Is Seeing Believing?
By Brian France
My family were not Christians and I grew up being told that “seeing is believing”. So anything relating to God or the supernatural was not part of our worldview. In 1973 I was serving as a Platoon Commander in Northern Ireland during the time of the “Troubles” when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was endeavouring by force of terrorism to have the six Northern Counties reunited with the rest of Ireland. Two-thirds of the people of Northern Ireland didn’t want reunification and so the terrorism with its bombings, snipers, petrol bombers, sectarian murders, kneecappings and bloodshed continued.
The Royal Air Force Regiment had been deployed in Northern Ireland as part of the peacekeeping forces for some years and this was my third tour of duty there. I was now responsible for the security of the Walled City of Londonderry. It was early March, the weather was cold and damp. My platoon was on the streets providing mobile and standing patrols. They searched vehicles and pedestrians looking for weapons and explosives, whilst all the time running the risk of sniper fire, petrol bombs and stone-throwing mobs. They were on duty twelve to fourteen hours a day in all weathers and stoically did everything that was asked of them.
Saturday morning dawned fine and clear. The city was in the process of coming to life, shops were starting to open, people were beginning to move around, and then the bombs started to explode. By the time the third bomb had detonated and three buildings had been destroyed, leaving a number of casualties, I realised the IRA were targeting my sector and were looking to give us a real pasting.
As these bombs continued to explode, houses and shops were damaged or destroyed and people were killed or injured. By the time we got to bomb number five, we were really into the swing of it. As unexploded bombs were discovered my men cordoned off the area and called the Bomb Disposal Squad. In dealing with the aftermath of bomb explosions they did what they could for the injured and kept people from entering damaged buildings.
I was alerted to unexploded bomb number six by a radio message from our Control Room through the radio receiver in my right ear. My senior sergeant and I made our way to where we were told the bomb was located. Taking a short cut through a line of terraced shops and houses and entering a bakery by the back door, I found myself in an empty room about four metres square. In front of me was a counter and I was looking out through the front windows of the bakery at a line of terraced houses set at 90 degrees to where I was standing.
The front doors of these houses opened directly onto the street, and every door was ajar with a person’s head peering around it, apparently looking at me. It took a second or two for me to realise that what they were actually looking at was the shop I was standing in, waiting for a bomb that had been planted to explode. I turned to my left and was going to shout “get out” to my senior sergeant who was coming in behind me. I never quite spoke those words, as at that instant, an estimated fifteen pounds of high explosive detonated a metre behind me.
In a flash, my entire world was dominated by the exploding bomb as the sound and force of it momentarily became my whole existence. The detonation completely demolished the room I was in, stripping the linings off the walls, bringing down the ceiling and blasting a large hole in the floor. It picked me up in its destructive grip, endeavouring to destroy me as it hurled me out the front of the bakery, along with a mass of debris.
The force of the blast threw me about eight metres from where I had been standing and I found myself lying on the road at the front of the shop with bricks, smashed wooden beams and a mass of rubble around and over me.