I’ve paid for counselling but it just doesn’t go away. And that masked man in my garden with a gun, that’s in my mind all the time, that doesn’t go away either. When you hear things, there was a bomb left here, oh my god just go away. We want love and peace. The majority of people we don’t want our children, grandchildren, growing up with this.Liz, 2018
I was born in the Waterside. And then we moved to a house on Anderson Crescent, now called the Top o’ the Hill. My mum was a housewife, my dad worked as a millworker. Catholics, Protestants, mixed neighbours, all getting on great, you know, as we should do.
Later on, I remember, I was about 11, I remember a knock at the door and … (sobs) it’s hard to talk about it… there was a man with a mask and a gun. He just came up the road and said: “You’ve got 24 hours to get out or you’ll be burnt out.” Next day my mum had to go to the Housing Executive and we were moved to Lincoln Court, a Protestant estate.
It was fine for a while, went to school, but then masked men started walking around the houses. It was a Protestant estate but opposite was a Catholic estate and every night it was just an ongoing battle, these masked men with batons, nearly every night of the week. My dad never let us go out. We’d go upstairs to peek out the window, just to see what was going on, just to be nosy…because you knew who they were even though they had masks on, just watching them. All this marching around, all this UDA, this load of crap, excuse my language. It was scary at the same time because the Army and the police were in between these two… you know I mean there was baton rounds firing. Our next-door neighbour got hit in the leg by a baton. He wasn’t involved, just outside. And my dad said: “I don’t want to catch yous looking out that window.” This was 1969, ‘70. Then it sort of settled down a wee bit. My dad started to let us go out, to discos and that, when I was 13, 14. You had to do what my dad said and he had to know where you were and if you didn’t come in by a certain time, well the belt was there. You had to do what you were told obviously. Obviously he was scared, he didn’t want anything to happen to us.
And it’s sort of a blank then until about after I left school, and I went to the Ebbenton Shirt Factory, where nearly everybody went, at 16, 17, the shirt factory was the place to go. And there was still bombing going on, people getting shot, a friend of mine, (gulps) she was a reserve policewoman, her and her father both got shot a year after each other in the same place. It was hard…just at the bottom of Chapel Road, that’s over on the Waterside. That was hard. Of course then, I was 17, 17 and a half, I thought I have to do something so I joined the police. I had to do something. I loved it – I walked the streets as they say, I wasn’t scared but my dad used to sit up at night until I came home. And then my brother joined the UDR? and he had a gun, and my dad was even more… He didn’t want to stop us from doing it but at the same time he was terrified.
Philip: So he was doing the worrying for you two by the sounds of it?
L: Yes my brother was in the UDR for a while and he was doing a job somewhere over the town, it was in the Catholic area. And someone warned them: “I don’t know who you twos are but if I was you I’d go now because there’s boys coming with guns.” So they had to run. My dad never knew about that because he’d have said: “That’s it, you come out of it now.” He never ever told my dad. But he told us.
(Laughs loudly). Oh my god, obviously a lot of people knew, neighbours from where we used to live – I remember being on patrol one day, way down Spencer Road and this girl I grew up with, played with, she just walked past, cleared her throat and spat. And (sobs) I thought, what have I done? But it was hard – my cousin had ended up marrying her sister and he lived with her up where we used to live and he was never touched and he still lives there today and he takes his children to the 12th of August, the 12th of July, you know, the Boyne parades. And nobody does nothing. And she’s spitting on me. And my cousin’s married to her sister. It was the wee things hurt me more. That really hurt me.
In September, just after I turned 18… I worked in a bar as well. I worked in the factory as well as part-time RUC, plenty of jobs – I loved it. I loved working… I met a soldier. I started seeing him and we’d been going with each other about 3 months and then in December he asked me to marry him because he was leaving in the March, he was going back to England. I says yes. I says right, ok, it’s a lot to sort in a couple of months, but we’ll do it. So we got married on the 18th March 1978 and we moved away to England. It was hard leaving. I was the first to get married in the family. There was 8 of us 7 girls and 1 boy. Even my husband at the time, he says: “Don’t look back cos if you look back…” . He said if you want to go home I won’t stop you. But as my dad says: you make your bed, you lie in it. We got married quarters and marriage was ok. I got pregnant with my first daughter, Susan, had her in ‘79 and … my husband started drinking a lot and became a bit violent. He was brilliant when he hadn’t been drinking but once he had a drink he was like another person. I don’t know what he saw over in Northern Ireland really, I would say that he did see a lot, he wasn’t one for sitting down talking about this happened or that happened. We mostly talked about me – I had a few black eyes and a broken nose and different things. I stayed with him for ten years, I had three children with him. And we went to live in Hull where he was from and he got a job on the buses. But things just didn’t work out – one night it just came to an end and I said I just can’t do it anymore. He was drunk and he came home and he pulled me down the stairs by the hair and the kids seen it and I thought no, I can’t go on. So then I decided I was going to leave him and I took the kids…which was hard for him, I mean he loved the children obviously, and he just had a problem when he was drinking. And I wasn’t going to be battered by any man.
