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19 May 2022

"You know what...I'm getting out of here"

Banty Nash looks back on his lucky escape as the bullets flew over him. However, relief turned to agony when he found out that his father, Alex, had been wounded but his brother, Willie, was dead.

"You know what...I'm getting out of here"

Willie Nash playing his guitar. His brother Banty said that like their other sibling, European Lightweight champion Charlie, Willie was a keen boxer as well.

“Like Charlie, Willie was a boxer as well,” reflects Banty Nash on his brothers Charlie and Willie.

Mention the surname Nash in boxing circles and former European Lightweight champion Charlie Nash will immediately spring to mind.

Charlie would challenge for the World crown only to be controversially stopped by Scotland's Jim Watt when some felt that the Glaswegian should have been stopped himself earlier in the fight.

According to Banty, Willie was useful with a pair of gloves as well with the younger Nash rushing from his work at the docks to head down the gym and put in a few rounds.

Banty is not sure if Willie could have gone as far as Charlie would do but, after Bloody Sunday, sadly, no one would find out.

“Willie went to Bridge Street school. When he left, he went straight down to the docks when he was about 15. He was also a boxer as well, like his brother Charlie, and tried to get to the boxing club two or three times a week,” said Banty.

“He'd come home after work, have his tea and then off to St Mary's boxing club. Regarding his boxing ability, there are people who will say that he was as good as Charlie. They had completely different styles – Willie I think was a southpaw and had a stance like John L. Sullivan (first gloved world heavyweight champion).

“He was pretty successful although to be honest with you, I'm not sure how far he could have gone. He was proficient and knew how to handle himself. But as we know, his boxing career only lasted two years.

“As for his work, he enjoyed being a docker and he enjoyed his time at the quay. He could have progressed to be a top docker.

“However, with the quay system as it was back then, you were assigned a boat and you were with that boat until the job was finished. If you were lucky, you got three boats a week.

“If you had finished and you were not assigned to another boat – and therefore not working – you had to go and sign-on. So you could spend three days unloading a boat but if you were not lucky to have a second boat, you signed-on for the other two days.

“You'd go down there and you were dependent on the top men picking you out – and everyone had their favourites or knew families and stuff like that. A cases of 'we will have you, you and you' and the rest would have to come back the next day.”

The weekend of the final week of January 1972 should have been remembered as the one where Banty got married to his fiancée Margaret. Charlie had won his latest bout in the ring and there was much joy amongst the Nash family.

Joy would turn into despair 24 hours later as Banty, Willie and their father Alex headed out on the Civil Rights march.

Banty would manage to escape the shooting from the British soldiers. Alex had been hit but was only wounded. Willie, however, was killed.

Banty said: “I was married the day before. It was a time of celebration really because Charlie was in Dublin at the all-Ireland finals. Charlie won his fight on the Friday night and traveled from Dublin to Derry because he was my best man. Willie had been working on the Friday but attended the wedding.

“My mother was in hospital at the time as was Margaret's – the girl I was marrying. My mother was at Altnagelvin for a week with a heart condition while Margaret's was in the Waterside hospital.

“Margaret and I, after the ceremony, went to see our mothers and then back to the wedding reception where a few drinks had been taken at that stage. When the reception broke up, Willie went back to a friend's house which was only a few doors away.

“The next day, I remember coming across Infirmary Road about 11am and I remember seeing rows and rows of armoured vehicles. The doors of them were hanging open. I looked at one and you could see boxes of ammunition – it was all CS gas and rubber bullets.

“I turned around and said to my wife, 'Holy **** – I think it might be murder here today'. By that I meant people would be injured but I never thought it would turn out how it actually did.

“We met up with Willie and he had only just woken up. He had been laid out on the chair all night and was still wearing his suit for our wedding.

“It was decided that most of us would be going on the march which was to be starting at 3pm. Willie went to freshen up but didn't change out of the suit. I can remember he had a can of beer and had another can of beer in his pocket.

“I told him I was going with two close friends and he said he was going with two friends of his. So that was it. At around 2.30pm we headed down to Bishop's Field where the march was starting and there was already a big crowd there.

