Monday, May 29, 2023
GeneralMemorial for a devoted father

Memorial for a devoted father

FIFTY years has passed since Monday the 17th of April in 1972 but Jim Elliott remembers it as clearly as if it was yesterday. Jim lived at Aughnavallog Cottages on the Ballyroney Road, with his dad James, mum May and his two younger brothers Cyril and Lester. Twelve years of age at the time, he was a pupil at Rathfriland High School, two miles away. “It was just a normal day, we got up and went to school,” Jim said. “It was a lovely day, bright.” He returned home from school that afternoon, just like he would any other weekday. Two women called to see Jim’s mum May. They had come with awful news for the family. Early that morning James Elliott had left for his work as normal. He was a lorry driver for Ross Thompson in Newry. He was returning from a trip to Kingscourt in County Cavan, to lift a lorryload of gypsum, and was bound for Warrenpoint docks. But at a border crossing point at Killeen he was abducted from his lorry by six members of the Provisional IRA. The 37-year-old was a parttime corporal in the UDR. “Two neighours, two ladies, come to tell my mother that he had been taken,” Jim remembers. “We were outside but we knew there was something going on and then she brought us in and told us. “I was just devastated because I was very close to my father, being the eldest. “For two days we didn’t know what was happening. And then his body was found at Altnamackin.” James’ body had been discovered on the morning of Wednesday the 19th of April on the Mullaghduff Road, Altnamackin, in the Newtownhamilton area. It was the family’s minister, the Rev John Lockington, who came to tell them. “He was very, very good to the family over all of that time,” the Ballyroney man added. Speaking in the House of Commons about James’s abduction and murder, the MP for North Down, James Kilfedder, told fellow MPs that the local man had been shot numerous times “through the wrists, the mouth, the neck, the throat and several times in the chest”. His teeth were smashed, his nose had been broken and his body battered and bruised, the MP said. A large explosive device had been left close to where James’ body had been left on the Mullaghduff Road, Mr Kilfedder added, “and claymore mines were placed in the vicinity in order to cause havoc to those who came to rescue the corpse”. SEFF, a group which supports victims and survivors of the Troubles, has been helping the family to mark the 50th anniversary of James’ murder. A service of remembrance was held on Sunday afternoon at The Cenotaph in Rathfriland and a booklet has been produced to tell the family’s story. In it, Jim describes hearing the “life-changing news” that his father had been killed. ‘As a 12-year-old boy this news was utterly incomprehensible and the days, weeks and years ahead followed with the same heart-wrenching grief,’ he states. ‘I recall following the hearse as hundreds of mourners turned out to pay their respects to my father, who was held in high regard in the local community. ‘Dozens of local and national press attended and covered the story. To me that story is my living nightmare, the unanswered questions, the torture, the heartache, the grief. Why? Why did an innocent man face such barbaric treatment? ‘Why was my dad taken away from me? Why will he never get to meet his grandchildren? ‘Why have those involved never faced proportionate reprimand?’ All three sons attended their father’s funeral, at Ballyroney Presbyterian Church. They returned to school within a couple of days; there was no counselling in those days and very little other support for the bereaved. Jim’s younger brother Cyril was nine years old when the murder happened. ‘I did not choose or decide to live most of my life fatherless, but it was the way the IRA did it for me,’ he writes in the booklet. ‘I was denied the love of my father every day, in normal life and on special occasions. Just to think no cuddles from daddy or a bit of advice. ‘My wedding day, my children’s grandfather and great-grandfather. All taken away at a tender age. ‘Thankfully I have a few good memories of daddy, that those vile people can never take away or erode from my memory.’ James’ wife May sadly passed away just last month. Cyril adds that his mum was a tower of strength. ‘I had a wonderful mother, who overnight just had to adapt very quickly to act as a father and mother with what was left of our family. ‘In those days no counselling or help, but my mother did a wonderful job in the next 50 years.’ Lester, the youngest of the three brothers, was only four years of age when he lost his father. ‘No child should grow up without a parent,’ he writes in the booklet. ‘No man has the right to take a parent away from their children. ‘Nature can be cruel but never as cruel as the hand of man. ‘Our father was taken from us, not by nature, but by cruel, evil men.’ Lester adds that James’ murder meant he never had a chance to know him. ‘We all lost the chance to know the love and guidance a father has to give his children growing throughout their lives. ‘They murdered a family that day, not just my dad. ‘They deprived us of a loving, caring husband, a father, a grandfather and great-grandfather, but they deprived my dad of his right to life.’ James was a hardworking man, and his family was the central focus in his life. In what little spare time he had, he enjoyed fishing, hunting and motorbike racing. He was a talented woodworker and at Christmastime made toys for his boys. Eldest son Jim remembers the day before he was abducted. It was a Sunday. Jim had been at a Boys’ Brigade church service the Sunday before and the rest of the family took a trip up to Kilkeel. Young Jim loved to see the boats in the harbour and having missed this treat the week before he asked his father if they could go back to Kilkeel again. His father had been on duty with the UDR until the early hours of Sunday morning and when he came home had lay down on the settee and fallen asleep. It had been a long working week, but he had no hesitation when his eldest son woke him and suggested they drive up to Kilkeel. “That was the last time we were all together as a family. “He was tired, but he made the point of taking me. “That was the sort of man he was, he was a great man. “He never done anyone any harm, if he could have done you a favour he would have.” No one has ever been charged with James’ murder. In the booklet Cyril adds that May and her three sons ‘lived and hoped’ that one day the truth of what happened to James would be told ‘and justice would take its course’. He added that the family has been ‘let down on many occasions’. His brother Jim adds the family feels frustrated in its quest for truth and justice. “It seems to be all the time you think you are getting somewhere and somebody pulls the rug from under you again,” he added. “It is supposed to be a democracy here and everybody here is supposed to try and keep the law. “If you do wrong you have to pay for it. “I can’t go out and take your life today and not pay for it. “There could be a lot more done and our politicians could do a lot more.” Jim explained why the family has decided to share their story in the booklet. “A lot of young people won’t understand what these people have suffered and it is just to let the younger generation know. “It is just to keep it in people’s minds that this can happen and has happened. “It doesn’t matter whose life it is, but the perpetrators are the ones getting lifted and carried. It is the innocent victims that nothing is being done for.”

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