On Bloody Sunday: A New History of the Day and its Aftermath by Those Who Were There, by Julieann Campbell, Monoray, 384 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-1800960404
To capture the enormity of Bloody Sunday and its significance, and to do so while respecting the integrity and honour of its victims and their campaigning relatives, is an immense task. Yet Julieann Campbell in this remarkable chronicle achieves it. She puts together a chronology of circumstance and evidence with interviews and accounts of trauma as offered by eye witnesses and relatives. Paralleling that, she assembles the narrative of the British army and its supportive British and Northern Ireland governments. The minute-by-minute army brigade log books of the soldiers as the killing is conducted are woven into the text, providing a compelling and authentic account of that tragedy and its catastrophic reverberations. Also stitched in are transcripts of the tape recordings of contemporaneous army conversations obtained from a local radio ham. It in no way diminishes her accomplishment either to say that the harvest of evidence garnered for the inquiry into Bloody Sunday by Lord Saville in 2010 was also to hand. Rather it enhances it, for that inquiry took twelve years and it has taken the author’s diligence another ten to examine and evaluate it.
It is a very Derry book, and the author is clear about that. It is “For the people of Derry, who have never given up in their pursuit of truth, justice and civil rights.” For that, Derry will enter Julieann Campbell into that canon of truth tellers that began with Colmcille many centuries ago. Of all the narratives that weave their way through the book one of the most commanding is that of Father Daly (later Bishop Edward Daly). Helpfully, the author provides an account of the social conditions in Derry in the 1960s. Father Daly, having arrived in 1962, explains the overcrowding: “People cooked, ate, slept, made love, brought up children all in one room.” The nine-storey-high Rossville flats, built to alleviate the housing crisis, he adds, “were built for the sole purpose of building up and keeping people in that particular electoral ward”. His accounts of the actual day as he moved amidst the terrifying chaos are heartbreakingly vivid. He was, in every way, the people’s bishop.
Kay Duddy, aunt of the author, is another compelling witness throughout, not least for her account of the relentless campaigning over three decades for the truth of Bloody Sunday to be told. Whatever she speaks of, from learning of her brother’s death right through to being in the Guildhall in 2010 for the Saville inquiry announcement of the complete innocence of the victims, her authenticity renders it even more powerful. What is not in the book is that Kay Duddy and her sisters, for most of the decade of the Saville inquiry, were at the door of the inquiry venue to personally thank those of us who gave evidence. It is no wonder that she was recently quoted as saying “I am seventy-five years old now. I need my life back for a while.”
As regards my own participation on that day, I remember making my way towards the speech platform when approached by a group of women to help a young man whose face was a bloodied mess. He had been hit in the face by a CS gas cannister and his broken nose was hanging from his face. Clearly he needed attention. We moved towards Rossville flats. As we entered the stairwell, people began screaming that the army was coming and pure panic set in. Everyone scrambled up the concrete stairs. Through the stairwell slats I saw the Saracen armoured cars sweep into the open space below, soldiers dismounting before they had stopped and falling onto a one-knee firing stance. By now our frantic group had found an open door and all dived through it in utter terror.
The shooting subsided. I moved down the stairs at the other end of that Rossville block. Near the bottom of the stairs lay the body of a young man in a brown coat. It was Kevin McElhinney. A priest gave the last rites as we placed Kevin’s body on a blanket. Then a stretcher was available from the ambulance that had just arrived at the entrance of the flats. We carried his body to the ambulance, past two more dead, one at the entrance and one on the pavement.
I moved to the front side door of the ambulance to pull the laden stretcher further up the ambulance. The firing recommenced, everyone lay flat. Next to me I heard a priest (Father O’Gara), his head almost under the ambulance driver’s seat, say “Lord, take me into thy kingdom, if it be thy blessed will.” Hearing it, I suddenly thought ‑ I am going to die! It seemed almost an “outer body experience”, as if delivered in the third person. The shooting stopped, the ambulance driver shouted “I’m out of here” and the vehicle moved off, back doors open and my legs hanging out the side door. After several stops at army roadblocks the ambulance made it to Altnagelvin hospital. Our ambulance with Kevin’s body, was one of the first to arrive at the casualty parking bay. (We would discover later that Kevin had been shot crawling for cover along the pavement outside Rossville flats entrance and had been pulled into the stairwell by others sheltering there.) That cold phrase “Dead on Admission” would be announced thirteen times that evening.
