© 2018 Jon Halfhide
‘In the past I have defended the right of the IRA to engage in armed struggle. I did so because there was no alternative for those who would not bend the knee, or turn a blind eye to oppression, or for those who wanted a national republic.’ Gerry Adams.
Homemade terrorist bombs come in various shapes and sizes. Some are large, some small; some in carrier bags others in holdalls, boxes, crates and even envelopes. Some are very professional, others amateurish. All are potentially lethal.
It was a wet, cold November morning on a spitting, grey Belfast street, puddles shimmering with reflections of grey, gaunt edifices that towered over them and flashing intermittently with the cold blue dazzle spinning from emergency beacons. The year was 1971 and Captain Carl King, sapper in the Royal Engineers, crouched over a rucksack, amongst an eddy of bitter breezes, in the concave porch of a shop doorway. He had been born Carl Pratt in January 1948, was teased and bullied over his surname at school so changed it by deed poll to his mother’s maiden name before joining the British Army at the age of 18. By his thinking there was no room for a Pratt among the maroon berets of the Parachute Regiment. Carl loved being a Para, excelled at Sandhurst and a further six month period of special training at Maida Barracks in Aldershot. However he’d requested transfer to the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Unit once Army Intelligence sniffed that IRA violence in Northern Ireland was about to escalate with a bombing campaign. Without realising it Carl’s nature was intrinsically heroic, always to put others before himself and deal with the most dangerous threat to the innocent population. Terrorism and bombs were now that menace.
On this chilly day he was clad in the camouflaged battle-dress of his new regiment and ash-blonde hair spilt down his neck in a tufty military crop from under a netted green helmet. His assignment was to de-fuse a suspected bomb assumed to be in the bag he stared at. At this stage he didn’t know whether it was a bomb or not as only a suspicious object had been reported to the Royal Ulster Constabulary by a vigilant member of the public. The police called the Army then cleared the area within a quarter mile radius of the bag, exiling all men, women, children and their pets as quickly as possible. In light of a recent terrorist attack, 3 killed just a couple of days before by the IRA’s bombing of The Red Lion Inn on Ormeau Road, this part of the city was swamped by the silence of fear, no scream from the sly starling or coo from the pompous pigeon who’d fled from his domain and now bobbed his head and strutted elsewhere in the city.