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'I will never forget the soldier's face': witnesses relive Bloody Sunday

Julieann Campbell's uncle was among the 13 people shot dead by British troops in Derry 50 years ago. In this extract from her oral history of that day, victims recall the unfolding horror


British soldiers frisk civil rights marchers at gunpoint on Bloody Sunday

British soldiers frisk civil rights marchers at gunpoint on Bloody Sunday

British soldiers frisk civil rights marchers at gunpoint on Bloody Sunday

Ireland's Bloody Sunday in 1972 was a pivotal moment in its recent Troubles, extinguishing as it did the peaceful civil rights movement and paving the way for decades of violent, deadly conflict.

A civil rights march took place on January 30, 1972, in Derry, Northern Ireland's second largest city. It ended in bloodshed when troops from Britain's 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed marchers, leaving 13 dead and a further 18 wounded.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry later confirmed that all those targeted had not been armed and posed no threat when shot. One man died later in June 1972, becoming the 14th victim. Seven of those shot dead were teenage boys; two were excited about their first civil rights march. One of them, Jackie Duddy, was my uncle. He was 17.

My new book On Bloody Sunday weaves a narrative of personal reflection and testimony from more than a 110 witnesses and people who were affected.

The following extract is from the events of that day in Glenfada Park, where two men were shot dead and a further five injured by the paras.

Joseph Friel (20) was shot and wounded as he tried to make his way home. Daniel Gillespie (32) was hit by a bullet in the head and fell unconscious. Schoolboy Michael Quinn (17) was wounded by a bullet in the shoulder that exited through his face as he tried to escape the soldiers' advance. William McKinney (27) was then shot in the back and killed as he tried to help the wounded, the same bullet wounding Joe Mahon (16).

Nearby, Patsy O'Donnell (41) was wounded as he threw himself across a woman to protect her from firing. At the alleyway entrance to Abbey Park, Jim Wray (22) was on the ground and already wounded by the first burst of fire when he was shot again in the back at close range.

A former para identified only as Soldier F was charged in 2019 with the murder of Wray and McKinney and the attempted murder of O'Donnell, Friel, Quinn and Mahon. The prosecution case was halted last year, with families and wounded currently awaiting a High Court decision on the case against F as well as other soldiers. As it stands, Soldier F remains the only British serviceman to have been charged with murder over Bloody Sunday.

Joe Friel: The crowd was squealing, crying, roaring and shouting. I saw sheer unadulterated terror on people's faces. I froze momentarily, then ran back towards the Rossville Flats to home. There were so many people packed into the doorway I couldn't get in. I could still hear shots being fired, getting louder. There was no pattern to the shots, the lulls between bursts were only a matter of seconds. There was complete chaos on Rossville Street. People were running in every direction, bumping into each other. Realising I'd not be able to take cover in the flats, I crossed Rossville Street to Glenfada Park in sheer fear and have a clear memory of people falling to my right, to the north.

Danny Gillespie: I saw a group of about eight people coming into Glenfada Park North from the entrance by the rubble barricade. Some were carrying a youth I know as Michael Kelly away. He was obviously dead. There were people running about and I heard more shooting. I began to run towards Rossville Street to try to get away. I heard a sharp 'crack' and I knew that I had been hit. I fell forwards with my face down on the tarmac. My hat had been blown off. I could feel a stinging and burning sensation and I thought that I had lost the top of my head. Everything went black.

Denis Bradley [formerly Father Bradley, curate at Long Tower Parish]: I hadn't seen paratroopers before. They were different looking, bigger, tougher and taller, more physical and aggressive. They didn't talk to you like other soldiers. Their blackened faces struck me as odd as it was daytime. I had seen soldiers with blackened faces, but only during night operations. I realised then that I was in the middle of a war for the first time despite being used to the presence of soldiers before. I remember at around this point another soldier starting firing from the hip or waist in a southerly direction from the entrance to the Glenfada Park North car park at the east. I remember being horrified.

Joe Friel: I ran along Glenfada Park. People were running with me to get out. Everyone was panicking. I could see soldiers about five or six feet into Glenfada, coming from the north-eastern corner. The soldier in front was moving forward at no great pace and was firing. He had his gun in front of him just above waist height and was moving it from side to side - not swinging it, just moving it a few inches from left to right. The other soldiers weren't firing their weapons. I heard three shots - bang, bang, bang. I felt a slight blow to my body no harder than a tap by a couple of fingers. My first thought was that I had been hit by a rubber bullet, I couldn't take in that I had been shot. I looked down and could see blood. Within a second or two, a big gush of blood came out of my mouth. I shouted, "I'm shot, I'm shot!"

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Joe Mahon, a civil rights marcher, aged 16: As we ran up towards Abbey Park, they just started firing. The only one I saw firing at that time was holding the gun at his hip and just firing into the crowd. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground. Then I heard a voice behind me, who I later found out was William McKinney, and he just said to me, "I'm hit, son, I'm hit!" He was lying right behind me and I could see another pair of feet nearby too.

Denis Bradley: The soldier was just shooting, not particularly at anyone. The angle of fire seemed to me slightly over people's heads. I didn't think the soldier had lost his head. I didn't think he was going to shoot me. He didn't say anything to me. One of the other soldiers told me to "get along".

Patsy O'Donnell: I saw soldiers and, just at the corner, there was a woman crouching behind the fence. I saw a soldier take aim in my direction and I threw myself on top of her and behind the fence as low as possible. I heard the crack on the wall behind me and looking round I saw a hole in the wall, and I saw the top of my coat torn and I realised there was something wrong with me. I said to the woman, "I'm hit". We rolled around the corner to the yard and sat there with Fr Bradley and others, and I realised then I had been shot in the shoulder.