“Me and Willie started off together but as the march progressed, you drop back and go forward and so on because you've seen someone you know. So we lost contact.

“We reached the bottom of Creggan Hill and that was the first time we had caught sight of the troops. The stewards made sure that the march progressed, despite a slight altercation.

“We then went down to William Street and then headed on to Chamberlain Street. I saw my dad (Alex Nash) there. I didn't even think he was going to be at the march. He turned around and said to me, 'Look Alan (Banty)...lets just go home'. So when you hear that from your father you do as you're told.

“You could sort of hear the racket that's going on in front of you with the rest of the marchers further down Chamberlain Street. Then all of a sudden the water-canon began to roar and spray the crowd.

“There was a reasonably-sized crowd who stayed on and continued to throw stones at the barricade that the army had set up. There was no getting to the Guild Hall. I dandered over towards the High Street. When I got there, you could hear the roar of armoured vehicles so I started to pick up my pace.

“I got to Pilot's Row and I could see the armoured vehicles moving forward. My pace picked up even more and I got to the end of Chamberlain Street and into the courtyard at the Rossville flats.

“I then saw the armoured vehicles arrive there. Once that happened, my pace moved up from a canter to a dash. At that point then, shots rang out.

“When the shots were ringing out, you could see a large crowd trying to get out through a gap where the Rossville flats were. At the other side, there was another crowd trying to get out through another gap.

“I looked back and as I did that, I saw the Saracens coming onto the courtyard in a semi-circle, turning round and dropping off soldiers.

“These soldiers just jumped out and automatically began to fire. So what I done then, I threw myself into the crowd that was trying to squeeze through that gap. I more or less crawled through and I wasn't even aware of what was happening behind me.

“When I got to the other side I heard people shouting, 'At the deck! They are firing from the walls!'. I jumped down and took cover because I could hear the shots coming down Rossville Street.

“I lay there for a while, not knowing that people were dead fifty yards away. Willie was probably lying there

“As I lay there I was in a panic and, while I didn't see it happen, I saw the body of Barney McGuigan lying near the postbox. I could see a crowd gathered around from the postbox and I decided, 'You know what...I'm getting out of here'.

“I got to Joseph Place and and I knew I was undercover from anything that was happening under Derry's Walls. There was a small crowd at Free Derry Corner – Bernadette Devlin was there on a platform trying to address the crowd. At that stage then, there were people dying from the end of St Joseph's Place all the way to St Columb's Wells.

“I headed off and when I reached the end of Dunmore Gardens, one of my neighbours stopped me and said, 'did you hear the news?... Willie and your dad have both been shot'.

“And then he said, 'Willie's dead and I think your father's only wounded'. I asked him if he'd told anybody in the house yet. He said he hadn't as he was just coming from somewhere else.

“I went over to the house and I said to the girls who were there, 'did you hear anything yet?'. They hadn't and I said, 'I'm sorry to tell you that I think my dad and Willie have both been shot'. And at that point, pandemonium just broke out.

“Then a neighbour, who was a bus-driver at the time, came into our house as did our Aunt Bridget and it was confirmed then that Willie had actually been shot dead but that my dad was OK and was in Altnagelvin Hospital.”

Fifty years on, Banty has seen his brother exonerated by Saville but nobody has been prosecuted for Willie's killing.

Banty admits he didn't expect anyone to stand trial for his brother's death given Britain's handling of justice for similar atrocities committed by its forces over the years.

For him, getting Willie's name cleared was the main priority.

He continued: “I've campaigned for fifty years. The three demands were a repudiation of the Widgery Enquiry, a declaration of innocence and a prosecution of those responsible for murder and attempted murder on the streets of Derry.

“Me personally, what was most important for me was the declaration of innocence. I live in the real world and I know a wee bit about history. I know that to get prosecutions for soldiers who have committed dastardly acts throughout the years, it's absolutely impossible.

“I campaigned for a declaration of innocence – that was most important. My brother was innocent, I knew he was innocent and the whole town knew he was innocent.

“As for prosecutions, I don't think they will happen and it's looking more unlikely as the days go past.”

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