it past you, but it doesn’t. Nothing ever will. It took me years to get any way back to normal. You went to your work, but the feeling wasn’t there. You just went through the motions. Your body was functioning, but your brain was dead. I was studying at the Tech but I stopped it - I couldn’t think at all. And then afterwards, there was so much happening. You just recovered from one thing and then the next thing happened.
“I felt lonely and cut off. I kept asking myself, ‘How is everyone else coping with this?’ You knew you were a group, you’d all been through that day, but you were isolated still. No one wanted to open up, in case it would open the floodgates and bring back the full terror of that day, always afraid to say anything that might cause the relatives more pain.”
Jim points out “If Bloody Sunday had happened in England, if it had been Dunblane or something, counsellors and social workers would have been sent in, not just to the families of those killed, and the wounded, but everyone who saw their neighbours cut down like that. No one offered any help. The whole community just had to pick up and go on somehow.”
Twenty-five years after being shot on Bloody Sunday, Mickey Bradley, although only 48, is a badly disabled man. Shot in the stomach and arm, he has no power in his left hand or arm. He can’t move his thumb more than a quarter of an inch, or close his fingers. His right forearm is locked at the elbow, and he can’t raise his left arm. He can’t put his socks on, button his shirt or even straighten his tie. Able-bodied people often forget that you need two hands for that.
Soldier O of the 1st Paras made sure that Mickey Bradley, aged 23 and a young married man with 2 children, was effectively left to live his life with only one hand.
Huge dark scars on his forearm mark where the bullets entered his body. A first bullet broke his arm cleanly in two. Another entered his abdomen. He was lucky with those, he says. One bullet, possibly the same one coming out of his abdomen, was deflected by the bone as it entered his forearm and travelled through the arm. It pulled everything with it, doctors told him, causing multiple fractures. As it travelled up his arm to emerge behind his elbow, it left a path of smashed bones, mangled nerves and torn tendons.
Mickey still isn’t certain of the precise medical details, only the results. At one stage years later he asked for his medical records to see the extent of his injuries, and all they gave him were the dates he went in for his long series of operations and a short phrase naming each operation (see box).
Without any trace of self-pity, Mickey remarks, “In many ways the injured are the forgotten people of Bloody Sunday. I’m not trying to take anything from the dead or their families - God knows how they have suffered. But to this day, many people in this town don’t realise how our lives changed beyond all recognition as a result of what happened that day. Only our wives or husbands know what we’re going through, day in and day out. They know what we’re going through, because they are living our nightmares. When I come in after a pint, my wife listens to the cries and sobs. The terror of that day has never left.”
Neither has his anger at the cruel and calculated destruction of young lives. “I was already settled in life, a married man with two children. Barney McGuigan and one or two of the others were already living their lives. But what about young Jackie Duddy and the rest of them? They were only 17, bits of wains, about to start their lives. Their lives were stolen from them before they had a chance to live.”
Twenty five years on, Bradley knows intimately every detail of that day: which Para was where, where each of the dying and wounded fell, who shot him, who shot the others, and every detail of the many contradictions in the Paras statements, both at the time and to the Widgery Tribunal. Those few minutes of shooting, and their consequences, are a nightmare that has never left. He is heartened to see the latest public interest in Bloody Sunday, Don Mullan’s book, and heightened pressure on the British. “Isn’t it only right? This was the largest massacre of civilians by the military anywhere in Europe since the Second World War. The media forgets this. They keep showing all the footage of Enniskillen and never Bloody Sunday. Were we less than human, and the people of Enniskillen human?”
He gives all credit to the relatives who have never forgotten, and struggled for so long on their own. “What can we say after 25 years that we haven’t already said?” he asks. “But for myself, personally, I want to see Lt. Col. Derek Wilford, OBE - especially him! - Major General RC Ford, CBE, Brigadier AP MacLellan, MBE, Lt. Col. MC Steele and Lt Col. PM Welsh, up in court on charges. Not the young Para that shot me - I want them, the ones who planned that day and made the decisions and gave the orders at no risk to themselves - in court.”