The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #55265   Message #1548078
Posted By: Susanne (skw)
23-Aug-05 - 07:16 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Soldier (Harvey Andrews)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Soldier (Harvey Andrews)
I could have sworn I posted the following in this thread some time ago. Can't find it, though, so here goes, from 'Lost Lives':

[1999:] 74. May 25, 1971   Michael G. Willets, West Belfast, Soldier, Parachute Regiment, 27, married

He was killed at Springfield Road RUC station by an IRA blast bomb thrown into the reception area. A car stopped outside the station and a man, described as dark haired and in his mid-20s, emerged with a suitcase which he hurled through the front door. Several civilians were sitting inside when the device was thrown. Among them were Patrick Gray, a 27-year-old electrician, his daughter Colette and their neighbour Mrs Elizabeth Cummings and her four-year-old son, Carl. In his book Bombs Have No Pity, Lieutenant-Colonel George Styles wrote: 'Immediately he saw the suitcase hit the floor, Sergeant Willets realised what was about to happen. He thrust the two children down into a corner and stood above them, shielding them as the 30lbs explosive in the suitcase went off. He was killed instantly but the children he'd protected escaped with their lives. The police inspector in the room was seriously injured and across the road a two-year-old, being pushed in a pram by his mother, was blown through a shop window. He was to regain consciousness only after months in hospital.'

In all, seven police officers, two soldiers and 18 civilians were injured. One of the policemen injured, Constable Ian Phoenix, had been chatting to Sergeant Willets just moments before the explosion. Constable Phoenix, who had served with the sergeant in the Parachute Regiment went on, after joining the RUC, to become a detective-superintendent. He was subsequently killed with other prominent anti-terrorist personnel in a Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994.

In their book, Phoenix, Policing the Shadows, Dr Susan Phoenix, the policeman's widow, and journalist Jack Holland give an account of the moments following the explosion. They write: 'Phoenix made his way to the entrance area, where he saw Sergeant Willets lying with the back of his head gaping open. A metal chunk from a locker hurled across the room by the force of the explosion had struck him. Local people had gathered outside and began to help clear the debris, offering what assistance they could. Ambulances began ferrying the injured to the nearby Royal Victoria Hospital. Lieutenant-Colonel (Peter) Chiswell was with Sergeant Willets, who was taken out on a door to the ambulance. A crowd of youths were waiting to greet them. They started to jeer and scream obscenities at the badly wounded soldiers. Said Chiswell, "My reaction was one of total disbelief that anyone could be so inhumane."'

Alan Judd, later an author, was a soldier writing at a desk in a room over the reception area. 'A jagged jet of flame shot up through the floor in front of me and I felt a hot stinging shock through the soles of my boots, the seat of my chair and my calves and thighs. I don't think I hit the ceiling, but I believe the desk did and the inkwell certainly did; its remains were later found embedded.'

The sergeant, who had been due to leave Northern Ireland with his regiment's 3rd battalion in a few days, died after two hours on the operating table. He was the first member of the Parachute Regiment killed in the troubles. In his book, Lieutenant-Colonel Styles added: 'Sadly, the family of the little boy blown into the shop were going to be hurt again through the terrorist war. One night the army broke up barricades set up in their street. The armoured bulldozer picked up the rubble of the barricade and shoved it straight into the front room of that family's house. Such families are the true victims of terrorism.'

Patrick Gray later described the dead sergeant as a hero. The paratrooper was posthumously awarded the George Cross. A labourer in his early 20s from the Falls Road was cleared of a charge of murdering Sergeant Willets. Two months before his death the sergeant was present when soldiers shot dead a civilian, William Halligan, in disputed circumstances on the Falls Road. (McKittrick et al., Lost Lives 74)