Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rev Gerard Weston MBE

Douglas Murray points out an anniversary that won't be commemorated anywhere prominent:
What is less likely to be commemorated is what happened a few weeks later. For forty years ago today, on 22 February 1972, the IRA got in their first full-scale retaliation to Bloody Sunday. Their target was the Parachute Regiment’s headquarters at Aldershot.

At that time the barracks were publicly accessible and the Official branch of the IRA drove in a car-bomb and left it outside the officers’ mess. It detonated around lunchtime. The mess building was flattened, but the regiment were away.

Seven people were killed in the blast. Of them the only person killed who was in the Parachute regiment was thirty-eight year old Gerry Weston – the regiment’s Catholic chaplain. Only a week before the blast Father Weston had been awarded the MBE for his work in Northern Ireland. That work – which had often put him in dangerous situations – had aimed to bring together the different communities in Ballymurphy.

The other dead were a cleaner at the barracks, and mother of an eight-year-old son, Jill Mansfield (34). The tattoo on her arm was the only means of identifying her body. Also killed were John Haslar (58) a gardener, who died from a fractured skull, Thelma Bosley (44), Margaret Grant (32), Cherie Munton (20) and Joan Lunn (39) all working at the barracks as cleaners. All left behind family. Several left children.

The Catholic Herald archive has some detail on Fr Weston:
Lieut. Col. Geoffrey Howlett, Fr. Weston's Commander. in Belfast, said: "Gerry did good work in Ballymurphy trying to bring the Church, the community and the soldiers together. He often went into certain areas at great danger to himself. His life was threatened more than once as it was thought he was a spy in priest's clothing.

Fr. Weston became an Army chaplain in 1967 and served with the Forces in Germany, Aden and the Persian Gulf. He volunteered for work in Belfast after a visit there last year and spent four months in the city.

He is believed to have been just beside a blue Cortina parked outside the officers' mess at Aldershot, when it exploded. Five civilian woman staff were also killed in the explosion.

His last words to his parish priest at Great Crosby, Canon Francis Danher, on Sunday, speaking about his planned return to Northern Ireland, were: "I am only doing God's will."

Capt.(Fr) Weston was the only non-civilian death resulting from the explosion.

May he, and all those murdered that day, rest in peace.


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