So I went back to Northern Ireland and got a house there but the children didn’t settle too well. They were English and they started getting a wee bit of, ‘you don’t belong here’ and all this, not from everyone but there were some at the school and I went into the school and I said: “My children are getting called English this and English that,” and they said: “We didn’t see that,” and I said: “Well I’m telling you now, they are, they’re not going to come and tell me lies.” And they used to go and see their dad maybe 6 weeks in the summer and then one year, I got a phone call and my ex-husband says: “They’re not coming back, they don’t want to go back.” So I had to get Social Services involved and they said that the children loved me and they loved their daddy but they didn’t love Northern Ireland. So they lived there for quite a few years, I used to go over and see them, you know, come back and forwards… for a quite a few years…it was hard, it was mentally … torture. And then my youngest daughter to him, she kept coming back and over and back and I says, is everything ok? And she says, yes mum and I miss my daddy when I’m not with him. I said, I done what I thought was right for yous, you know, I didn’t want to bring yous back and you not be happy here and have you come over to me for holidays. And then she came over to live with me – she was about 14 and she started drinking and taking drugs and I thought what’s wrong with her? And I’m trying to chat with her: “What’s wrong with you love?” “Nothing mum” she says “it’s all ok.” I even took her to Child Counselling and they said she was alright. So I just left it. But through her teens and that school she was always a bit …, she was always unsettled, she was…and then my eldest, she came over to live too when she was about 17. My son stayed over there, he had a good job – we see each other when we can. But (my youngest) was worrying me but I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was. And then she was about 21, and my partner at the time and her partner, we all went out for a couple of drinks, and Vicky was pretty drunk and we were getting into the taxi and she just whispered in my ear, “Mum, my grandad’s been abusing me.”
I rang him next day and I said you’d better get down to the police because she’s making allegations against your father from when she was 6 years of age. And I thought it was partly my fault because I let her stay there… I know now it’s not because it would have happened when they went there for holidays, he would have probably done the same thing … but we had a court case and he got found guilty and sentenced to 7 years in jail, where he died of bowel cancer and I thought, God forgive me, it was good enough for him. And my other daughter too, he abused her too. My daughter now she’s 30-something, she still has her wee problems, she never went for counselling, she’s finding it hard to face. She had a relationship and she’s got two wee boys but she’s very very protective of them. She’s done a good job as a mother but at the court case they pulled her apart, they pulled her apart, they said: “No you’ve made it up.” That was their job, they had to do that. And she kept that on for a while – 15 years – I knew there was something but I never thought of that. My ex-father in law, I got on with him really well, he seemed the loveliest man but that’s always the way. So that’s mostly my story…
P: It sounds like it escalated when you left. With working in the police, even though you said you loved it, do you think the tension of doing that sort of stuff kind of arrives later?
L: Yes definitely and I’ve paid for counselling but it just doesn’t go away. And that masked man in my garden with a gun, that’s in my mind all the time, that doesn’t go away either. When you hear things, there was a bomb left here, oh my god just go away. We want love and peace. The majority of people we don’t want our children, grandchildren, growing up with this. I mean it’s a beautiful country – why would anyone want to destroy it? Because of a border or whatever. You know, live and let live. I have a lot of Catholic friends, some of my best friends are Catholic. And I have a lot of Protestant friends and some of their best friends are Catholic, just love and peace for God’s sake. Some of these politicians I’d love to just… aargh. You know, it’s all, ‘we want that and we want this…’ There has to be compromise on both sides but some of them don’t understand that and it’s just “Grow up”, it’s not what you want, you should do what the people want, you know…it makes me so angry.
P: Do you think that anything can be done with experiences like this, which is very complex, it’s almost like the echoes of what was going on with your husband got played out again with you?
L: I did find out that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I wish he’d have talked to me, things could’ve been so different, we might have still been together. He came over to see my daughter and I made him his dinner, he’s still part of my family, their childhood, no matter what happens between us. You can’t hold a grudge for…my eldest daughter said he was really hard on her…she said he’d had her up against the wall one time not realising his own strength. And I said: “Gosh, you never told me that,” and she said: “Mum, there’s a whole lot you were never told. It’s best left.” And he got married again … to my best friend, so-called, and she wasn’t very good to my children which I’ve only found out later. She had a son by some other man, and he could do no wrong and my children got punished…some of the stories…
P: But it’s really woven into what happened here, it starts with that masked man on the lawn.