- 09 November 2012
"Constable Joseph (Joe) Rose died on 11th February 1980 at the tender age of 21." That's how a local newspaper reported Joe's death at the time. Joe 'died' the newspaper stated; but that bland, meaningless word doesn't even begin to convey the evil brutality of the event that led to Joe's untimely death.
The headline should have read, "Constable Joe Rose was callously murdered by cowardly IRA terrorists on 11th February 1980 whilst doing his duty as an honest, decent police officer in the service of the Province he loved."
Joe was murdered by IRA terrorists in a landmine attack as his two vehicle mobile patrol travelled along the Roslea to Lisnaskea road in County Fermanagh; an area noted for its Republican sympathies and notorious for its IRA activity. The massive 800lb landmine was hidden in a culvert under the road and detonated by terrorists lying in wait on a rise overlooking the road. Joe, and his colleague Winston Howe, were in the second of the two Land Rovers that caught the full force of the blast and were killed instantly.
Another colleague, Reserve Constable Ernest Johnston, who was also badly injured in the blast, was incapacitated for several months before he eventually returned to duty. But Ernest Johnston's reprieve was to be short-lived, as he was later cold-bloodedly shot dead by IRA terrorists on the doorstep of his house when he returned home from work one evening.
That tragic story is, sadly, only one of the many thousands of such tragic and heart-rending tales that have characterised the last 40 odd years in the small province of Ulster. But it is one that will stay with me until the day I die, because Joe Rose was my mate and a budding Rangers fan. I say a 'budding' Rangers fan, because Joe was forever robbed of the opportunity to watch Rangers on that fateful day in February 1980.
Joe and I joined the police – the Royal Ulster Constabulary - at the same time and, as we were both from the Dundonald area, it seemed eminently sensible to share a car as we journeyed each week from Belfast to the RUC Training Depot in Enniskillen. Even though we lived only a short distance from one another we had never met before we joined the police, although we got to know one another very well and quickly became pals.
It didn't take Joe very long to learn that I was a Rangers fan as I often talked about the games as we travelled back and forth to the Training Depot in Enniskillen. I'm sure he must have rolled his eyes on occasions as I 'vented my spleen' when the Gers had a particularly bad game, or became over enthusiastic when we had played well and won convincingly. In any event, he quickly became a 'closet' Rangers fan, and would ask all sorts of questions about my trips to Glasgow and Ibrox.
So, not surprisingly, we resolved that, once we were 'passed for duty' and were settled in our respective stations, we would identify a weekend on which we could both get leave and take off for Glasgow and a Rangers game at Ibrox. When we passed our final exams, and had thoroughly enjoyed the excitement and exhilaration of the colourful Passing Out parade in front of our proud parents and loved ones, we were eventually allocated to our stations. As a married man I was posted to Strandtown RUC Station in Belfast whilst Joe, as a single man, was posted to Roslea RUC Station in the very heart of County Fermanagh's 'bandit country'.
The rest, I'm afraid is now part of the tragic history of our small Province. Joe never got to see Rangers play at Ibrox and, apart from a few hurried phone calls between shifts, we were never to meet again before his tragic death on that lonely, windswept road in County Fermanagh.
So Remembrance Day for me is always a poignant day. A day to remember Joe, and to fondly remember the many friends and colleagues lost over 40 years of terrorism in Northern Ireland, and a time to reflect on the sacrifice made by the ordinary men and women I proudly served with in the ranks of the RUC and the Ulster Defence Regiment.
But nor will I ever forget the many friends I made amongst the 'squaddies' who were billeted in the many police stations around Belfast. Lads from the Parachute Regiment, the Scots Guards, the Green Howards, the Royal Green Jackets and the KOSB to name but a few. Lads who were catapulted into the midst of a brutal terrorist war in the bleak, hostile streets of Belfast and the dark, dangerous and alien countryside of South Armagh; but lads who did their duty unflinchingly in the face of naked hatred, intimidation and provocation the like of which, I suspect, many had never encountered before.
Battling against virulent anti-British propaganda, an orchestrated campaign to vilify and denigrate the forces of law and order and pilloried nightly on television, and in the press, by journalists and politicians more concerned about the rights of terrorists than those of the innocents being blown to pieces or gunned down on the streets of Northern Ireland, our soldiers and policemen continued to hold the fragile line between democracy and anarchy.
So when I take my seat in Govan Rear this Saturday for the game against Peterhead my thoughts will inevitably be with all those loyal servicemen and women who have suffered in conflicts old and new around the globe and, particularly, those I knew personally who made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom, democracy and law and order in my little corner of the world.
My thoughts will, of course, be with my mate Joe, who was just 21 when his life was tragically cut short by people who are now readily accepted by an indifferent society as democrats and legitimate politicians, when just a short while ago, they were using bombs and bullets to achieve their sinister ends.
Our servicemen and women will be warmly welcomed at Ibrox on Saturday, and their dedication, commitment and sacrifice will be honoured by 50,000 Rangers fans who recognise, cherish and hold dear the democratic institutions and freedoms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Rangers tradition of honouring our servicemen and women, and inviting them to Ibrox on Remembrance weekend, is a particular source of pride to me and, indeed, to Rangers fans everywhere and it's our opportunity to say thank you, and show our heartfelt appreciation, for their dedication, skill and professionalism.
Sadly however, it is an regrettable fact that in many parts of Belfast and Glasgow (and elsewhere in the United Kingdom) there will be those who will bring disgrace and dishonour on themselves, and the clubs they support, by shamefully desecrating the many acts of remembrance that will take place at football grounds the length and breadth of our small island nation.
Whether by means of orchestrated 'fits' of coughing, or through the petty, vindictive columns of discredited journalists such as Graham Spiers, there will be those who consider it necessary to vilify and denigrate our servicemen and women and belittle their sacrifice. For some, I'm afraid, Remembrance Day will be an opportunity to react rather than reflect; an occasion to 'gripe' rather than grieve and an opportunity to provoke rather than praise.
But on Saturday, Ibrox will be filled with grateful Bears wearing their Remembrance Poppies with obvious pride; an Ibrox free from the thugs, fanatics and detractors who are only too willing to cynically exploit the benefits of the freedoms that our democracy offers to everyone – freedoms won at great cost by the sacrifice of others. My contempt for those people knows no bounds.
When the Rangers family gathers at Ibrox this Saturday, and we sit in the company of the heroes that are our servicemen and women, we will be honoured, privileged and proud. Our remembrance will be conducted with dignity; it will be heartfelt and sincere, and we will apologise to no one for our determination to honour – and continue to honour - all those who give service to their country and those who have laid down their lives for the freedoms we now enjoy.
On Saturday we will all "raise a glass to absent friends."