Tory MP recalls horror of Northern Ireland pub bombing

‘She said “am I going to die?” I said yes. I held her. She died in two minutes. I wept’: Emotional Tory MP and ex-officer Bob Stewart relives harrowing moment girl died in his arms after 1982 Ballykelly pub bombing that killed 17 – including 11 soldiers

  • Bob Stewart was incident commander at the scene of Droppin’ Well bombing
  • The 1982 bombing resulted in one of the largest death tolls of the Troubles
  • Former colonel recalled the horror of the incident during debate in Commons 

The House of Commons listened in hushed silence today as a Tory MP and former British Army officer relived the harrowing moment he cared for a dying girl who was one of the victims of a Northern Ireland pub bombing. 

Former colonel Bob Stewart recounted how he had arrived on the scene of the Droppin’ Well bombing as the incident commander on December 6, 1982. 

Speaking during a debate to mark Remembrance Day, an emotional Mr Stewart told how one of the first people he saw was a very badly injured girl who was lying on the ground. 

He said he was ‘horrified’ at her injuries and he proceeded to kneel down next to her as he tried to comfort her. 

He then told how she had asked him if she was going to die and Mr Stewart said to the silent Commons: ‘Forgive me, I said yes.’ 

He said: ‘I held her and she died within two minutes. I wept. She died in a state of grace.’ 

Tory MP and former colonel Bob Stewart today relived the horror of a Northern Ireland pub bombing

Bob Stewart was a war hero who led troops in Bosnia and Northern Ireland before he joined the House of Commons as a Conservative MP.

After training at Sandhurst he served in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, first as an intelligence officer and then a company commander.

He was the Company commander in charge when 30 people – including 11 soldiers – were killed when the Irish National Liberation Army planted a bomb at a disco in Ballykelly in December 1982.

His glittering military career took him to Bosnia where in 1992 he became the first British commander of UN troops in the country.

During his time in Bosnia he discovered he Ahmici massacre, in which 103 Muslim people were killed – one of the most savage examples of ethnic cleansing during the conflict.

After leaving the Army he was elected to Parliament in 2010, and has earned a reputation speaking out for veterans during his time as an MP.

Paramilitary group the Irish National Liberation Army was responsible for the bombing in 1982 which resulted in one of the largest death tolls of the Troubles.

The group detonated a bomb at the Droppin’ Well pub in Ballykelly, Co Londonderry, on December 6 – killing 17 people, including 11 soldiers and six civilians.

Mr Stewart told the Commons of watching men under his command die in front of him. 

He said: ‘I remember all the men that were killed under my command and in particular today may I mention those killed at Ballykelly on 6 December 1982 where 17 people were killed – six of them were civilians and 11 were soldiers.

‘Six of the soldiers were from my own company, the company of the Cheshire’s: Stephen Bagshaw, Clinton Collins, Philip McDonough, David Stitt, Stephen Smith and Shaw Williamson. They all died when I was present.

‘I was the incident commander, and as I went into the wrecked building that was the Droppin Well, almost the first person I saw was a girl lying on the ground. I was horrified. Both her legs had gone and an arm. I knelt down horrified again and spoke to her.’

Mr Stewart then continued to describe how he spoke to the girl before she died.

He told MPs he had said: ‘Are you alright darling?’ She said, ‘I think so’. I said, ‘Are you hurting?’ She said no. I said to her, ‘How are you feeling?’ She said, ‘I don’t know, what’s happened?’ I said, ‘There has been a bomb’. ‘Oh, she said, am I hurt?’ I said, ‘You’re hurt’. She said, ‘Am I hurt very badly?’ I said, ‘You’re hurt very badly’.

‘She said, ‘Am I going to die?’ But forgive me, I said yes. I could see no other… there was blood everywhere. And she said, ‘Am I going to die now?’ And I said, ‘I think you are’. And she said, ‘Will you hold me?’

‘I held her and she died within two minutes. I wept. She died in a state of grace.’

Mr Stewart told MPs that the girl was ‘one of 17 killed that day’ and that it took him ‘four hours to identify my six soldiers in the morgue’.

Paramilitary group the Irish National Liberation Army was responsible for the Ballykelly bombing in 1982 which resulted in one of the largest death tolls of the Troubles

He continued: ‘I went to their funerals in Cheshire. Six funerals in five days, two on the Friday.’ 

Mr Stewart also told how a Lance Corporal died escorting the injured to hospital in Bosnia-Herzegovina under his orders.

The Beckenham MP said: ‘I remember too my escort driver, Wayne Edwards, killed on 13 January 1993.

‘I’d given the order to escort four women to hospital through Gornji Vakuf and he was shot through the head as he did so. I am responsible for his death.’

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