Some thirty six years ago I recall wandering into the television room at Glencorse Barracks in August 1979. The usual banter and joshing was absent. NCO's just stared at the television in silence, not believing what they were hearing. Mountbatten was dead. He was murdered with others in the atrocity at Mullaghmore. A serious incident involving the Parachute Regiment had also occured at Warrenpoint resulting in many casualties. Just how many quickly became clear.
Soon after, Queens Own Highlanders of all ranks at the Depot were called to the cinema. We were told that the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, Lt Col David Blair and his signaler, L/Cpl MacLeod, had also been killed in the secondary explosion at Warrenpoint which detonated as the Colonels helicopter was landing. The shock was palpable. Even though I was far away from South Armagh, the grief that pulsed through the Regimental family was very personal. It was my first experience of death in service. It wasn't to be the last but thankfully I was spared the heavy casualty counts that some have witnessed. I've never forgotten that day, or the others.
The memory of the 692 British soldiers killed in Northern Ireland as a result of paramilitary action, and the 6,116 wounded, is of course kept very much alive by their family and friends, their former comrades and their regiments and corps. Unfortunately, as I've written in the past, the sacrifice of a generation of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland has mostly been airbrushed from the contemporary collective memory. That process was started by Tony Blair and successive politicians have done little to make amends. It's just easier to let it be it seems.
That is, unless you happen to be a gentleman called Albert Owens. Albert isn't a man given to doing things by halves. Nor does he take to the idea of letting the names of the 692 dead, and those from other conflicts, be lost in the fog of history. Albert and his fellow volunteers have created a haven of peace and pilgrimage in the Palace Barracks Memorial Garden in Northern Ireland. The one and a half acre site commemorates those killed in Northern Ireland and other conflicts over the past 50 years.
'To see my dream and designs come true has become a very special place not only for me but for all the families, friends and comrades of the soldiers who are remembered here, in the Palace Barracks Memorial Garden. In addition to maintaining the garden itself , I also keep in regular touch with the families and friends of those Men and Women of our Armed Forces who are remembered here and arrange visits for them to the Garden should they so wish.'
On the Memorial Garden website you will find list of those killed in action. Please take a moment to dip in and have a look. If you can, pick a name, any name from any regiment and quietly remember it, now, on November 11th and beyond.
We should all remember, and mostly the country does with dignity on Armistice Day every year. Do though spare a thought for those killed in the conflicts beyond those which catch the media's attention. My own thanks to Albert for his efforts which are loyal to the memory. Please do visit the site or the Facebook page. His enthusiasm and commitment deserve acknowledgement.
“As long as mist hangs o’er the mountains And water runs in the glens The Deeds of the Brave will be remembered” Caber Feidh gu Brath