Thursday 20 September 2018

'I saw the boots of the gunman and the tip of his rifle... then they blew his face away'

The sole survivor of the Kingsmill massacre, Alan Black, has spoken of the atrocity in which he was shot 18 times as 10 of his workmates died

The bullet-hole-riddled bus. Photo: Alan Lewis/PA
The bullet-hole-riddled bus. Photo: Alan Lewis/PA

Ian Begley

"My apprentice fell across my legs. I'd seen the boots of the gunman and the tip of the rifle and they blew his face away."

Kingsmill survivor Alan Black has relived the horror of the IRA attack and the death of 19-year-old Robert Chambers. He also spoke about the effect of Sinn Féin MP Barry McElduff's Twitter post.

On January 5, 1976, 10 men from Bessbrook, Co Armagh, were shot dead on their way home from work.

It was part of a series of attacks carried out by both sides of the sectarian divide around that period.

The victims of this attack were all Protestants. The only Catholic workman was ordered to run away.

Mr Black was the sole survivor of the massacre, despite being shot 18 times.

Alan Black, the sole survivor of the Kingsmill massacre
Alan Black, the sole survivor of the Kingsmill massacre

Speaking on RTÉ's 'Sunday with Miriam', Mr Black said a man in a military uniform ordered the men's minibus to stop.

They assumed that it was a British Army roadblock.

"This guy just shouted, 'Everybody out!'" said Mr Black. "The man then pulled Richard Hughes, the only Catholic, out and told him to 'Run down the f***ing road'.

"Richard had left a gap and the man said, 'Close up'. The next thing the gunman said was 'Right' and the noise of the gunfire was deafening - something I'd never forget.

Alan Black in hospital the day after the shooting. Photo: Alan Lewis/PA
Alan Black in hospital the day after the shooting. Photo: Alan Lewis/PA

"They shot us all at waist level to stop any of us from running away. That lasted maybe 10 seconds. I was hit multiple times."

Mr Black said his young apprentice Robert called out for his mother moments before he was shot to death.

"My 19-year-old apprentice fell across my legs, it was absolutely horrific. He was calling for his mammy and the next thing the gunfire stopped. Then the same guy who had done all the talking said, 'Finish them off.'

"The shooting then became more measured. Robert was still calling for his mammy.

Six of the victims’ coffins in Bessbrook church the night before the funerals. Photo: Alan Lewis/PA
Six of the victims’ coffins in Bessbrook church the night before the funerals. Photo: Alan Lewis/PA

"I'd seen the boots of the gunman and the tip of the rifle and they blew his face away. That's something that will live with me until the day I die."

Mr Black said he figured that the only chance he had of surviving was if he stayed perfectly still.

"The gunman who shot Robert then shot at me. The bullet hit my head but didn't penetrate my skull. Even then, I wouldn't flinch.

"I could see them from where I was lying and they just casually walked off.

"I had one good hand and could see blood spurting out of my chest. I was trying to plug the holes with my fingers to stop myself from bleeding to death.

"I knew the boys were dead. I didn't know you could smell death, but you can. I was certain I was going to die."

Shortly after the massacre, local couple Gerry and Anne McKeown discovered the bodies of the men. They prayed next to Mr Black while waiting for the emergency services to arrive.

Before he was operated on, a priest in the hospital asked if he was Catholic to discern whether he needed the last rites.

"I said, 'No, father, but don't leave me.' I'll never forget his humanity. As they were leading me to the operating theatre, he held my good hand and was praying. That's the last thing I remember before the anaesthetic took over."

Despite the horror he endured at the hands of paramilitaries, Mr Black said he does not harbour hatred towards the Catholic community.

"It wasn't Catholics that killed us. It was the IRA - I have no reason to be bitter," he said.

Mr Black said the video posted by Mr McElduff was "depraved" and "succeeded in spades in the hurt that he caused".

"To see them [the men who died] disrespected in the way they were last week is very hard to take. What [Barry McElduff] did was dancing on their graves...[He] seemed to be celebrating their deaths. If he saw what I saw that night, he wouldn't have done it," he said.

"I don't accept [his excuse]. He's a very astute politician and clever man. He did it deliberately to cause hurt."

Attempts were made to contact Mr McElduff, but he had not replied at the time of going to press.

Irish Independent

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