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A Slightly Less Ordinary Life

I was on duty on an early evening in late November at the vehicle checkpoint at the Y-junction of Cupar Way and Cupar Street, a boundary in that corner of the city between the Catholic and Protestant areas. Corporal Neil Pile, an old sweat with many years of service, was the NCO in charge of the five-man post; one man stationed at the A41 radio set housed in between sandbags built above head height across the front window and doorway of a commandeered, derelict shop on the right hand corner; and the other four, including the corporal, either searching every fifth vehicle, or standing guard while it was being done.

We had stopped and searched several cars without finding anything of interest when a large, high-topped, black van pulled up with a man of about fifty in the driver’s seat and his sixteen-year-old daughter in the passenger seat, and behind them in the van, boxes stacked roof high to the two, tall, back doors secured with a small padlock on the outside. I was standing beside the open passenger door, talking to the young girl. Eddie McCandless quizzed the driver through the open right hand window.

I heard shots, fired in our direction from further up Cupar Way. A bullet pierced the body of the vehicle to my immediate left and struck the old man who screamed and collapsed over the steering wheel. His daughter, also screaming, went to his aid. I turned to chamber a round into my rifle and move to the opposite corner to fire several shots in the general direction of the incoming rounds, aiming high toward the rooftops of the houses so as not to injure innocent civilians, and to keep down the heads of the shooters and gain enough time to move the man and girl from the van to safety. Eddie and the other soldier, David Barton, used the van for cover while returning fire up Cupar Way. Corporal Pile was nowhere to be seen.

I hurried in a crouch to the back doors of the van and smashed off the padlock with the butt of my rifle with every intention of freeing the man and girl. The doors burst open. I was knocked to the ground, buried beneath an avalanche of full and partially full boxes of cigars, cigarettes, and packets of hand rolling and pipe tobacco of every description. When I finally struggled free and stood with my rifle gripped in my right hand, I looked in the van to see the girl inching toward me with her father in tow. I shoved encumbering boxes out of the way and climbed inside the back of the van. I held the old man with my left arm and shooed the girl toward the back doors and out. Eddie McCandless ran round to the back of the van to enable me to hand down the old man to him. At the same time there was a cessation of hostilities as the Stand By guard arrived to surround the building and source of the shooting. I climbed out of the van to see the old man seated on the pavement, his back against the wall next to the sanger as David Barton administered medical aid to the bullet wound in the man’s left foot. Eddie signaled me to follow him, stopped and pointed at the back corner of the sanger, where Corporal Pile hid, flak jacket off and wrapped round his knees, protecting as much of his body as possible.

We were immediately suspicious and on guard when an ambulance from the Knights of Saint Columbus arrived to pick up the wounded man and his distraught daughter. These same ambulances allegedly arrived whenever I.R.A. personnel were involved and wounded in a fracas, and were even reputed to transport weapons and explosives across the border from the Republic for use by the I.R.A. in Ulster.