TOM News 12/05/10

Alana Burke was just 18-years-old when she was badly injured on Bloody Sunday. Crushed by an armoured Saracen as she and hundreds of others fled the advancing British paratroopers, Alana sustained serious, life-changing injuries and the trauma of her ordeal has yet to fade. She tells her story to Derry Journal reporter, JULIEANN CAMPBELL
In January 1972, Alana Burke was the eldest of nine children and her father had died just six months earlier. She recalls that her mother encouraged her to attend the ill-fated civil rights march on January 30.
“My mother was a proud nationalist woman and passionate about civil rights, believing that nationalist people were entitled to the same rights as everyone else in the North. She had told us earlier that day about the march, so I just went for the craic. I remember I was wearing my new brown corduroy ‘maxi-coat and’ I thought I was the bees’ knees.
“I joined the end of the march quite late at the top of William Street where the City Baths would be now. There was the usual bit of stone throwing at ‘Aggro Corner’ but nothing unusual. The only difference was that there were thousands upon thousands of people on the march.”
In William Street, Alana and her friend found themselves quite near the front of the march but moved further back when the aggro began. When the British Army started spraying marchers with water cannon, Alana was soaked to the skin with pink dye and quickly overcome by CS gas fumes.
“I remember being very sick and disorientated but not scared,” she recalls. “That probably sounds strange, but I just thought the crowd would disperse and the army wouldn’t come any further. A man took me into a house in Chamberlain Street. After a glass of water, he advised me to go home.
“At the waste ground at Pilot’s Row, everyone was milling round and I could see the soldiers coming towards us on foot. Someone shouted to me ‘run’ and that’s when I heard the rev of the army vehicle. I remember seeing it coming and being frozen to the spot, the weight of my soaked coat weighing me down. Someone tried to help me, but we lost each other and he left me there – it was every man for himself. At that stage I was petrified and on my own.
“I glanced behind me and I saw the Saracens coming in one after the other, then I heard the thud and hit the ground and remember crawling along the earth and not feeling my legs at all. I knew it was a Saracen that hit me – I couldn’t run fast enough to get out of its way. I was totally disorientated, lying there praying that someone would please help me.
“Even talking about it still sends me reeling after all these years and I get awful flashbacks. A man carried me, semi-conscious, to a house in Joseph Place. I suppose I thank God that he did, because Jackie Duddy was shot just a minute or two after that.”
“The worst part of it all was the ambulance,” Alana remembers. “I was semi-conscious on the floor and there were bodies on either side of me. It’s hazy but I just remember thinking: are these people dead? Am I dead? I thought, maybe, I was dead and looking down on the bodies in the ambulance.”
At Altnagelvin Hospital, Alana learned the full extent of her injuries.
“They said that one of my vertebrae had been very badly crushed by the Saracen and it was cutting off the supply to my legs. I didn’t know if the feeling was ever going to come back, but I still insisted on going home after a couple of days. They put me in a wheelchair because I still couldn’t walk, but I just needed to be home around my family.”
Eventually, Alana regained the feeling in her legs and she slowly learned to walk again. However, the injuries caused long-term physical damage.
“It affected my whole life afterwards. Doctors told me it was a miracle that I conceived my son Gareth as my pelvis and insides were so badly damaged. They don’t know how he survived. The gynaecologist told me afterwards to be thankful that I had a child because my body was so messed up I would never have any more – and he was right.
“A few years later, I had to have a hysterectomy. It dictated the way my life was going to go. I dreamed of having a couple of children but it just wasn’t to be. I went on to adopt another boy.”
Almost 40 years have passed since that day in Derry’s Bogside, yet the psychological effects have haunted Alana every day since.
“It was a terrible, terrible time. No matter how many times you tell the story or how much therapy you have, it makes no difference. Bloody Sunday changed everything. It’s something that will never, ever go away. You live with it every day and, the longer it goes on, the angrier you get.”
Quest for justice
Alana says she was horrified when first approached about playing a role in the Bloody Sunday justice campaign in the early 1990s.
“I remember someone phoning the house, saying they needed me to tell my story, and I said: ‘how dare you phone my house and bring this back to me’. I wanted nothing to do with it initially. But, after talking to some of the wounded and going to a few meetings, eventually I became more comfortable talking about it. It was so hard reliving it all over again, but I knew what they were doing was right.”
As the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign began its long quest for the truth, Alana’s determination grew, strengthened by the drive of those around her.
“Once I got involved in the campaign, I became passionate about it and still am. We banded together. It wasn’t easy because there were so many different personalities, people who had lost their daddy, brothers, uncles, and those living with their injuries. So many obstacles were thrown up and there was so much criticism, but with fourteen wounded and fourteen dead, we just needed the truth,”
The Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign proved to be a success with the British Government subsequently forced into action, announcing a new Bloody Sunday Inquiry, led by Lord Saville, in 1998.
Speaking of the Inquiry, Alana says: “Bloody Sunday is something that has affected the whole city and it’s a subject very close to everybody’s heart. Everyone had such traumatic stories to tell at the inquiry and I’m so proud of Derry people as a whole coming to help us in any way they could and by giving evidence in the Guildhall.”
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry concluded in 2004 and Alana is understandably frustrated to be still waiting for Lord Saville’s report: “We are hopeful, but this waiting is frustrating and makes me very angry. It has taken so long now that it is clear, to me, that the British still have the upper hand. They are still dictating to us that they will give us the report when they’re good and ready.
“We are entitled to the truth of exactly what happened on that day and I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the blame goes all the way to the very top. None of us know what to expect, but one thing we do want is a declaration of innocence across the board. We deserve nothing less.”
Troops Out Movement ~ Campaigning for British Withdrawal from Ireland
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