Don Mullan: I shall never forget the silence that descended on my native town

Eyewitness

It was the first civil rights demonstration I had ever taken part in. As I left my home that sunny Sunday afternoon, little did I realise that I would find myself in the vortex of a military operation which would leave 13 civilians dead, 14 wounded and a nation in turmoil.

I was at the corner of Glenfada Park and the rubble barricade on Rossville Street when the 1st Battalion Paratroop Regiment advanced. I have very clear memories of the Paras fanning out across the waste ground to the north of the Rossville flats complex. I can still vividly recall one Para, about 20 metres away, firing a rubber bullet which bounced off the barricade.

Another took up a firing position at the corner of the first block of flats diagonally across the road. Behind him I could see three paratroopers viciously raining the butts of their rifles down upon a young man they had caught.

Then the unmistakable cracks of high-velocity SLR [self-loading rifle] shooting started. I distinctly remember a youth clutching his stomach a short distance away, his cry filling the air with despair and disbelief. For a moment we were stunned. People ran to his aid while others, including myself, sheltered behind the barricade.

Suddenly the air was filled with what seemed like a thunderstorm of bullets. The barricade began to spit dust and it seemed to come from every direction. The wall above me burst. That's how it appeared as bits of mortar and red brick showered around us.

Our nervous systems reacted simultaneously, as though a high-voltage electric shock had been unleashed. Absolute panic ensued as we turned and ran. Doors and alleyways choked as waves of terrified adults and children tried to reach safety. "Jesus, they're trying to kill us!" "Jesus, let me through!" "Get out of the way!" "Ah Jesus, they're after shooting a wee boy!"

I escaped through Glenfada Park but there are several minutes of that afternoon of which I have absolutely no memory. Five young men died at the barricade and four between Glenfada Park and Abbey Park. As many again were wounded in those locations. What I know is somewhere hidden in my subconscious.

All I know is that three-quarters of a mile later a woman's voice brought me back to reality. "What's happening, son?" she asked. "Missus," I answered, "there must be at least six people dead."

I don't know why I said that, but I did. Her face registered disbelief and I knew she thought I was exaggerating. I didn't wait to explain or try to convince her. A primeval instinct had taken possession of me and I was, unashamedly, running home to safety.

The entire west bank of Derry was deeply traumatised by the attack. It must be something akin to the aftermath of an earthquake. I shall never forget the silence that descended upon my native town.

The rest of the evening was spent with my family listening to the radio and watching an old black-and-white television set for updates. The pictures of Father Edward Daly from the cathedral parish, waving a white bloodstained handkerchief as he led a group of men carrying the limp body of a teenager, were very distressing.

There was something surreal about watching television coverage of a bloodbath I had just escaped, at the bottom of the local hill. This was something that happened in Sharpeville or Soweto, but not in Derry. Certainly not to neighbours and friends.

Sleep did not come easy that night. We knew that the angel of death had entered many homes in our estate and throughout Derry. Tomorrow, 13 homes would have a brown box delivered, containing the packaged remains of loved ones with whom, just 24 hours before, they had sat down to their Sunday dinners.

We were stunned and grieving. The next three days would be not just a time of community mourning, but a national wake.

Don Mullan is an international humanitarian activist from Londonderry who, at the age of 15, witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee