These are the last pictures I ever took... I went home & threw out my camera, I was so sickened; WARRENPOINT MASSACRE: 25 YEARS ON WE REVISIT HORROR OF IRA BOMBINGS.
IT was a twist of fate history throws up from time to time that made an August day 25 years ago a triumph for terrorism.
An IRA bomb that blasted a family fishing trip apart murdered the Queen's favourite cousin.
Lord Mountbatten, two members of his family and a Co Fermanagh schoolboy died in the attack on the Earl's boat at his holiday home in Mullaghmore, Co Sligo.
Just hours later another republican gang mounted a border ambush with devastating effect.
The Parachute Regiment were targeted in a double attack at Warrenpoint, Co Down. Six soldiers died when a bomb on a lorry was detonated and another 12, who drove into a booby trap bomb, were killed as they raced to save survivors.
An English tourist was also killed in gun battles that erupted in the area after one of the bloodiest days of The Troubles.
Today for the first time three people caught up in the carnage tell their stories.
PETER MOLLOY, THE PHOTOGRAPHER
PRESS photographer Peter Molloy stumbled on the biggest story of his life - a story that would end his career.
He caught on film the aftermath of an IRA bomb in Warrenpoint, Co Down, and amazingly captured the second bomb as it exploded.
Eighteen soldiers, 16 from 2 Para and two from the Queen's Own Highlanders, died and many more were injured.
But Peter never took another photograph after that balmy day on August 27, 1979. Instead he went home and threw his cameras away.
It was his professional instinct that led him to the scene and an automatic reaction to start clicking the shutter.
Peter, now 64, was questioned about why he did not try to help the dying and asked why he took shots of the carnage as it happened.
He has not spoken about the atrocity or answered those haunting questions for 25 years.
But today he reveals what carried him through the trauma and how he survived the psychological impact years later.
He said: "I can't make excuses for what I did. I was no hero, I was concentrating on surviving myself, I didn't try to help anyone.
"I didn't know what to do and I just kept clicking the shutter, it was all I knew.
"The real heroes were the firefighters who saved lives and worked while the place was blowing up around them.
"I was driving through the town and heard a bomb. I drove a minute or two to the scene and started snapping away.
"I felt no fear but the adrenaline was pumping through my body, there was a definite buzz.
"Seconds after the first bomb, I heard this booming voice shout, 'Take hard cover' and I hit the ground.
"The soldiers nearest me ran to a gate lodge just as the bombers had predicted.
"I heard a whoosh-whoosh of an army helicopter as it came in to ferry the injured away but then the other bomb was detonated.
"I still took pictures, people around me were dying, ammunition was going off as soldiers' guns were engulfed in flames.
"When the helicopter flew in it was the first time I felt fear. I was knew if the aviation fuel went up we would all die but somehow the pilot managed to pull away as the IRA detonated their second bomb. It was a miracle he escaped. But the scene down below him was chaos.
"My senses were in overdrive. The noise was deafening, the smell of gun powder as the surviving soldiers shot across the river to where the bombers had hidden, there was groaning and cries coming from the men.
"The firefighters were shouting instructions, people were screaming for help, bodies were burning.
"I knew I had to get out of there. There were loads of people dead, the soldiers were angry, emotions were running high.
"I wouldn't have blamed the soldiers if they had shot me dead. I would have been listed another tragic casualty. Their friends had been blown to bits, they were in pain and I was taking pictures of the horror that surrounded me. I know they could have got away with it.
"One Para came running at me screaming. He stopped inches from me, still screaming and his trigger finger was ready.
"I was terrified. I knew if I took my eyes off him he would shoot me dead. He'd lost it. He was out of control.
"Suddenly two other soldiers rugby tackled him and told me to get the hell out of there - and that's when I started walking.
"I couldn't run. I was shouted at and called all sorts of things but I understood why. I had trespassed on the worst day of these fellas' lives and taken pictures of it.
"I went home, developed the film and sent it around the world. I wanted people to know what had happened.
"But I felt sick. I didn't feel good about myself. I didn't take a penny for the images although people assumed I got millions for them. The next day I got rid of my cameras. I'd gone a step too far, seen too much and could never risk that happening again."
Peter, now a ballroom dancer, joined the Fire Brigade months after the attack and served for 12 years. But revisiting the carnage for the first time has again brought home to him the suffering of the victims.
