A SOLDIER who survived the IRA’s Ballygawley bus bombing in 1988 says he believes he and other ex-soldiers who served in Ulster, Iraq and the Falklands are the “forgotten heroes”.
James Leatherbarrow, 47, from Liverpool, who was badly injured in the August 20 bomb which killed eight of his colleagues, says he still “gets the smell of burning diesel in my nose, as if I was there” every anniversary at 12.20am.
At the time of the atrocity Mr Leatherbarrow was 21 years old and serving as a private with the 1st Battalion of the Light Infantry.
Last November, 25 years after the bombing, he returned to the scene with fellow survivors and relatives for the first time.
Mr Leatherbarrow told the News Letter the IRA roadside bomb which wreaked carnage on a bus carrying 36 soldiers, who had been returning to their base in Omagh after a short holiday, “wrecked my life”.
“I was badly injured, but my main scar was the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),” he said. “I got married eight weeks after the bomb and then, some years later, my first wife and I split up. So I started to rebuild my life and I now have three great children who know all about what happened.
“They think I am a hero, and they are right because people like me and the men who served in Iraq and the Falklands are the forgotten heroes. I have respect for the men who served in Afghanistan and the Help for Heroes campaign, but they should have tried Northern Ireland for six months, or two and a half years like me, where you didn’t know who you were fighting until you spoke to them.”
Mr Leatherbarrow said of the soldiers who survived the blast, seven still keep in touch. He said a number of others had died, some by suicide. He added that at 12.20am on August 20 each year, his mind moves past lying underneath the wreckage to hours beforehand when “we were all enjoying each other’s company in the airport bar”.
Meanwhile, victims campaigner Kenny Donaldson says he is expecting increased numbers of ex-soldiers and their families to travel over to Ballygawley this November for Remembrance Sunday.
Mr Donaldson, from Innocent Victims United, said: “IVU will be involved in the hosting of the group again this year to allow them the chance to recover from their ordeal, if they can. Part of this will be recorded as part of a project we are undertaking.
“It will hopefully offer them a form of closure.”
The soldiers who died were: 19-year-old Jayson Burfitt, 21-year-old Richard Greener, 18-year-old Mark Norsworthy, 18-year-old Stephen Wilkinson, 19-year-old Jason Winter, 19-year-old Blair Bishop, 18-year-old Alexander Lewis and 21-year-old Peter Bullock.