- A Derry man who lost his leg in an IRA booby-trap bomb in 1973 has said that those responsible for the blast have failed to issue an apology over forty-five years later.
Gerry Canning was 20-years-old when a bomb blast tore through a house in Creggan leaving him with life-changing injuries.
This week he attended the ‘Injured On That Day’ exhibition where he met Michael Doherty, well-known mediator and peace builder, whose father Pearse was one of the first people on the scene to help Gerry when he got caught up in the bomb on June 20, 1973.
Gerry Canning was a bricklayer by trade at the time but due to the unpredictable nature of that work he took up a role with the Housing Executive as a night watchman looking after empty properties by carrying out repairs and preventing vandalism.
The first ever mortar attack in Northern Ireland took place at the time, Mr Canning said, when the IRA targeted British army personnel stationed at the Piggery Ridge encampment on the upper edge of the Creggan estate.
On June 20, 1973, an attempt was made to draw the army in to a booby-trapped house that he was looking after in Rinmore Drive. Mr Canning lived a few hundred yards away and after the mortar attack he decided to check on the property.
“A few friends accompanied me up to the house and the front door had been kicked in. Automatically I thought the army’s already been here and kicked the door in. I decided to go to a neighbour to ask for screwdrivers to repair the door and when I was doing that there was a knock at the back door from the army.
“I explained that I was working for the Housing Executive and told me the house hadn’t been searched but I thought it had been. There was basically nothing in the house but it was one of the larger houses in Creggan, a five-bedroom gable end house.”
He continued: “They insisted on searching the house and I led them upstairs, the house was boarded up so I went ahead of them switching on lights. The bedroom to the right would have been spare rooms.
“Two soldiers entered the room and one of them called me asking, what happened here? The window was broken and there was a small hole in the shutter so I think the IRA had actually fired from the house up to Piggery Ridge because you could see Piggery Ridge from the back of the property.
“As I walked back, just as I got to the door, the whole house went up. I take it that the bomb must’ve been in built-in wardrobes in the room that the soldiers were in and the other front room. He must’ve went in and opened the door and triggered the bomb.
“The whole side of the house where I was standing no longer had walls and I ended up downstairs. I had no feeling in my body but for some reason I decided not to attempt to get up and walk, so I crawled towards light in the hall and as I got there, I seen my right leg which I had lost and the feeling came back into my body so I lay down again.
“I was facing the solider and the bomb was to my right, and I think the bomb came towards me and as it did it was going down towards the ground and it hit me knee high on the right leg. I felt no pain until I looked at my leg.”
People attempted to reassure and comfort him, and although hazy with the passing of time, he remembers Pearse Doherty, Eamonn Melaugh and “a big man called John Ward” arriving on the scene.
Michael Doherty recalled a recent meeting with Mr Canning where he learned that his father Pearse had advised army medics not to administer morphine as there would be no way of determining the dosage when he reached the hospital. It was the last in a series of violent episodes which led to the departure of the Doherty family from Creggan to their new home in Galliagh.
“My mother and father lived directly across the street and my father ran over. It is my understanding that my father and others were working with Gerry, whose leg had been shattered, and when the medic was looking to give Gerry morphine, but they stopped him as they wouldn’t have known how much morphine he consumed when he got to Altnagelvin because the soldier didn’t even know.
“They think that might’ve saved Gerry’s life because if the mixture of medication could have killed him. It’s only recently I learned about my father’s role in it and I was gobsmacked.”
While being transferred to hospital Mr Canning looked at his leg and thought he was going to die. “When I looked at my leg, or what was left of it, it looked really bad. I thought I would lose both legs, I thought I was going to die to be honest,” he explained.
At Altnagelvin Hospital doctors had to amputate his leg about five inches above the knee, there was a possibility he could’ve lost the other leg, but it was saved thanks to the surgeon. “You be thankful for small mercies,” he added.
One of the soldiers ended up on the same ward as Mr Canning but walked out of hospital two weeks later with minor cuts, bruises and temporary deafness. He’s unsure of what exactly happened the others.
Gerry remained positive in the aftermath of the incident and went on to meet his wife, with whom he had five children, three boys and two girls.
He does however believe that those responsible for the bomb should have issued an apology.
“I’ve spoken to people and told them, I’ve never, ever got an apology for it and people tried to make it look as if I knew it was there. At the time there was a rumour going round that I knew the bomb was there, I wasn’t going to walk into a house knowing there was a bomb there, I’d have run the other way like any normal person would.”
The 'Injured on That Day' exhibition which was launched at the Guildhall by the Wave Trauma Centre and has since been transferred to Holywell Trust is part of a special pension campaign for those injured during the conflict.
Compensation given at the time did not make up for the loss of Mr Canning’s livelihood and overall impact on his life and he believes that everybody severely injured during the Troubles should be given a lump sum and weekly or monthly payment as part of their pension.
Photo: Gerry Canning (on right) was severely injured in a no-warning explosion at a house in Rinmore Drive pictured beside Michael Doherty (left) whose father, Pearse, was one of the first on the scene. They are standing in front of one of ten portraits at the 'Injured on That Day' exhibition which features people whose lives have been impacted by Troubles-related injuries.
If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Derry Now editorial team on 028 7129 6600 for Derry City stories Or 028 7774 3970 for County Derry stories. Or you can email [email protected] or [email protected] at any time.