He said: "I make no judgement on the rights and wrongs of the attack because there's just no point. One side thought they were right, the other wrong.
"It doesn't change the devastation suffered by the families and colleagues of the dead and injured, the emergency services and even the mothers of the bombers. Everyone lost something, humanity was damaged.
"I had thought for years my job as a press photographer was my little bit of heaven but on August 27, 1979, I glimpsed hell and I never wanted to go back."
BILLY McKINLEY, THE FIRE FIGHTER
AT 74 retired firefighter Billy McKinley is still emotional when he talks about the devastation he witnessed.
The list of memories he holds are stark and disturbing and he battles with them every time he drives along the Newry to Warrenpoint road where the bombs exploded.
He said: "The smell of cordite, the limbs and heads lying all over the place, the sound of groaning and crying from grown men, frightened and in terrible pain, the knowledge that there was nothing to be done for a lot of these boys was heartbreaking.
"Each of them was some mother's son, most just teenagers and in my mind no more than children in uniform."
But one memory stands out from the rest for Billy - the moment he hosed down a soldier as he sat dead in the driver's seat of a Land Rover. Billy, who was awarded the British Empire Medal for his actions, said: "The lad was slumped over the wheel with his arm on top of it like he was resting but he was on fire.
"As the smoke cleared I could see his watch and it was still ticking. That picture stayed with me all these years."
The firefighters stayed at the scene for three days, picking up every bit of evidence and flesh including a scalp hanging in an oak tree.
Billy added: "There was no dignity in the deaths they suffered. Their bodies were scattered all over the land.
"I've tried for years to put this at the back of my mind but it has stayed with me. It has haunted Warrenpoint and will stay with me until I die."
PAUL BURNS, THE PARA
AGED just 18, Private Paul Burns was on his first tour of duty in the North and excited at the prospect of seeing some action.
But six weeks after travelling from his home in Nottingham, he was being flown back with horrific injuries.
Paul, now 43, said: "One minute we were driving down the road in the hot summer sunshine and suddenly there was an almighty explosion and we were gone."
He was in the first vehicle to take a direct hit from an 800lb bomb but does not remember anything of the blast or the gruesome aftermath.
Paul woke in Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast, two days later with his left leg missing, his right leg badly burned and his remaining foot horribly mangled.
Yet he maintains he was lucky and said: "I survived and was forced to start my life again. It would never be the same but I could cope."
Paul, who continued his army career and still loves to parachute, is in constant pain from the injuries.
He said: "The IRA turned my life upside down and inside out on August 27, 1979, but they didn't kill my spirit and my need to live.
"I believe I owe it to the men who died that day to live my life to the full because they cannot."
WARRENPOINT, CO DOWN, DEAD:
Queen's Own Highlanders:
Lieut Col David Blair, 40
Lance Corp Victor MacLeod, 24
Major Peter Fursman, 35
WO Walter Beard, 31
Sergeant Ian Rogers, 31, married
Corp Nicholas Andrews 24, married
Corp John Giles, 22, married with son
Corp Leonard Jones, 26, married with a child
Lance Corp Chris Ireland, 25, married with a child
Pte Gary Barnes, 18
Pte Raymond Dunn, 20
Pte Anthony Wood, 19
Pte Michael Woods, 18
Pte Thomas Vance, 23
Pte Donald Blair, 23
Pte Robert England, 23
Pte Jeffrey Jones, 18
Pte Robert Jones, 18
Englishman Michael Hudson, holidaying in Co Meath, was accidentally
Lord Mountbatten, 79, Queen's cousin
Nicholas Knatchbull, 14
Dowager Lady Brabourne, 82, Nicholas' grandmother
Paul Maxwell, 15, helper shot dead by British Army as they fired at IRA
MULLAGHMORE, CO SLIGO, DEAD:THE BOMBERS WARRENPOINT:
Gardai arrested a suspect and Brendan Burns after the massacre. Burns later died making a bomb and the suspect is serving a 16-year sentence for his part in a mortar attack in 1995.
Thomas McMahon served 18 years for the murders and was released in 1997. Francis McGirl cracked under Garda interrogation but was acquitted. He died in a tractor accident.
BLOODY CARNAGE: Peter's images of the double bomb attack shocked the world; GRIM: Our front page; SCARRED FOREVER: Peter Molloy; HAUNTED: Billy McKinley; VICTIM: Paul Burns
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Jun 17, 2004|
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