Danny Gillespie: I regained my senses. Two young boys were asking me if I was alright and were helping me to my feet. The ground was lifting around me from the shots. The tall boy on my left was shot and I heard him groan. He fell on top of me and pushed me back on to the ground. He was lying over my legs and was still. I rolled to my left, so he fell off me, and pulled my feet out from underneath him and got up. I ran west towards the alleyway leading to Abbey Park. There was jelly-like blood running across my face and into my eyes. I stumbled up the shallow steps and fell twice running up them. My legs were like jelly and I was shaking.

Joe Mahon: I was just lying there and saw one paratrooper come across when I heard a woman's voice saying, "Lie still - pretend you're dead." That woman saved my life. Just as the paratrooper approached me, God rest Jim Wray, he went to move, and the paratrooper stopped and fired twice more right into his back. I saw his coat rising twice. Then he moved on. After a while, he came back and actually stood over Jim Wray. He took his mask and helmet off and I saw his face clearly. I will never forget his face. Just as he was walking off, he saw me moving and knelt down, put the rifle on his shoulder and aimed. I turned away, waiting for the bullet, when a young Knight of Malta [the volunteer first-aid organisation] came running out and saved me by distracting him, and he just walked away laughing.

Joe Friel: I staggered but I don't think I hit the ground. Three fellows grabbed me and took me to the Murrays' house in Lisfannon Park. I was carried into the house feet first and was laid on the floor in the front room. I was continuing to throw up blood and I remember apologising for throwing up on the carpet. There were two medics there, and a girl called Eibhlin Lafferty pulled open my shirt and cleaned up the blood. There was a crowd in the house, mostly old women, who all knelt around me and started saying the rosary. Mrs Murray, whose house it was, ran upstairs as she couldn't take it.

Patsy O'Donnell: The soldiers arrived immediately and with guns pointed at us, ordered us up and marched us down Glenfada Park. They ordered hands up and I couldn't put my right hand up because my right shoulder was shot, and they butted me with their rifles in the back and wrist and eventually I got my arm up. I told some of the people I was with that I'd been shot, and they told the soldiers, who took no notice.

Michael Quinn: I ran across towards the alleyway leading to Abbey Park, and as I was nearing this entrance, I felt myself being struck upon the right cheek by a bullet. No one was with me. I felt a very hard thump in the face. It was like slow motion. I could see the flesh and blood coming out of me. I stumbled but got up and ran on through the alleyway. I thought, "I've been hit". I had been running bent over and did not look back at all. If I had not been doubled over, I would not be here now. I subsequently discovered that the bullet had struck me on the shoulder; the bullet had then passed into the right-hand side of my face, exiting through the left-hand side of my nose. I stumbled but made it to the gap.

Frances Gillespie: Daniel was injured in the head. He was brought to the front door and I was standing there with [our baby] Cath in my arms and saw him coming into the street with another man. His face was covered with blood - I thought half of his face was blown off him. But I still didn't recognise him with all the blood. He cried and cried, saying they'd killed "wains … bits of wains".

Danny Gillespie: My wife Frances was at the door. Mr Moran and Mr Canavan asked her for a cloth so that they could help clean me up. I sat down and cried. I was very shaken and very angry. Later, I went to Vinny Coyle's house for treatment. There was a doctor and a Knight of Malta there. They shaved my head so that the wound could be cleaned. The bullet had grazed my scalp and I still have a groove where the bullet passed. I didn't go to hospital as I was worried that I'd be arrested if I did.

Joe Mahon: I have a guilt - I never shouted to Jim Wray to lie still and that's what really has been in the back of my mind all these years. I saw the para approaching, and I didn't warn Jim Wray, and they murdered him. I felt like a coward. I should have told him to keep still. They can't say Jim Wray was throwing stones or armed; he was on his stomach.

Around the corner, crowds sheltered from the gunfire as Gerald Donaghey (17) and Gerard McKinney (35) were shot dead in Abbey Park. According to a brother-in-law of McKinney's, John O'Kane, who saw him being shot, "He shouted, 'No, no, don't shoot' before he fell on his back, then he blessed himself and he said, 'Jesus, Jesus' before he died'." The same bullet killed both men.

Dr Raymond McClean: I found a man lying on the steps of the square being tended by two young boys. This man was Gerald McKinney, and on examination I found a significant amount of blood around his upper chest region. On further examination I found that he was already dead. I told the boys to continue their efforts at resuscitation.

Someone told me that several other people had been shot and were in houses across the square. In the first house I found Michael Kelly [who was 17], who had an entry bullet wound just to the left of his umbilicus. I could not find any exit wound. Michael was already dead when I examined him.

Lying beside Michael was Jim Wray. He had two entry gunshot wounds on the right side of his back. He had an exit wound on the left side of his back, and another larger exit wound at his left shoulder. Jim was also dead when I examined him. Again, I told the young first-aiders to continue their efforts at resuscitation. I did this mainly to keep them occupied, and in the hope that if they were kept busy, they would be less likely to panic in what was an extremely horrific situation.

I went next door where I found William ­McKinney lying on the floor. He had an entry bullet wound over his right chest, and a jagged exit wound in his left chest. There was not much external bleeding. He was quite conscious when I examined him. He was pale and shocked, but extremely calm. He said to me very calmly, "I'm going to die, doctor, am I?" I lied a bit and said, "You have been hit badly, but if we can get an ambulance and get you to hospital quickly, I hope you will be alright." I stayed with William until he gradually lost consciousness and died.

'On Bloody Sunday: A New History of the Day and Its Aftermath by Those Who Were There' by Julieann Campbell is published by Monoray

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