Memorial held in Co Tyrone to mark 35th anniversary of Ballygawley bus bombing

A memorial has been held to mark the 35th anniversary of the Ballygawley bus bomb. During the roadside attack, which took place on the Ballygawley-Omagh road in Co Tyrone in 1988, eight off-duty soldiers attached to the 1st Light Infantry Regiment were killed by an IRA bomb. The victims were aged between 18 and 21 years old.

Some 36 soldiers were being transported on the bus when a bomb which had been placed in a vehicle on the roadside was remotely detonated. Some of the survivors of the attack and their family members travelled from England for the memorial service, which was held at a commemoration site built where the incident happened 35 years ago. On Sunday crowds gathered to lay poppy wreaths at the commemorative signs that listed the victims of the attack.

Richard Jutsum, one of the 28 survivors of the Ballygawley bus bombing, during a memorial service in Ballygawley, Co Tyrone. Credit: PA Media

Richard Jutsum was one of the soldiers who was involved in the attack and attended the memorial service on Sunday. Mr Jutsum was 26 at the time of the bombing. He said he was one of the oldest travelling in the bus. “As a 26-year-old, I was actually one of the more senior guys on the coach, where all the young lads killed really were, you know, 18, 19, 20,” he said. “So they were there, the young lads, they were up chatting away full of life.” Mr Jutsum said when the bus exploded, he believed at first that they had been involved in a road traffic collision. “We were just travelling back quite tired, so it’s quite late, and then just suddenly waking up really, standing in the coach before I was sort of thrown from it, because it was still skating down the road,” he said. “And then sort of coming to, in the field. Initially, we didn’t think that it’s been blown up, I just thought we’d been involved in a car crash. “And then we just came to our senses and realised that we had been blown up, and then it was just going through all our training to try to get people off and try to help people, which was obviously very difficult because there was so many of us on the coach.” Mr Jutsum said despite the difficulty of returning to the site of the incident, it was comforting that people in Northern Ireland wanted to commemorate those who died. “(I) came back about 10 years ago, we were invited to come back. First, we were very, very nervous about returning,” he said. “But actually, once we’ve come across and witnessed how many people actually care and how many people remember … that is quite comforting to think that the lads that we lost, they’re not forgotten. “They’re never forgotten by us. But there are people in Northern Ireland who generally care about them.” He added: “It just reinforces that they’re never forgotten. And they never will be.”

A musician plays during the memorial service in Ballygawley Credit: Pa Media

Grace Curry was one of the first of a number of people who helped the soldiers from the wreckage of the bus. “James Leatherbarrow, one of the survivors, was trapped in the bus so they lifted the back axle of the bus to pull James out,” she said. “James had on a leather jacket, and his leather jacket was rather puffy and fat, and he wanted to pull the zip down, but I wouldn’t let him because I thought all his insides was out.” “But the cries of the soldiers, and that will live with me forever like, the screams, and the eeriness in the air and the road, it was just so dark.” Ms Curry said attending the memorial was an honour. “It makes you so glad to see that it’s still being remembered. You will see a good crowd out, such a good turnout and I feel so honoured that I’m able to come here and they allow me then to celebrate their life,” she said. A number of those with a military background chose to attend in uniform and flute and pipes were played before the prayer service was held. The roadside service was officiated by Rev Diane Matchett, rector of Kildress and Altedesert parishes. South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) have been facilitating the return of soldier survivors, the bereaved and others connected with the Light Infantry family for 10 years. SEFF’s director Kenny Donaldson said the survivors were forever shaped by their experience of the bombing. “Just as is the case year on year, new people have returned and have courageously decided to face and settle their own ghosts,” he said. He added: “35 years ago, eight young men were brutally murdered when they were off duty, when they were at their most vulnerable, and 28 survivors endured experiences which would forever shape their lives. “Those who assisted in the aftermath, whether the emergency and ancillary services, local people, the bands and all others were also impacted and continue to be impacted. “The local community, inclusive of the SEFF family, will never forget the young men who perished, whose lives were cruelly and prematurely cut short.”

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