DCSIMG

HOW CAN YOU FORGIVE WHEN NO-ONE HAS SAID SORRY?

At 80 years old, Ronnie Pollock could be forgiven for having the odd 'senior moment' or two.

But although his mind may temporarily wander when it comes to the trivial things of life, there is one painful, life-changing moment which will never be erased from his memory.

The Dromore grandfather celebrated becoming an octogenarian in May last year and although he looks as fresh-faced as a man half his age, the mental scars of his past – as well as the more obvious physical ones - lie permanent and deep.

For Ronnie is one of the great survivors of the 'Troubles', having had his two legs blown off in an IRA booby trap bomb planted under his car in 1981. On 12 November this year he will quietly mark 28 years of having survived that catastrophic attack, which also resulted in a broken arm and blew in all the windows of his Banbridge home, such was the force of the blast.

Today, sitting in the living room of his Rowantree Road home with his ever-present wife Georgie by his side, he exudes a calm acceptance of what happened – but beneath the admirable stoicism, he still wrestles with a bitterness which refuses to go away and which remains undiluted in the face of political calls for forgiveness in this 'new dispensation' and new era of 'Peace'.

"How can you forgive, when no-one has ever said sorry nor tried to explain their actions?" he asks candidly. "No-one was ever charged with causing my injuries and throwing my life into disarray, and I think if they had, I might look upon things a little differently.

"If someone had been punished and justice had been seen to be done, that would definitely have helped heal the wounds. As it is, all I can do is hope the culprit or culprits have difficulty sleeping in their beds at night.

"Some time after the attack, I am not ashamed to say, I made a nameless effigy and stuck pins in it. I truly hope the person who was responsible for what happened has suffered pain to some degree in this life, even if he has escaped the criminal justice system."

For such a gentle soul, revenge does not sit easily on Ronnie's shoulders and even now he can't quite reconcile his need for justice with his need to let go of the past. Just how one human being can act so callously toward another is a circle he can't square: "A while ago, when I was still able to drive my specially adapted car, a crow flew head-first into my windscreen and I was upset the rest of the day for having killed it," he said.

"It made me wonder how someone could memorise my number-plate, note the make and colour of my car and casually plant a bomb underneath it. You couldn't do it to an animal."

Despite a sharp cynicism regarding the political future of Northern Ireland, Ronnie agrees with the current line of thinking that victims need to speak up and be heard. "We cannot be forgotten," he says. "You have to raise your head above the parapet and be counted, even if all you want is to try to have a quiet life and get on with things as best you can."

And getting on with things is something Ronnie has been determined to do, even if at times it seemed an insurmountable struggle. In the early days, learning to walk on his new artificial legs – he even travelled to Australia with them for a family holiday – was hampered somewhat by an arm injury, also caused by the bomb blast.

As it turned out, his arm was broken and needed to be in plaster, but this was not given priority in the hours immediately after his life-saving leg surgery, because, frankly, doctors did not expect him to make it through the night.

Then, unbelievably, while fighting for his life in Craigavon Hospital, the news came through that Ronnie's nephew, Samuel Pollock, also a police officer, had been killed in a terrorist bomb planted under a UDR friend's car which he had been driving.

It was another cruel blow for Constable Pollock who went on to suffer panic attacks and depression, while watching his two young sons, both now married and living locally, disintegrate into "nervous wrecks".

Georgia was also severely traumatised and even now visibly jumps at a loud noise which forcibly whisks her back to the scene of devastation outside her Banbridge home all those years ago.

"When I heard the bang, I knew immediately of course what had happened. It was a sound I thought I would never hear," she recalls. "I rushed out and I could see the blood, but although in the confusion I didn't realise his legs had gone, I could see his feet were missing. I turned him over and saw his chest was still moving, so I said, 'Don't you dare die on me, Ronnie Pollock' - and he said he wouldn't.

"He was strangely calm and was still talking, about ordinary things, even commenting on an airplane which was flying overhead at that very moment ."

As for Ronnie, he says he knew before he "hit the ground" that his legs "were away". Ironically, a little vanity prevented him from checking under his car that morning because he was wearing newly-pressed trousers and didn't want to ruin the perfectly aligned crease.

"I had just started up the engine when I heard the click and I knew at once it wasn't a mechanical click," he said. "A second later came the blast and after that the pain which was intense and unrelenting. I would never want anyone to experience that severe pain which didn't ease until they gave me a shot of something at the hospital.

" A neighbour, who was a nurse - and a Roman Catholic," he adds pointedly, "took the ties off police officers who had arrived quickly at the house and made a tourniquet to stem the flow of blood. There is no doubt that this quick-thinking saved my life.

"Looking back, I often wonder why I didn't think of the tourniquet myself, because if I had been attending a similar scene in the course of my job as a police officer, I would have known immediately to take that course of action. It is funny how you know what to do to help others, but can't think straight when it comes to yourself."

He spent a total of five months in hospital and around a year later, Ronnie attended a reception hosted by the City of London Police Service and met Princess Anne who casually enquired why he was not wearing his artificial legs.

"I said they would not fit and that my wife must be feeding me too much, and she appreciated the joke," he grins. "That trip to London was the turning point for me – and I very nearly didn't go because I was having some trouble with the 'legs'. But kind-hearted colleagues persuaded me to go in a wheelchair and promised all the help I needed would be given to me.

"That proved to be very much the case and it changed my attitude to a positive one, virtually overnight.

"Before that trip, I would always ask Georgia to make sure I had a blanket so no-one could see I had no legs when I was in the wheelchair. Afterwards, I felt no shame and didn't care who saw me. I wore my 'legs' for five years, but found I am more independent without them. I think if I hadn't gone on that trip, I would have become a bit of a recluse; someone who just stayed home feeling sorry for himself."

Instead, Ronnie learned to drive, became a bit of sports fan, particularly bowls and snooker, indulged a new interest in Westerns and musicals – his favourite is 'Calamity Jane' which is a sort of mixture of both – spent long fulfilling hours with his beloved granddaughter Melissa and re-dedicated his life to helping others who had lost limbs as a result of the Troubles.

"I found a real sense of satisfaction in speaking to other people who had lost limbs and were finding it difficult to adapt to their new life emotionally, as well as physically," he says. "In those days, the compensation wasn't great, but having said that, no amount of money could ever replace your legs. However, you can still have a worthwhile life afterwards and I was just the man to convince those who had lost hope." Today, Ronnie is at peace with himself, and although he regrets the fact that due to macular degeneration (age-related loss of central vision) he can no longer drive his prized car, he knows he has much to be thankful for, especially the unfailing devotion of Georgia, to whom he has been married 56 years, and his family and friends.

"For a long time, I dreamed of being 'on the beat' again because being a policeman was all I ever wanted to be," he says, "but there is no point in looking back. During the course of my career, I saw some dreadful things and I know I am lucky to have survived. One of my most vivid memories was attending the scene of the Miami Showband massacre; it was terrible to see people blown to bits and their body parts dangling from trees. That was the worst aspect to the job, but the worst times also seemed to bring out the best in good people and those are the memories I treasure."

 
 
 

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