There was total chaos behind me. Many of the officers had been in the Command Office when it was hit. Soldiers and sergeants were running to the Command Office to see to the wounded.
I was alive and unhurt.
I took a submachine gun and ammunition from a dead sentry. I rushed out through the gates that I had just closed.
A submachine gun is not very accurate compared with a rifle. It was what I had. Over the distances involved I knew I that had no chance of hitting an individual with an aimed shot. A spray of machine gun bullets through each window would have some effect. I would get some of them.
The snipers now had only one target visible. Me.
I remembered my basic training. I kept moving because a moving target is harder to hit. We soldiers have a run called “jinking” or “skittering” where we keep changing direction. This kind of movement makes it even harder for a sniper to hit you. I also had to keep moving and changing direction because of the angles to some of the windows that I intended to hit.
The enemy stopped shooting.
I stopped shooting because I had no target windows left.
I had hit all eight of the windows that I had wanted to hit. There was nothing left to shoot at.
While on my exciting run I had been hit by some rifle bullets. I fell to the ground.
I lost consciousness.
When I woke up I was back in the courtyard. The Westies had brought me in and patched me up. Or patched me up and brought me in. I do not know which.
We were waiting for ambulances. I was dosed with morphine so I do not remember very much.
There was a line of us wounded men. Most of the others were hurt much worse than me. Some had lost limbs.
I remember seeing the health fanatic in the line of dead bodies. There was also a pile of body parts but it was covered.
The ambulances took a long time to arrive. Eventually I was put into the eighth and last ambulance.
I woke up in a military hospital.
The hospital would not let me smoke.
By the time I left Army hospitals I had kicked the habit. I have never smoked since.
In my teens and in my early twenties my relationship with my parents was difficult. I always found it so much easier just not to tell my parents anything.
While I was unconscious the Army sent an officer to inform my parents that I had been wounded.
My parents did not know that I was in Northern Ireland nor that I had been promoted to sergeant. My parents thought that I was still a Pay Corps lance-corporal in the relative safety of Catterick Barracks in the North of England.
I had not told my parents of my new posting and my promotion because they would only worry that I was posted to Northern Ireland. I was their only child.
So when the officer arrived there was a slightly confused conversation where my parents thought that the Army had made a mistake and that it was a different Donald Hewson who had been wounded. When the officer gave my date of birth and he said that I was in the Pay Corps my parents were persuaded.
Then my parents were upset.
As soon as I was conscious I telephoned my mother and I assured her that I was alive. I told her that I would be transferred to a military hospital in England after a few weeks. My parents could visit me then.
I told my mother the line that I have used ever since,
“I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
A Pay Corps soldier rarely sees the enemy.
Even less often does a Pay Corps soldier have the opportunity to display gallantry in the face of the enemy. Single-handed and without orders I had caused significant damage to a Provisional IRA active service unit. Out of eight men they had four killed, two wounded, and two cut by flying glass.
A Westie patrol recovered the RPG launcher and several rifles. The Army was pleased with them.
The Army was very pleased with me.
I was awarded the Military Medal, the second highest award for gallantry in the British Army. It was given to me at the first hospital by the General Commanding in Northern Ireland.
Normally if a soldier is awarded the Military Medal it is given some publicity in his local newspaper. Given the number of Irish in Britain such publicity would expose a soldier and his family to possible danger. So there was no publicity.
I had shown intelligence, fighting spirit, initiative and courage.
The Army offered me the opportunity to attend Sandhurst Military College and to become an officer.
I thought about the offer very seriously. I had plenty of time to think about it because of my wounds.
I did not tell my parents about the Military Medal or about the offer of a commission.
My father would have opinions about what road I should go down.
I was going to make my own way in life. I don’t mean this rudely but I was not interested in what my parents thought that I should do with my life.
Looking back, I was a shit to my parents. They would have been so proud of my Military Medal. I could at least have pretended to be interested in their advice. As a parent myself now I cringe at what I did to my parents.
I had been expelled from school before sitting any exams. A new supply teacher had patted my skinny fifteen year old bum and I had broken some of his thirty year old teeth.
I agree that was a disproportionate response. At the time I could not have spelled “disproportionate” to save my life.
I was a hard little oik. You mess with me and I punch you hard. That was how I lived. You certainly did not pat my scrawny arse!
There was no concept of children as victims in those days.
I was in a fight a month on average from the age of four until the age of fifteen. I was not a likeable young man.
The school was happy to have an excuse to expel me.
The Army had a manpower shortage. An uneducated fairly bright hard young man without any criminal convictions was accepted with open arms.