By Marianne Flood
Martin and Attracta Bradley have been happily married for 48 years, but during the Battle of the Bogside he joined the rioters, while Attracta nursed the injured with the Order of Malta.
The couple met on Christmas night 1968 and had been together for eight months when the most intense rioting Derry had ever seen broke out.
Attracta (then Simms) had just finished her Pre Nursing course at the Strand Tec and was waiting to start her nursing training in September.
Former teacher Martin, who is a well-known voice on BBC Radio Foyle and heavily involved with Derry City Football Club, was working at Dupont.
He recalls driving returning from his shift on the night of August 11 and feeling a sense of foreboding.
“It was 11.30pm or so and it was very quiet, but you could feel the tension in the air.
“People knew something big was going to happen.”
The next day his brother shook him awake at around lunch time.
“He said there’s murder down the town and that the march had been stoned and the police had retaliated.
“I got up and got changed and I went straight down to Rossville Street to get involved.”
A day of heavy rioting followed as the police came under sustained attack.
“I remember Ritchie’s Factory or Stevenson’s Bakery, one of them was set on fire and we were helping out the fire brigade, helping them hold the hose,” said Martin.
Later that night he had his own brush with flames when his attempt to hurl a petrol bomb went badly wrong.
“We had a quart bottle of milk- that’s about two pints.
“In our house in Creggan that’s what we got.
“I tried to lift the bottle but it was all greasy with the petrol and it went straight up in the air and then crashed down amongst us.
“We were no expert rioters.”
Meanwhile, Martin’s girlfriend Attracta was manning the First Aid station upstairs in the Bogside Inn, which was set up with camp beds, a stove and medical supplies.
“It was the first time I had been involved in anything major,” she recalled.
“We used to do first aid at masses on a Sunday because in those days you had to fast before communion and a lot of people would have fainted.
“We took part in things like the North West 200 and community events too but we had never seen anything like the Battle of the Bogside.”
Attracta says she was excited to be able to put her training to use and spent the day treating cuts and bruises under the watchful eye of Dr McDermott.
“I was due to start my nursing training in September so Dr McDermott decided I should learn to suture there and then,” said Attracta.
“He must have known I would end up working in casualty for 30 years.
“He was a really great man.
“We were very young and we had no hospital experience.
“I suppose we were too young really, I wouldn’t want my grandchildren being there.
“In saying that, I loved my years in casualty and that probably prepared me for it.
“I also worked for in Abbey Medical Practice and I loved that too.”
The rioters stayed out all night and so did the first aiders.
“We didn’t go home we just took a lie down if there was a spare bed or lay on the floor” said Attracta.
“But to be honest, I don’t remember sleeping much.”
Martin was out all night too, spurred on by excitement and adrenaline. He bought a pint of milk off a milk lorry in Abbey Street for his breakfast.
“That was the most exciting week of my life, he said.
“I remember being up in the Rossville flats and looking down.
“I was young and everything was happening.
“But it wasn’t just the young people, the whole community got involved.”
On day two the police started using tear gas to disperse the rioters. It was the first time it had been used in the North and neither the rioters nor the first aiders knew how to treat it.
Attracta had been moved to a post at the corner of Cable Street and Westland Street, but she and her team were struggling to cope.
“The tear gas started and we didn’t know what to,” she said.
“These French students came along who had been at the riots in Paris and we asked them how to treat for CS gas and they said get lemons and put the juice on facecloth.
“Well, there were no lemons available in Free Derry in 1968.
“Someone came up with the idea of using vinegar instead, but after a while we realised that really wasn’t the same thing.”
Martin remembers being at the First Aid station in the Bogside Inn where he was ‘probably trying to cadge a cup of tea’.
“There was this big fella and he was oxtered in and he had been gassed.
“That was the first time I had seen that and they didn’t really know what to do with him.”
Martin left the Bogside Inn and walked over Glenfada Park into Rossville Street.
“The thing about Rossville Street is it’s kind of like a river valley and the air hadn’t really dispersed.
“It got into my eyes and throat and I ended up crawling up Abbey Street.
“An old woman came out of her house and dragged me in and she was washing my face and I was just choking and coughing.”
Throughout all the chaos and violence of the riots there the famous Derry sense of humour still shone through.
“We were listening to Radio Free Derry and I think the DJ was called ‘Barricade Bill’ he was playing the record ‘Piggies’ from The Beatles’ White Album and he dedicated to the police,” laughed Attracta.
That same day Attracta saw her first gunshot wound.
“I remember this young boy coming in and there were all these bright lights.
“I think they must have been from television cameras.
.“That was really scary, that someone had been shot.”
Martin went home in the early hours of the morning and climbed into bed exhausted.
He and Attracta had managed to see each other a few times as the battle raged and she was glad to know he was safe.
“He would call up to see me at that First Aid station,” she said, smiling at the memory.
“But I don’t think either of us had time to think about what was happening.”
Martin’s sleep was interrupted a few hours later when his mother woke him and told him St Eugene’s Cathedral was going to come under attack and that he had to get up and defend it.
“An older brother of ours Tony, who is now dead, was coming too but my mother wouldn’t let him out of the house until she had ironed his jacket,” Martin remembered.
“If you look at the photos the rioters were all very well dressed there were people in three piece suits with shirts and ties.”
St Eugene’s never did come under attack.
“It was just one of those mass rumours,” said Martin.
“There were rumours like that going round the whole time.”
Rumours were also swirling that the B Specials, a deeply sectarian reserve special constable police force were mobilising behind police lines.
So when the British Army arrived that day they were given a warm welcome.
“There were reports that the B Specials were on the streets of Derry so when we heard the British Army were here it was a great relief and everybody cheered,” said Attracta.
For Martin it was business as usual and he headed off to work for the 4pm shift at Dupont.
“I went to my work,” said Martin, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I thought to myself this is going to peter out and you got word the army were in too.”
Martin ended up working a double shift as so many of his colleagues were stuck behind road blocks.
“I came home at 8am,” he said.
“I remember walking up Little James Street and the first thing that hit you was the smell of gas and burning buildings.
“It was like Berlin at the start of the Second World War. That’s what it put me in mind of. Total disruption.
“Everything was over and you could see what happened.
“There were sand bags and the army were stopping you and you thought to yourself ‘did we win?’
“You just didn’t know.”
CAPTION: Attracta and Martin Bradley pictured in their youth. The couple have now been married for 48 years.
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