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On the afternoon of Sunday the 30th of January 1972 soldiers from the British Parachute Regiment, one of the fearsome UK militia units fighting the battle in the north of Ireland, attacked a civil rights march in the town of Derry, killing or fatally wounding fourteen civilians and injuring two dozen more in an event the international press quickly to be known as “Bloody Sunday Massacre”. That same group of soldiers had carried out similar murder spree just months earlier in Belfast, shooting dead eleven people in cold blood, including a local catholic priest, in a two day reign of terror known as the “Ballymurphy Massacre” of August 1971. Praised by their officers and British politicians for their work in the previous massacre much the same was expected of them in the western Town of Derry and sure enough they delivered on those expectations. However as in Belfast, the war crimes of the Parachute Regiment simply served to increase local support for armed resistance to Britain’s continued presence in particular for the still
Provisional Irish Republican Army,[I.R.A] contributing to making a temporary conflict all but permanent. Bloody Sunday was one of the most Brutal events of “the Troubles” because a large number of catholic citizens were killed, by forces of the British army, in full view of the public and the press. It was the highest number of people killed in a single shooting during the troubles in Northern Ireland. Bloody Sunday increased Catholic and republican nationalist hostility towards the British Army and increased the conflict. Support for the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) rose and there was a surge of recruitment into the organisation, especially in Derry and Belfast.
At 4:07pm, the soldiers were ordered to go through the barriers and arrest the republican protesters. The soldiers, on foot and in armoured vehicles, chased people down Rossville Street and into the Bogside. Two people were hit by the armoured British vehicles. Brigadier MacLellan had ordered that only one set of soldiers be sent through the barriers, on foot, and that they should not chase people down Rossville Street. Colonel Wilford disobeyed this order, which meant there was no separation between republican rioters and marchers.
The soldiers disembarked and began arresting people. There were many claims of soldiers beating people, hitting them with rifle butts, firing rubber bullets at them from close range, making threats to kill, and shouting abuse. The Saville Report agreed that soldiers “used excessive force when arresting people as well as seriously assaulting them for no good reason while in their custody.
A large group of people were chased into the car park of Rossville Flats. This area was like a courtyard, surrounded on three sides by high-rise flats. The soldiers opened fire, killing one civilian and wounding six others. This fatality, Jackie Duddy, was running alongside a priest, Father Edward Daly, when he was shot in the back.
Some of those shot were given first aid by civilian volunteers, either on the scene or after being carried into nearby homes. They were then driven to the hospital, either in civilian cars or in ambulances. The first ambulances arrived at 4:28pm. The three boys killed at the rubble barricade were driven to hospital by the British soldiers. Witnesses said paratroopers lifted the bodies by the hands and feet and dumped them in the back of their armoured vehicles, as if they were “pieces of meat”. The Saville Report agreed that this is an “accurate description of what happened”. It says the paratroopers “might well have felt themselves at risk, but in our view this does not excuse them”.
In all, 26 people were shot by the British soldiers; 13 died on the day and another died four months later. Most of them were killed in four main areas: the rubble across Rossville Street, the car park of Rossville Flats (on the north side of the flats), the courtyard car park of Glenfada Park, and the forecourt of Rossville Flats (on the south side of the flats).
All of the soldiers responsible insisted that they had shot at, and hit, gunmen or bomb-throwers. The Saville Report insisted that all of those shot were unarmed and that none were posing a serious threat. It also concluded that none of the soldiers fired in response to attacks, or threatened attacks, by gunmen or bomb-throwers.
Thirteen people were shot and killed, with another man later dying of his wounds. The official army position, backed by the British Home Secretary the next day in the House of Commons, was that the soldiers had reacted to gun and nail bomb attacks from suspected IRA members. Apart from the soldiers, all eyewitnesses including marchers, local residents, and British and Irish journalists present maintain that soldiers fired into an unarmed crowd, or were aiming at fleeing people and those tending the wounded, whereas the soldiers themselves were not fired upon. No British soldier was wounded by gunfire or reported any injuries, nor were any bullets or nail bombs recovered to back up their claims. Although there were many IRA men both Official and Provisional at the protest, it is claimed they were all unarmed, apparently because it was anticipated that the British soldiers would attempt to “draw them out”. March organiser and MP Ivan Cooper had been promised beforehand that no armed IRA men would be near the march.
One soldier who gave evidence at the tribunal testified that they were told by an officer to expect a gunfight and “We want some kills”. In the event, one man was witnessed by Father Edward Daly and others haphazardly firing a revolver in the direction of the paratroopers. Later identified as a member of the Official IRA, this man was also photographed in the act of drawing his weapon, but was apparently not seen or targeted by the soldiers. Various other claims have been made to the Saville Inquiry about gunmen on the day. This Sunday became known as Bloody Sunday and bloody it was. It was quite unnecessary. It strikes me that the Army ran amok that day and shot without thinking what they were doing. They were shooting innocent people. These people may have been taking part in a march that was banned but that does not justify the troops coming in and firing live rounds indiscriminately. I would say without hesitation that it was sheer, unadulterated murder. It was murder.
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