15 August 2006

On this day

Sixty-one years ago, on this day, the Second World War ended. I can still remember the unbridled joy, the huge sense of relief and pride that the freedom-loving nations of the world – which was how we thought of ourselves then – had triumphed over evil.

It wasn’t the war to end all wars. Since then there has been continuous warfare of some sort all over the world. I doubt if the current wars are about triumphing over evil.

On this same date, in 1950, Princess Elizabeth (the present Queen) gave birth to a daughter. Such were the values of the day that the event was headlined all over the US and the Commonwealth. News flashes appeared on cinema screens. Even in the land of Oz, in theatres and nightclubs, people stood and cheered.

The King was shooting (animals) on the Scottish moors and a special messenger was sent to inform him. Nobody bothered to tell me – I was labouring on a sweltering building site in Yugoslavia. But that’s another story.

The Westminster Registrar went to Clarence House to complete the birth certificate. After the Duke had signed, he was given his daughter's identity card, a ration book and bottles of cod-liver oil and orange juice. We were a very egalitarian society in those days.

In 1971 on this day we acquired an addition to the English language – a ‘Harvey Smith’ – after the famous horseman was stripped of his winnings for giving the V-sign (sort of) to the judges at the British Show Jumping Derby.

But on this day in 1998, at precisely 3.10 pm, the self-styled ‘real’ IRA detonated a bomb that killed 29 innocent people, including 9 children and a woman pregnant with twins. It maimed and burned over 200 others and destroyed the lives of hundreds more. The dead included two young Spaniards on a day-trip from a student exchange programme in Donegal.

The town of Omagh had entered the history books for the most tragic of reasons. The perpetrators finally stated that their bomb had exploded at its intended (commercial) location. It would appear that the commercial target was a small shop stocked with school uniforms for the coming term.

Much has been written about the mistakes by police North and South, both before and after the event. There has been unhappiness about the allocation of compensation, the inability to bring the killers to justice and the lukewarm official support for civil action in the courts. All this has added to the distress of the bereaved.

A significant factor has been the unwillingness of people with vital information to come forward.

Is it fear? I think I could just about understand that.

Or is it that old perverted sense of Irish loyalty to those who see themselves as patriots?

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