I hadn't a clue who my wife and children were. I had to learn to walk and talk again
Published: 8 Nov 2012 12:530 comments
Even when he drove through Belmore Street he turned his head away from the Cenotaph and looked the opposite way. He shuddered at the thought of being 'there' again.
But this morning (Thursday) the Ballinamallard man will return to the scene of the bomb that left him so badly injured that he was unable to remember who his wife and children were and will lay a wreath in memory of those killed in the IRA attack on behalf of the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation.
It will be a poignant moment for the father-of-three whose family were told by medical staff at the time of the bomb that he would probably never walk or talk again.
"My wife said to the doctor, I'll make sure that will never happen. And she didn't let it happen," said the former policeman, who was able to rebuild his life through his own determination and the steadfast support of his beloved family: wife Veronica and children, Karen, Joanne and Leesa.
George Evans, a young constable at the time aged just 29, was on duty that morning. He was tasked to stop the traffic on the Queen Elizabeth Road while the service could take place and was standing close to the Reading Rooms, now the Clinton Centre, when the bomb exploded behind him.
Now when he watches the late Raymond McCartney's video of the atrocity -- which shows him being pulled from under the rubble -- he still finds it hard to believe that it actually happened because he doesn't recall any of it.
"Everything has been wiped out. My ear was hanging off and I had a lot of cuts on the head. I was OK, but then my head started to swell and my brain was damaged," he said.
Semi-conscious, Mr Evans was taken to the Erne Hospital and kept under constant assessment but his condition was deteriorating quickly and staff realised he was losing consciousness. He was rapidly intubated on the bed where he lay in the Surgical Ward by the Anaesthetists and as quickly as was possible on that day rushed via helicopter to the Intensive Care Unit of the Royal Victoria Hospital critically ill. The Neurosurgical team in the Royal bored into his skull in an effort to relieve the pressure caused by the swelling from the blast damage to his brain. During those initial days lying in a comatose state he was having numerous fits caused by the damage of the blast effects to the brain, the efforts to relieve the pressure hadn't worked. On the Friday morning following the bomb, his wife got a call from one of the neurosurgeons to say they would have to take him to theatre and remove part of his brain in an effort to save his life. She was told he only had a 50-50 chance of survival even with the operation. A team of neurosurgeons and doctors from other specialities worked for ten and a half hours removing the left temporal lobe of his brain, rewiring his broken jaw, piecing back together his badly severed ear and removing shrapnel from his lower limbs.
"I was in a coma for nine days and at that time I knew nothing. I didn't know what was happening," he said.
But what happened next brought further distress to Mr Evans and his family. After waking up from the coma, he discovered he couldn't remember anything, or anyone.
"I remember looking around me, but I had lost my memory. Veronica was there and I hadn't a clue who she was. Karen was four, Joanne was eleven months. Leesa wasn't even born (Veronica was pregnant). I couldn't remember names. It took a long time to get all that back, you had to keep working at it. It was frustrating and hurtful for Veronica and me, but it wasn't my fault... it wasn't my fault."
He knew what he wanted to say but "I couldn't get it out".
"I remember being told what had happened but for a long time it didn't sink in because of the head injuries. I couldn't accept that I was like a child, I had to learn everything again. I had to work my way back to being an adult again. I had to relearn to speak, walk, use a knife and fork -- I hadn't a clue what a knife and fork was for, I remember they sat it down in front of me and I looked at them."
Mr Evans was cared for in the Intensive Care Units of the Royal Victoria Hospital and Erne Hospital for two months. In May 1988 just three weeks after his youngest daughter Leesa was born he was admitted into Headley Court military rehabilitation unit in Surrey and was there, on and off, for two and a half years.
"When you were making no more progress they sent you home for a while. They taught me everything like how to read. I'll always remember them telling me; 'We have the ways and means to get you back on your feet, but it is up to you to put the effort in' and they were right. When I got home I couldn't see the progress I was making, but other people would say to me: 'Are you George Evans from the bomb? You've made some progress'. People could see more than what I could see," he explained, though he admits that deep down depression was sinking in.
"They told me the only way to get out of it was to put what happened to the back of my mind and get on living my life. I understand that now. I had to change what I was doing. When I was in England and something came on the TV about the IRA I would have got up, looked at the TV, and said; 'I know what I would like to do to you boys', but I had to stop thinking like that," he said.
After getting a metal plate fitted in his head in 1990 to replace the lost piece of skull taken away during his brain operation, Mr Evans defied all the odds and returned to work. While he was no longer able to be out on the beat, he was back doing what he enjoyed. Getting back into the police aided him in rebuilding his life.
"When I left school I was two weeks on the dole and then I joined the police cadets, I didn't know anything else. I can now look back and recall all the stations I worked at; Kinawley, Springfield Road, Omagh, St. Angelo, Ballinamallard, Lisbellaw. I wanted to get back to work and the District Commander said to me; 'Would you like to go back to work?'. I said I would and he said; 'You come back to work and you can work your way back up'. So I did and I was glad of it."
And then in 2005, he was presented with the Queen's Police Medal (QPM) at Buckingham Palace by Her Majesty The Queen, a proud moment for him and his family.
As he looks back on the day in 1987 that changed his life forever, Mr Evans says he will never forgive those responsible for the Enniskillen bomb.
"At first I would never have walked past the Cenotaph; I would have driven by in the car but would never have looked at it. It should never have happened. I am angry and I will never forgive the terrorists that were behind it. They were never caught and are still walking about and that's what really hurts me the most -- a terrorist is a terrorist. He doesn't care and if he kills someone else he'll make some excuse. Well I'll tell you something -- a sorry from them means nothing to me.
"What sickens me is that Remembrance Day was for everybody no matter what religion you were. They all fought in the war and they all died, together. What made it worse was the people who were killed that day, the twelve in total who were killed, and I feel sorry for them. I survived and was able to fight my way back to having as normal a life as I could get, but the people who died, I feel sorry for them and their families, because they weren't. And they can never be brought back."
Next year, Mr Evans will watch his 25-year-old daughter Joanne marry her fiancée Philip. It will be a proud occasion for the loving father as he watches his second daughter tie the knot. Karen was the first to get married to Mark and Leesa, who lives in Australia, recently got engaged to Gary. The fact their father is around to share in the special moments in their lives with his wife is a blessing.
"There was a part of me lost that day, but what I did lose I have now gained. At one time I thought I was going to be sitting in the corner and I was never going to progress, but I have progressed. I may be slower now and things are harder, but I can talk and do things -- that's an achievement and I couldn't have done it without my family; I owe them everything," he said.