A former member of the Parachute Regiment has described how he dropped to the ground, narrowly missing being shot at in west Belfast in 1971, ahead of a disputed shooting incident.
The man, who has been granted anonymity and is referred to as M1300, told an inquest in Belfast that on the evening of August 9, some 15 seconds of firing was directed at him from the direction of the Moyard Flats in the Ballymurphy area.
Later that evening, a Catholic priest became the first of 10 people to be shot dead during three days of gunfire involving members of the Parachute Regiment.
Claims that a republican gunman or gunmen had been present in Moyard Flats have been in dispute.
The narrative became further clouded last year when the Loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, came forward to say they had been involved in shooting.
The three-day series of events, which has become known as the Ballymurphy Massacre, started on August 9 as the British Army moved into republican strongholds to arrest IRA suspects in the wake of the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.
A new inquest into the shootings is being held at Belfast Coroner’s Court.
Today, it heard from witness M1300 – who was a Lance Corporal with B Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in 1971.
He described his role as a clerk, and did not do patrols or duties in sangars (fortified post).
On the evening of August 9, he said shots were fired at the battalion headquarters at the Henry Taggart Memorial Hall.
As a consequence, the battalion “went into alert mode” and he was sent to deliver additional ammunition to soldiers on duty in the sangars at nearby Vere Foster School.
He said he was unarmed during this task, adding that he never fired a weapon on any of his tours in Northern Ireland.
“I was on the roof of the school, it was still light although getting dark,” he told the inquest.
“I was walking across the roof when I was fired at, I did not see the person who fired at me, I could just hear the bullets around my head. They did not miss me by much.
“It was obvious the fire was targeted at me, I think the gunman had a Thompson sub-machine gun because it was automatic fire.
“I immediately dropped flat on the roof and waited for the firing to stop. The fire lasted for approximately 15 seconds, I did not hear anyone from the military firing back.”
He said he went on to deliver the ammunition, before “getting out of there”.
“I was not in the frame of mind to hang around as it was the first time I had ever been shot at,” he said.
M1300 told the inquest that he had not been aware of the shootings which happened later outside the hall.
He said he was shocked when he went to his room to find a wounded man being treated in his bed.
“That was very much of a shock, I had never seen anyone in that state before,” he said.
“All I know he was bleeding quite heavily.”
M1300 described himself as a “gopher” who was on the peripherals of the company.
“I was not what you’d call a standard Para soldier,” he said.
“My background and education set me apart from the regular soldiers.
“I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t actually fit in with the regular soldiers. I was a bit of a loner.”
M1300 also told the inquest that he was given a copy of the Yellow Card, the army’s instructions to soldiers on the rules of engagement, which had been updated following tours of Northern Ireland in 1970.
“We were all given a copy of the Yellow Card,” he said.
“We did not receive any instruction on the rules of engagement beyond the Yellow Card because the Yellow Card was our Bible. We carried it wherever we went.
“We were told we were there to back up the police and keep law and order.”
Earlier, the inquest heard from another former soldier who has also been granted anonymity for the purposes of the inquest.
M140 was a Private on August 9, 1971.
He said he did a four-hour shift in a sangar on the school along with one other soldier.
M140 said he did not fire his gun on the day in question or during that tour.
- Press Association