When I first joined the RUC as a very young girl, I was taken under the wing of an experienced officer, John. He was also a family friend and had watched me grow up, so he almost treated me as his little sister and endeavoured to keep me safe, teach me how to look after myself and show me how to be a good police officer.
He was a great policeman, he worked hard, he wanted what most of us wanted and that was peace and security in his country. He didn’t want his children growing up in a country full of terrorists, full of bombings and full of shootings.
He looked out for me and I had huge admiration and respect for him. One day I arrived in the station and went to get changed for work. In those days it was unheard of for us to travel to work in uniform. Things were so bad we didn’t even hang our uniforms out on the washing line to dry. You never drew attention to the fact that you were an RUC officer. You were a terrorist target, whether on duty or off.
I had just changed and was on my way to the Duty Detail Room. This is where we were briefed about what incidents had and were happening, what we had to watch out for, or more often than not who we had to watch out for. Suddenly the whole station went into chaos. People were running around everywhere, shouting instructions, making phone calls etc. Then the Chief Inspector appeared. I knew it had to be something serious for him to come to the briefing room.
The room filled up, not just with the newest duty shift, but with every available officer in the station. The Chief Inspector then delivered the news to us that a land mine had gone off and a police vehicle had been hit, we had officers critically injured and possibly some dead. As he told us who was in the vehicle I felt sick, because my “big brother” John was amongst them.
One officer died that day. John had been thrown from the vehicle by the impact of the blast and although very seriously injured, he survived. It was a dark and sad time in our station, we’d lost one of our own and three others were badly hurt. The officer who died left behind a wife and a very young family, it was heartbreaking.
About six months after the incident, John returned to work. He was badly scarred on his face and hands and had a permanent limp from his leg injuries, his eyesight and hearing had also been affected. Almost worse than the physical injuries though, were the mental ones. He suffered from survivors guilt, he tried to put it behind him, but he struggled. He couldn’t perform his usual duties and was pretty much confined to a desk job – which he hated.
As time moved on, he didn’t, he couldn’t. He began to drink to block it out, to escape what had happened. He then moved to a smaller quieter station and I heard less and less about him and from him. After I left the job, I would still find out how he was and although he put on a brave exterior face, he was destroyed inside.
I found out today that he had died. Died, primarily because of alcohol and that breaks my heart. He was a lovely, decent man, with a lovely family. He maybe didn’t die “In the line of duty, but in my mind, his job actually cost him his life, his desire to preserve human life, his desire to fight the terrorists to make his country more secure, cost him his life. Because of that bombing incident, that he couldn’t recover from, he turned to alcohol and that is tragically sad. Will his name be added to the RUC Roll of Honour – probably not, that also makes me sad. Another life wasted because of a stupid pointless “war”.
It’s just another one of those little things, a little story that people never hear about, that reiterates to me, just how precious human life really is.
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