Reliving 'Bloody Sunday' Part 1 of 3: "A Worm's Eye View"

Reliving 'Bloody Sunday'

Part 1 of 3: "A Worm's Eye View"

By David Tereshchuk

Called to testify at the new British investigation into the "Bloody Sunday" massacre, journalist David Tereshchuk finds himself pulled back into the outrage and panic he experienced when he came under fire 30 years ago.

I had almost a worm's-eye view of Bloody Sunday. I was working as a junior TV journalist covering a protest march through Derry on January 30, 1972, and like every other observer I was dumbfounded when the British Parachute Regiment opened fire on the protestors.

DT bogside
Photo by Michael McHugh
Journalist David Tereshchuk looks out over the Bogside, in this still from the documentary "An Unreliable Witness," by GRACE Pictures.

I had just maneuvered my way over a low barricade of rubble when the shots rang out, and I flung myself on the ground, tasting asphalt for the first time. The firing lasted several minutes -- killing unarmed civilians, though I didn't know that at the time. I saw and heard soldiers firing but couldn't see anyone being hit. When a break seemed to come I got up and ran out of the danger area. The death toll turned out to be 13 that day, and a 14th man died of his wounds later.

Twenty-nine years later, I was back in Derry. And I was back in a weird replication of the scene -- thanks to digital technology. I was giving evidence to the current judicial inquiry into the massacre, and at an attorney's direction I was inserting myself into a "virtual reality" recreation of the killing field.

MORE COVERAGE OF "BLOODY SUNDAY" FROM WGT

The real location in Derry's Bogside has changed almost beyond recognition over the years through demolition, reconstruction and landscaping, but with my finger on a computer's touch-sensitive screen I was able to place myself back near that rubble barricade.

An entire and eerily convincing panorama wheeled 360 degrees around me ... the northern part of Rossville Street from where the paratroopers began shooting ... the Glenfada Park gable-end to where 18-year-old Michael Kelly was carried with a gaping stomach wound and died ... the southern end of Rossville Street, with its famous "Free Derry" daubing ... round finally to the exact points where four more young men turned out to have been killed on my side of the barricade.

Inevitably, my mind hurtled back to the outrage, terror and panic I felt that cold afternoon, and I struggled to recall the events calmly.

Inevitably, my mind hurtled back to the outrage, terror and panic I felt that cold afternoon, and I struggled to recall the events calmly. My testimony was followed by more intense images. When it was Bishop Edward Daly's turn in the witness-box, all the screens that are scattered throughout the inquiry chamber and public gallery pulsed with moving pictures, relayed also to private rooms where daily the families of the dead gather to watch the proceedings.

Old news footage, that is now iconized, showed a young Father Daly advancing in a kind of crouching walk, waving his bloodied white handkerchief, trying to gain passage for a fatally wounded youth, 17-year-old Jackie Duddy, being carried behind him. The Bishop's quiet sadness in the witness-box, and his flashes of anger, brought a fresh human poignancy to the electronic visuals.

The inquiry's hi-tech imagery is just one aspect of a vast and complex operation. It takes place, ironically, in the converted council-room of Derry's once corrupt and gerrymandered Guildhall, and since being mandated by Tony Blair in January 1998, inquiry staff have been scouring four continents for material witnesses - like myself, now living in New York. It has cost well over $25 million in public money so far, and the meter is still ticking, for hearings are expected to go on for another two years. [Editor's Note: The cost, as of April 2002, is now more than $50 million, according to news accounts. The tribunal is likely to extend at least another year.]

Paramount Classics
Father Edward Daly pleads with soldiers to hold their fire in a scene from the Paramount Classics film"Bloody Sunday."

The effort and evident rigor being applied contrast sharply with how I recall the previous inquiry, conducted in the weeks immediately following Bloody Sunday by Lord Widgery, who in effect whitewashed the British Army.

Widgery left unproven allegations in the air that the dead had somehow been a threat to the soldiers -- with nail bombs, perhaps, or concealed guns hastily removed after their deaths. For that inquiry, no attempt was made to investigate preparations made ahead of the fateful day by the different parties involved, least of all by the Army, nor was any evidence taken from the 14 people injured (it was deemed not relevant to the deaths). "Survivor Guilt" -- Part 2 of the series "Reliving 'Bloody Sunday'" -- is coming soon.

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Tags: 1900s, Bloody, Derry, Journalism, Sunday

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