Moments later an army Saracen arrived. The armoured car reversed into the casualty parking bay. Nonchalantly the soldiers dismounted and opened the back doors, revealing their haul. There were three bodies piled high, feet jutting out. The soldiers dragged the bodies as if in an abattoir, grabbing them one by one by the ankles and by the arms as they swung them in through the door of casualty. We stood there and stared. Silent, stricken, stoic. Some turned away, staunching their grief. No one spoke. Our tragedies, their trophies.
Later that evening, Ivan Cooper asked me to accompany him back from the hospital to John Hume’s Bogside home to brief Hume before he spoke by telephone to the taoiseach, Jack Lynch. The atmosphere at Hume’s home was as distraught as at the hospital, with anguished relatives seeking any scrap of news. Mobile phones did not then exist. There was one phone, and Pat Hume, who is not mentioned in this book, offered succour to all.
In On Bloody Sunday the author collates the truly shameful statements of the British army’s command. Commander of British army land forces General Robert Ford painted a situation “of armed gunmen dominating the Creggan and Bogside backed and protected by the vast majority of the population in these two areas”. It was General Ford’s decision to select the parachute regiment to operate in Derry on that day. His next-in-command, Sir Harry Tuzo, briefed the chief of the defence staff, Admiral Sir Peter Hill-Norton on “implacable and growing Roman Catholic hostility”, adding: “This hostility is tending to spread upwards through the middle class, encouraged particularly by some Roman Catholic priests and behind it all stands NICRA, the active ally of the IRA.” In evidence submitted to the Saville inquiry, a lieutenant, on the evening before his troops’ deployment on Bloody Sunday, is quoted as briefing his men that “that the Creggan Estate was an IRA fortress with towers, machine-guns and barbed wire as well as land-mines guarding its approaches”. He finished off by telling them: “Let’s teach these buggers a lesson – We want some kills tomorrow.”
The British were demonising people like Father Daly, the very people they should have been liaising with to reduce community tension. The superintendent of the RUC in Derry, Frank Lagan, we learn from the book, urged a cautious community approach but this advice was swept aside. The British view of Creggan and the Bogside was utterly false. One year after Bloody Sunday that most deprived district of Derry would elect three candidates, in the SDLP’s first election, onto the new Derry City Council, despite an IRA campaign to boycott the vote.
The evidence is presented by Campbell that political authorisation for decisive action was given to the joint security committee. The British prime minister, Edward Heath, home secretary Reginald Maudling and Northern Ireland’s prime minister had met three days before to review security. Heath revealed in the House of Commons that the plan ‘was known to Ministers”. All of them were ultimately shielded by the Saville finding of “serious and widespread loss of fire discipline among the soldiers of Support Company”. QC Michael Mansfield’s view that Saville’s indictment did not reach high enough would be shared by many. One of the commanders on the day, Captain Michael Jackson, was ultimately promoted to chief of the general staff of the British army and given a knighthood. He was the only witness to be recalled by Saville to correct his evidence after denying his hand in a fabricated note. No soldier, despite Saville concluding that “soldiers knowingly put forward false accounts”, was charged with perjury.
Whatever about Edward Heath’s knowledge of the actual military operation on the day, there is no doubt about his complicity in the Widgery Tribunal cover-up. The “Heath-Widgery memo” unearthed in 1995 by a truly dedicated truthseeker, Jane Winter, in the Public Records Office in London became central to winning the campaign for a new inquiry. The memo is of a meeting between Heath and Lord Widgery the day after Bloody Sunday where the lord chief justice is given a clear political steer by Heath. Of Widgery’s report, Thomas Kinsella’s poem “Butcher’s Dozen” says it all: “The shame is theirs, in word and deed.”
There is no reference in the book to material in the public records or State papers in Dublin. That may be because there is virtually nothing, not even a note of the Jack Lynch-John Hume call that night. Only three files relate to Bloody Sunday in Ireland’s national archives, which probably illustrates that the Irish government was unprepared for any of what was to come.
Lord Saville stated that “What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA.” Others have correctly said that it was a major recruiting agent for the IRA. This has been presented by those who supported the IRA as a justification for violence, somehow a validation and an endorsement by the city of their campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of those killed in Derry city during the Troubles, over one hundred were innocent men and women going about their daily lives. They were not “volunteers”. Indeed many of their lives were taken by the “volunteers”. Contemplate all those parents, spouses, families walking behind all those coffins as they buried their dead, all that loss, that grief, that bereavement. In Derry alone forty of those Bloody Sunday recruits would die, the majority of them on “active service”, eleven of them blown up by their own bombs as they sought to bomb their own city. At least another eight of them would be tortured and murdered by the very organisation they joined, the Provisional IRA, their bodies dumped in alleyways and at roadsides. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori it was not. Hundreds more of those teenagers who joined the IRA would spend what should have been the best years of their lives in prison. Whatever Bloody Sunday prompted in IRA recruitment, it was not noble, it was not glorious and it brought havoc and misery to many lives for many years.
