28 October 2012

Corporals Wood and Howe March 1988. Part 1 of 2.

Excerpt from the book A Long, Long War, Voices from the British Army in Northern Ireland 1969-1998.

"On March 16 (1988), a huge IRA funeral was held at Milltown cemetary in west Belfast for the three IRA members killed in Gibraltar by the SAS 19 days earlier. The massive cemetary which includes a Republican plot is sandwiched between the Turf Lodge and the Ballymurphy estate; slightly further south is Andersonstown; in essence three huge Catholic areas and hotbeds of Republicanism.
    At that funeral a lone UFF gunman, Michael Stone, launched an apparent one-man gun and grenade attack on the mourners, which included a heavy IRA presence. Stone killed three people that day, including two innocent civilians and an IRA member. The funeral of the three dead men was to be held on March 19.
    That day was a Saturday; millions observing the funeral on TV news programmes watched as a silver car driving towards the cortege was suddenly forced to stop, and it's attempt to reverse out of the situation was foiled as it found itself hemmed in by several black cabs. At first, no-one seemed to understand what was happening, then a huge mob of mostly men converged on the car, which was seen to have two occupants; one of them, the author noted perversely at the time, appeared to be wearing one of the Don Zapata moustaches then fashionable.
   The mob then charged at the cae and one of the occupants pulled a pistol, partially climbed out and fired it over the roof. The crowd then scattered in panic. They came back, and some armed with iron bars and even a step ladder, smashed their way into the car dragging the two occupants out and began severly beating them. The two men were seen to be bundled into black cabs and there the TV footage stopped.
    Eyewitness accounts state that the men were stripped to their underwear and socks - possibly during the course of the savage beating - and, appallingly, one man had his eye gouged out. Their bodies were thrown over a high wall into waste ground at Penny Lane where they were then killed by an IRA gunman; all this was observed and videoed by an Army surveillance helicopter.
    The two men were Corporal Derek Wood (24) who had been in the country for some time and Corporal David Howes (23) who had only been in the Province for a week; both men belonged to the Royal Corps of Signals. Why or how they stumbled onto an  IRA funeral at such a heightened time of tension, following the Michael Stone killings has yet to be officially explained. Following conversations with several senior soldiers who were close to the situation - all of whom refused, naturally, to be quoted - one can speculate that there were three possible explanations."

The three explanations the author gives, my analysis and a fourth possible explanation to follow in Part 2. (I served in the same unit at the same time as Wood and Howe).

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