Corporal Derek Wood,Soldier,Royal Corps of Signals,24 Years old
Corporal David Howes,Royal Signals Regiment,23 years old,single
The episode is remembered by many as one of the most shocking fatal incidents of the troubles,largely because of the graphic television coverage which showed dozens of men attacking their car.After being taken from their car and beaten,the corporals were driven to waste ground and shot.The incident,which became known as 'the corporals' killings',was seen as both extraordinarily brutal.The sequence of events was watched by an army surveillance helicopter on film which was later produced in evidence at a series of trials related to the incident.The film included harrowing footage of the actual deaths of the soldiers as they were shot by I.R.A. gunmen.
Although the army version of events was that the soldiers were technicians who were engaged in routine communications and radio work at bases in West Belfast,local suspicians persist that they were instead involved in some form of undercover surveillance activity.Neither explanation,however,is seen as clearing up the mystery of how they came to drive into an I.R.A. funeral attended by many hundreds of republican sympathisers.The incident had its origins in the shotings of three I.R.A. members,by the S.A.S. in Gibraltar.Their funerals in Milltown Cemetery were disrupted by an attack mounted by U.D.A. gunman Michael Stone,who killed three people including I.R.A. member Caoimhin MacBradaigh.
The MacBradaigh funeral was making its way along the Andersonstown Road towards Milltown cemetery when the silver Volkswagen Passat car containing the two corporals appeared.The car headed straight towards the front of the funeral,which was headed by a number of black taxis.It drove past a Sinn Fein steward who signalled it to turn.The car then mounted a pavement,scattering mourners and turning into a small side road.On finding that this road was blocked,it then reversed at speed,ending up within the funeral cortege.When the driver attempted to extricate the car from the cortege his exit route was blocked by a black taxi.At this point most of the mourners and the accompanying republican stewards assumed the car contained loyalist gunmen intent on staging another Michael Stone style attack.Dozens of them rushed forward,kicking the car and attempting to open its doors.
The soldiers inside the car were both armed with Browning automatic pistols and Corporal Wood climbed part of the way out of a window,firing a shot in the air which briefly scattered the crowd.The television pictures showed the crowd surging back,however,some of them attacking the vehicle with a wheelbrace and a stepladder snatched from a photographer.The corporals were eventually pulled from the car and punched and kicked to the ground.They were then dragged into the nearby Casement Park sports ground where they were agin beaten,stripped to their underpants and socks and searched.According to republicans,an identification card which read 'Herford',a location in Germany,was mistaken for 'Hereford',the headquarters of the S.A.S..It appears this was important in sealing the fate of the soldiers.With the I.R.A. by now involved the corporals were further beaten and thrown over a high wall to be put into a waiting black taxi.It was driven off at speed,camera crews capturing its driver waving his fist in the air.
The corporals were driven less than 200 yards to waste ground near Penny Lane,just off the main Andersonstown Road.There they were shot several times.Corporal Wood was shot six times,twice in the head and four times in the chest.He was also stabbed four times in the back of the neck and had multiple injuries to other parts of his body.Redemptorist priest Father Alec Reid,who was later to play a significant part in the peace process leading to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement,arrived on the scene.One of the most enduring pictures of the troubles shows him kneeling beside the almost naked bodies of the soldiers,his face distraught as he administered the last rites.The events of March 19,1988,lasted only 15 minutes but,because of the nature of the deaths and because much of the sequence was televised within hours,they are regarded among the most shocking in Northern Ireland's recent history.
Later in the day the I.R.A. issued a statement.It said 'The Belfast Brigade,IRA,claims responsibility for the execution in Andersonstown this afternoon of two SAS members,who launched an attack on the funeral cortege of our comrade volunteer Kevin Brady[Caoimhin MacBradaigh].The SAS unit was initially apprehended by the people lining the route of the cortege in the belief that armed loyalists were attacking them,and they were removed from the immediate vicinity of the funeral procession by them.At this point our volunteers forcibly removed the two men from the crowd and,after clearly ascertaining their identities from equipment and documentation,we executed them.'
The bodies of the dead soldiers were flown to RAF Northolt by Hercules transport plane.Their families watched as the coffins,draped in Union flags,were carried from the aeroplane by colleagues,with the band of the Corps of Signals playing in the background.Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was at the airfield.The soldiers' deaths promted one RUC officer,Constable Clive Graham,to consider emigrating but he was killed by the IRA just days later.
In November 1998,two Belfast men sentenced for their involvment in the killing of the two soldiers were released from the Maze prison as part of the early prisoner release scheme in the Good Friday Agreement.
LEST WE FORGET