Thanks, Sammy, for pulling me from the bomb rubble

Published: 25 Oct 2012 15:30

Sam Foster recalls the awful moment he felt the last pulse of a dying man whom he had helped to pull from the rubble.

Members of the panel at the "Day of Remembrance at the Ely Centre" (from right) Daphne Stephenson, Sam Foster, Margaret Veitch, Jim Dixon, Stephen Gault, Gladys Edmondson and the Rev. David Cupples.

Then an Enniskillen Councillor on Fermanagh District Council, Mr. Foster recalls putting his hand on Wesley Armstrong's neck and feeling the last pulse.

"I went over to the railings. There were people against it -- Wesley Armstrong and Mrs Quinton. I had my hand under their chin to hold them up. I was with Wesley Armstrong. He died in my hand. I felt his pulse in my hand. Somebody said: 'He is gone'," he recalled.

The former Minister for the Environment found himself working with others to try to release people from the huge amount of rubble that fell on them when the Reading Rooms collapsed.

They did not know where people were located under the rubble. He said at times like those, thoughts come into your mind that perhaps seem selfish. "A big thing was stuck in my mind. My daughter Helen was carrying her second child. I was thinking -- am I standing on my daughter, grandson or unborn child? It is a terrible feeling," he said.

"We scrambled and pulled dirt away and tried to release people. There was Fred Miller, a Greenfinch, Albert Devers and me -- the four of us pulled a man out. I did not know who it was. It was Jim Dixon," he said.

25 years on as Mr. Foster recalled the moment at a Remembrance event last Friday at the Ely Centre in Enniskillen, the man he rescued interjected to show his gratitude. "Thanks Sammy," said Jim Dixon.

He replied: "Jim, I was glad I was able to do it in this terrible calamity".

It was a humbling moment as one man, who today suffers from Parkinson's Disease but agreed to speak publicly at the gathering in spite of his symptoms, and another who still lives with the scars of his bomb injuries, exchanged those words.

Earlier on the morning of the bombing, Mr. Foster recalled that his wife Dorothy had dropped him off near the Cenotaph.

He joined fellow Councillors and the then Clerk and Chief Executive of Fermanagh District Council, Gerry Burns. "I was standing at O'Doherty's butchers 50 or 60 yards from the bomb, speaking to fellow councillors, there was a bit of joking and jargon. I recall the fateful moments before the bomb exploded.

The next thing I heard was a thunderous clap, the smack of the bomb. At first I thought it was up at the Courthouse. I did not know it was right behind me," he said.

"Gerry Burns was standing beside me and he said 'get down'. I got down. I immediately hit the ground and sat on the ground until things began to settle. There was a terrible sound coming through, squalling, shouting, screaming, cries for help, cries of children, it was sheer panic. It was really terrible thing to do on anybody".

Miming the action of holding his hands up to his face, he said: "I looked through my fingers and it was like looking through a smoke-filled room. I saw Margaret Cox from the Salvation Army. She was disorientated. Mr Keys, Principal of the Model School, had a child under each arm. He said he was all right. We started to clear away debris".

He took issue with the appearance of the doves on the war memorial which were created to mark each of the lives lost in the bombing. "Has anyone ever seen brown doves? They should be grey doves. The background to the monument is dark brown which is the same so it does not give any impact. As a group we should put pressure on somebody to say that this isn't right," he said.

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