What Bloody Sunday did achieve, just over fifty days later, was the collapse of the hated unjust Stormont government that had ruled the North for over fifty years. Even the British government, in the face of worldwide opprobrium, could no longer support unionist rule in Northern Ireland. By withholding consent to be governed by Stormont, the civil rights marchers had brought down the regime. In the following year Derry would elect its first non-unionist mayor since the foundation of the Northern Ireland State. Appropriately the mayor would be a hero of Bloody Sunday ‑ Dr Raymond McClean, who had tended the dying and wounded endlessly on that fateful day. The recently formed SDLP, which Dr McClean led into Derry City Council, was elected across the city as the largest party and initiated the first powersharing council in Northern Ireland.
One month later, over 23,000 people in the Derry constituency, despite a determined IRA boycott campaign elected John Hume, myself and Michael Canavan to the Northern Ireland Assembly to pursue the goal of a fair and just society featuring powersharing within Northern Ireland and an “Irish dimension” beyond it. Derry people, as ever, were “bruised never broken”. The civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” was for Bogsiders more than an anthem. It was a belief.
This chronicle is an immense contribution to understanding the events of the day as well as significant events before and after it. Campbell logs a number of these, but there are omissions. In an entry for August 18th, 1971 we are told that over 1,300 soldiers, flanked by helicopters and armoured vehicles, tried to break through into Free Derry. Inexplicably, there is no mention of the sitdown of hundreds of Bogside residents, nor of the arrest of John Hume that day as he led them, men, women and children, confronting water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets, to stop tanks as big as houses from rampaging on their streets. It was a seminal moment, as confirmed by the massive rally in the nearby Celtic Park the following weekend. The successful appeal against the subsequent convictions for events that day went ultimately to the House of Lords. It found that the British army’s arrests powers were illegal. The British parliament, in an all-night emergency sitting, passed the Northern Ireland Act 1972 on February 23rd, 1972 granting retrospective powers to its army. The Saville inquiry took account of these events. Why does the author leave them out? Father Daly’s “Mister, Are you a Priest?” or Willie Carson’s “Derry through the Lens” offered her the event in detail. Hume, of course, is mentioned many times for his work as their MP and MEP in bringing the campaign of the Bloody Sunday Trust to Westminster, Europe and eventually to Downing Street.
Another event that one might have expected to find in the chronicle occurred in June 2010, when the Protestant church leaders, led by Bishop Ken Good walked to the Bloody Sunday memorial to be greeted by the Bloody Sunday families. Indeed, only one person from a unionist background in Derry is interviewed in the book.
And so to the Bloody Sunday Trust’s final demand ‑ prosecution. The very powerful and compelling case for prosecution is evident. Families should not have their rights to justice cut off. The British government’s wish to introduce a statute of limitation that would halt all prosecutions is seen by most as “red meat” for the ex-military codgers that populate its Westminster back benches and who demand that all their soldiers be protected against prosecution. Their proposals are opposed by most justice seekers.
On Bloody Sunday informs us that through all the Troubles only six former British military personnel were charged, “all of whom were welcomed back into the British army”. We are also informed that in May 2017 prosecutors were considering charges against eighteen soldiers; however in March 2019 the decision was made to charge only one, Soldier F, and in July 2021 the relatives were informed by the North’s director of public prosecutions that there was “no longer a reasonable prospect” of key evidence being admissible in the case of soldier F. Understandably the Bloody Sunday Trust must feel that the phrase “In the dirt lay justice” from Seamus Heaney’s “Road to Derry” remains apt. It will be an uphill battle, but then it always was for the Bloody Sunday Trust.
When all of us, young and old, are long gone, in decades to come, this book, On Bloody Sunday, will ensure that a litany of fourteen, “I am Jackie Duddy”, “I am Michael Kelly”, “I am ,,,” will continue to resonate in Derry and far beyond wherever justice is cherished.
Hugh Logue participated in the civil rights march on Bloody Sunday on January 30th, 1972 and gave evidence to the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday. His review of On Bloody Sunday by Julieann Campbell is enhanced by his personal experience on the day. He was vice-chairman of North Derry Civil Rights Association which organised the Magilligan march one week before Bloody Sunday.