IRA Bomb at Aldershot Barracks

1972, 22 February, 12.40 pm: IRA Aldershot mess bomb killing seven people including five women and a priest. Aldershot barrack bomb which was first in UK during that campaign and led to enhanced security at military establishments. Considerable Surrey Constabulary involvement following the explosion.

Dave Strudwick: As Scenes of Crime Officer I was at Aldershot police station fingerprinting a large number of Irishmen that were arrested in the area. Once done they were stamped with an indelible stamp, from where the term: "Have you been stamped?" became in common use for a while in the greater Aldershot area.

Alan Bridgeman: In 1971 my neighbour at Upper Hale Road, Farnham was Bill Kirke; we were both on RD when we heard all sorts of sirens sounding, and wondered what sort of job was breaking. This was the day that the IRA bombed the Para barracks, and managed to kill a Catholic priest and a cleaner as far as I recall.

When we stopped at Farnham nick we were appointed to man the Information Centre phones, and rapidly discovered that people outside the nick appeared to have much more information than anyone inside. They were probably watching the TV – which we didn't have!

We later discovered that when Joe Futcher arrived at the scene of the bombing, he stood quietly at the entrance to the site, and took names of all personnel attending. Most of us would have rushed in to get involved with the action – it's a good job there are usually a few Joes around to do the simple tasks which only become important after the event.

Bob Bartlett: I was a sergeant at Ash and off duty in Aldershot town centre where a large shop plate glass window had smashed. I asked the people standing and looking at the damage what had happened and they said a bomb had gone off in Browning Barracks the Parachute Regiment lines a few hundred yards away and something had blown the window.

I immediately went to the area of the bomb where for he first time I saw armed troops on the streets as they put a cordon in around the officer's mess. Incongruously there was also a member of the Royal Military Police on a horse controlling the traffic. I parked close by and without any hindrance went to the scene. It was the officer's mess that had been hit.

This was a fairly new building and had a great deal of glass on the front, which had been blown out and a number of people were believed dead. On the grass area in front of the Mess the Para medics were laying out rows of stretchers from their field hospital. Working on the rubble of the collapsed building were soldiers carefully removing the debris by hand, searching for casualties.

Later we were to learn that the Regimental chaplain had been killed, as had five women cleaners. The IRA had struck deep into the heart of the military establishment killing the defenceless. This was the first attack on mainland Britain from this campaign and was allegedly in revenge for Bloody Sunday in Londonderry.

Time passed quickly and it was a dull February day and so it was soon dark and emergency lighting was brought in to illuminate the continuing rescue attempts. I did very little. The scene was well under control and organised without panic or undue dashing about. One gruesome thing that I recall is drinking some tea from the mobile canteen that arrived, and noticing that I was standing alongside human flesh blown clear during the blast!

Whilst at the scene a call came in to say that there was another bomb in the sergeant's mess, which was alongside the remains of the officer's mess. It has to be remembered that this was the first mainland explosion of this campaign, and the expertise and protocols for dealing with this type of incident were not yet established.

However on this occasion there was seen to be little choice but to search the mess, as it was not seen as realistic option to call off the work at the bomb scene. I was part of a number of people who volunteered to search the sergeant's mess. Silly really, as most of the searchers had no idea what they were looking for and what should or should not have been there.

Fortunately there was no device and it was either a hoax call or a malicious act by the IRA. Either way it added to the pressure. That was my last involvement that day.

It was decided that all at had been accounted for and that there were no people trapped within the collapsed building. The field ambulance was packed away and the scene secured for the night to allow for a detailed forensic examination to begin in daylight.

I was later to see the post-mortem photographs of the casualties, which showed that the bodies had been severely damaged by the blast. One of the casualties was a cleaner a Mrs Lunn who was from my area, the village of Tongham. Some days later I was responsible for the policing of the funeral in the village, which attracted large numbers of people including senior military personnel from Aldershot, and of course the media on masse.

Shops and cafes in Tongham closed their doors and pulled down blinds, when the villagers all came together for the funeral at St Paul's Church in the heart of the village. Crowds waited in the chill March wind as the family and congregation gathered. Traffic was brought to a halt as the twenty one car cortege left for the Aldershot Crematorium.

This incident was to change many things, and bring counter-terrorism to the very forefront of police activity in a number of areas. The barracks basically closed their doors and retreated behind the wire. It was very sad. Following the murder of a number of soldiers in uniform by the IRA, it also became unusual to see soldiers in public in their uniforms.

However recruits remained pretty obvious and they did tend to use the same pubs, a fact that was to have tragic consequences a few years later. Soldiers generally became anonymous away from their camps and it was with great surprise and not a little pleasure when in September 1999, on the Woodall Service Station of the M1, I saw a whole platoon of Paras in uniform, complete with the coveted red beret taking a break in the restaurant. Hopefully that was as sign of the peace process.

Return to main text


Surrey Constabulary badge