A significant date I will always remember was 11th November 1971. It was a time when my whole life changed and I became a Christian. Life really became more meaningful, seeing people in a different light and knowing they are important to God.
I got involved in the church and community and teaching eight and nine year old boys and was a leader in the youth club and the Sunday school for many years.
I spent a lot of my time working in the community. The troubles were getting worse and we began to feel the effects in Suffolk where we lived, on the other side of the Stewartstown Road in the Lenadoon estate hundreds of families fled from their homes because of the IRA shooting from flats on the glen Road and harassment.
IRA prisoners in the Maze prison started a dirty protest and hunger strike. They plastered their cells with human excrement and went on hunger strike until death.
One of the prisoners was Bobby Sands. His family lived on the Twinbrook Estate which is nearby the Suffolk Estate where I lived.
I began to fear for the safety of our small estate of about four hundred families on the day of Bobby Sands’ funeral as it would have to pass our estate. It was expected that 60,000 would pass Black Road at the top of Tilderg Avenue, where I lived. I prayed that everything would be peaceful.
I decided to go to Woodbourne Police Station and have a meeting wit the police chiefs and the army commander who was in charge of his men who were stationed at Woodbourne.
At the meeting, I raised the question about the safety of the people in the event of a riot and asked in the event of a riot would they be able to call on re-enforcements to protect the people. Both the army and police chiefs said that they were allocated so many men and were told that this was their limit. Suffolk would have been engulfed if a riot occurred.
I decided as a last resort to make contact with Robert Bradford my good friend and my M.P.
After real difficulty in contacting Robert he eventually arrived to see me at 11 o’clock at night. I informed him about the conversation I had at Woodbourne with the army and police and voiced my concern for the people of Suffolk. He informed me that he would get in touch with Jim Prior the minister for Northern Ireland. Robert said that he would let me know what the outcome would be and he said he would be back to see me as soon as possible. It was 2 a.m. when Robert returned with very good news. He told me that the police were to get an extra 700 reinforcements and the army were to receive 500 extra troops.
I went to Woodbourne and asked the police chiefs if they would be interested in having a meeting with the UDA to get across to them the potential of a very serious situation. The Brigadier of the UDA and the local commander of the UDA consented to a meeting with the police and gave their word that there would be no trouble from the Suffolk area.
It was estimated that 60,000 people passed through Suffolk without one arrest being made. The funeral passed Black Road peacefully without trouble anywhere in a dignified way.
This truly was a wonderful answer to my prayers and all I can say is thank God for his guidance through a potential conflict and possible danger to many lives.
Bobby Sands funeral.
I pay tribute to Superintendent Masterson for the way he controlled a serious incident. He finished his career in the Metropolitan Police as Deputy Commissioner. He died of cancer. A real gentleman.
I first met Robert Bradford in 1971 when he was a minister in the Methodist Church at Suffolk on the Stewartstown Road, the Upper Falls Road. He was a friend to everyone on the estate, a man who showed his Christianity in a quiet and caring way. He loved his small congregation and everyone and everyone who came to know him. His Wife, Nora, gave him the support and love he needed to do the Lords work at Suffolk.
He was a very good footballer and could have signed professionally for Sheffield Wednesday and he was full of fun and he enjoyed his calling. He arranged a mixed bowling night for the Ladies and Gents. As the night progressed he asked if everyone would like fish and chips and took the orders. Big Joe Mawhinney and Robert went down the road to Anderstown. He wearing his dog collar. As the order was made up Robert asked “what do we owe you sir?” In reply the chippy man said “Its on the house Father”.
Robert Bradford was brought up as a boy in Sandy Row by very good people: Mr. and Mrs Nicholson who were members of the Grosvenor Hall and was a mother and father to Robert, ensuring that he was well grounded in the Christian faith.
As time passed he became interested in politics and was elected as a Unionist M.P. for Westminster and he left his mark as prominent speaker for the people of Northern Ireland. He ran a surgery for people with all sorts of problems in the Finaghy Community Centre. I was waiting for heart surgery and was confined to the house and was waiting to see him on one of his visits on a Saturday morning after one of his surgeries. The phone rang and was informed by one of my neighbours that Robert was shot dead as he sat at his desk at the centre. It was a terrible shock. I had lost a great friend. He carried the banner of the cross by the way he showed the love of God throughout his entire life.