02:26PM, Tuesday 12 May 2015
Stuart Russell, will never forget Monday, August 27, 1979. This Windsor resident was just 19, working as a Lance Corporal in the 2nd Batallion The Parachute Regiment (2 Para). His military career was just beginning and his company was on a tour in Ballykinler, Northern Ireland, for 18 months.
This particular August Bank Holiday was hot. Company A were in a three-vehicle convoy taking the coastal route towards Newry. Nowadays, the Antrim Coast Road or A2 is known as one of the great tourist routes of the world; yet during The Troubles, this route was dangerous. Company A’s mission was routine: relieve the platoon already manning Newry checkpoint.
“It was just one of our many security duties and we were to be detached there for five weeks,” explains Stuart.
At approximately 16.39, Company A was just changing its southerly course to an easterly direction onto a dual carriage which runs parallel to the eastern shore of the estuary of the Newry River.
For several miles above the port of Warrenpoint, the estuary funnels into a tidal lough, about 200 yards wide, known as Narrow Water. It marks the border with the Irish Republic. It was an ideal spot for an ambush.
Stuart describes what happened: “We were four miles away from our destination, getting onto the dual carriageway. I was sitting in the first vehicle; it was an open sided Land Rover. I remember, it had been a really pleasant journey on such a sunny day with clear blue skies, magnificent cliffs, silver ripples on the Newry River, castle ruins, a haybale truck on the side of the road – it was all beautiful. Then BOOM!"
Explosives took out the lorry behind Stuart’s killing eight of his friends. The Provisional Irish Republican Army had been watching, from their safe, vantage point in the forest. They had taken advantage of the situation by using remote detonators linked to 500lb fertiliser bomb, hidden under the straw bales, to blow-up the British Army.
“I was so angry,” recalls Stuart. “And they were off before we could do anything about it.”
In reaction to this terrorist incident, Company A’s protocol was to set up an incident control point, taking refuge in a gatehouse on the opposite side of the road.
“As communications officer,” tells Stuart, “my job was to manage tuning the radio frequency on the wireless LR C42 radio and relay, back to Ballykinler, the situation, including the fatalities.”
Stuart clearly recalls spending a lot of time walking around the site, talking and explaining who was dead. At the same time, reinforcements from other units of the Parachute Regiment were dispatched to the scene by road. A rapid reaction unit, consisting of medical staff and senior commander Lieutenant-Colonel David Blair (the commanding officer of the Queen's Own Highlanders), together with his signaller Lance Corporal Victor MacLeod, were sent by Gazelle helicopter; another helicopter, a Wessex, landed to pick up the wounded. Colonel Blair assumed command was at once at the site.
Stuart’s memory of what he was reporting is still sharp. In particular, he remembers walking past some milk pails, about six times. He didn’t know that hidden inside one was an 800lb fertiliser bomb. At 17.12, the Provisional IRA detonated it.
“I was just signing off my report by the Land Rover. I was blown off my feet, checked I was all in one piece and just went to help the rest of the guys.”
This second explosion killed 12 soldiers: 10 from the Parachute Regiment and two from the Queen's Own Highlanders. Warrenpoint Massacre was the deadliest attack on the British army by the Provisional IRA.
Tonight (Tuesday, May 12) Stuart and some of the survivors of the Warrenpoint Massacre come together for the first time to relive what happened on FORCES TV. The programme called, We Were There, is hosted by John Nichol.
“It was emotional telling our story,” says Stuart. “It was the first time we’d talked about it together.”
Stuart, who is now a Captain on Full Time Reserve Service in Whitehall, says that talking “about this nasty episode of our lives” has helped some of his colleagues experience closure.
We Were There on FORCES TV (Sky 264, Virgin 244, Freesat 652) on Tuesday, May 12 at 9pm and is repeated on Sunday, May 17, at noon.
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