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'I told them to go out and pull a bird..but the girls led them to killers' EXCLUSIVE OFFICER RELIVES DAY BOY SOLDIERS DIED IN TRAP.

Byline: by MAGGIE BARRY

AN old soldier has broken almost 40 years of silence to speak of the day he sent three of his men out on the town - and into a deadly trap.

Brothers Joe and John McCaig and Dugald McCaughey were caught in a honey trap in Belfast and murdered.

Their deaths in 1971 caused an escalation of the Troubles in the months prior to internment.

Dugald's brother David was sent home immediately in a "Private Ryan" move to prevent another death in his family.

Last night as the anniversary of their deaths drew near again, their former Lce Cpl Joe O'Hare said: "I will never forget those boys as long as I live."

The three were all from the Royal Highland Fusiliers stationed at the Girdwood barracks in Belfast.

John McCaig had only turned 17 the week before, making him eligible to serve in Northern Ireland.

His brother was a year older and Dugald was 23 - "but the youngest 23- year-old you will ever know" said Joe, 59, who rose to be Sgt Major in the Fusiliers.

Dugald's brother David was on guard duty or he almost certainly would have been with them and shared their fate.

Instead he has had to live with the memory of that terrible day.

At 2.30pm on March 9, dressed in civvies and full of high spirits, the trio left the barracks on an afternoon pass for downtown Belfast.

Only one British soldier had been killed since soldiers were sent in two years earlier in 1969. No one had any cause to be concerned.

On that fine day all that bothered Joe, John and Dugald was having a good time on their afternoon off.

Joe went on: "They were my boys and they were going out for a drink. At that time it was allowed.

"I said to them good luck and have a good time. I said to them see if you can pull a bird - and they did..."

Shockingly, the girls they met were part of a honey trap deliberately put in place to tempt the soldiers and lure them to their deaths.

They were enticed into a car and later lined up and shot by IRA gunmen in the outskirts of Belfast.

Their CO said bleakly at the time: "They were just boys. They weren't hard-bitten professionals."

The alarm was raised at 6.30pm when the young men did not return to barracks and they were officially posted AWOL. Still no one was unduly concerned.

It was not until just after 9pm when a 15-year-old girl and her 12-year-old brother found the bodies that the horrific details of what had happened began to emerge.

Joe said: "The bodies had been dumped at Ligoneil just outside of Belfast.

"I had to go up with the company commander Major McCready and identify their corpses. We still keep in touch and talk about the boys. It's not an issue, it's just nice to remember them."

The murders sent shock waves throughout Ireland and Britain - partly because of the age of the soldiers and partly because two of them were brothers.

It signalled an end of innocence and the dawning of what was to be a brutal conflict.

Joe added: "The battalion was shocked. Scottish regiments are very tight-knit. And that act changed a lot of people.

"People who had had sympathies before, lost them.

"It changed the Army too. After that they raised the age of soldiers who could serve in Northern Ireland.

"But for me, they were so young and so innocent. I will remember those boys all my life."

Joe and John McCaig, like many of the Fusiliers, came from Ayr and were buried together there. Dugald was from Glasgow.

Joe is pretty sure he knows who killed his three boys but the men involved, he said, are all long dead themselves.

As March 10 dawns again for Joe, he knows that fewer and fewer will recall the grisly events of 1971.

But for him and for those who were there, they will remember the three young soldiers with dignity, pride and respect

m.barry@mirror.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

END OF INNOCENCE: Fusiliers John and Joseph McCaig and Dugald McCaughey were lined up and shot by the IRA after being lured into a trap; BITTEREST MEMORY: Murdered McCaig brothers' mum Margaret with a picture of her sons
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 9, 2007
Words:730
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