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  • Christina Drummond

Corporal Derek Wood and Corporal David Howes, Royal Corps of Signals

On this day in 1988, Corporal Derek Wood and Corporal David Howes, both of the Royal Corps of Signals, were killed in Belfast. Three days earlier at the funerals of three I.R.A. members who had been shot dead by the S.A.S. in Gibraltar, a U.D.A. gunman opened fire and threw hand grenades, killing three people. As the funeral cortege of one of those victims was making its way towards Milltown Cemetery, the car containing the two corporals appeared, apparently having got lost, headed towards the cortege, mounted the pavement as mourners scattered, and tried to get away. They were blocked in, then surrounded by people who thought it was another Loyalist attack. Corporal Wood fired his gun into the air, which caused the crowd to surge forward and attack them.

They were dragged from the car, stripped and beaten (their identification was found and they were mistakenly then assumed to be S.A.S.) - all of this was recorded by the press and by an army helicopter above. Fr. Alec Reid, a Redemptorist priest who played a pivotal role in the peace process, tried to shield the corporals as they lay on the ground, but he was dragged away and heard them being shot. Corporal Howes was still alive as Fr. Reid was allowed to administer the last rites, and a woman removed her coat to place it over his body, saying, "He was somebody's son." I was living in Belfast at the time, and know how truly shocked and sickened people were at this extraordinarily brutal and barbaric attack.

Two men were sentenced to life for murder, others were imprisoned for up to nine years, and there were many convictions of lesser charges (one man being the funeral's chief steward who went on to become Gerry Adams' bodyguard). The men who actually shot the corporals were never charged. Derek was 24 years old, David was 23 and engaged to be married.

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