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IRA bombing in Deal remembered on 32nd anniversary


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A Royal Marine avoided being seriously injured or killed during a fatal bombing 32 years ago today - after starting work just 15 minutes later.

Lt Col Jason Burchamcorr, now Principal Director of Music for the Royal Marines Band Service, was a junior bandsman in Deal on Friday, September 22, 1989 when the IRA set off a time bomb which killed 11 people and injured a further 21.

Flowers left at the South Barracks where the explosion happened
Flowers left at the South Barracks where the explosion happened

The 15lb (6.8kg) device was hidden under a sofa in the Coffee Boat recreation room at the Royal Marines School of Music in Canada Road, Walmer, and destroyed all three floors of the building and damaged dozens of neighbouring houses.

The sound could be heard miles away, shaking windows in the centre of Deal and creating a large cloud of smoke over the town.

Having played a concert in the officer's nest the evening before, Mr Burcham, now 52, says he was rewarded with a small lie-in the next morning, meaning he started work at 8.45am, rather than 8.30am.

The devastating bomb went off at 8.22am, and Mr Burcham says he would have been in the recreational room, grabbing a drink before his shift, had he started at 8.30am that day.

The 15 or so others who were also playing with him the night before were also saved from being in the building which was later destroyed.

Lt Col Jason Burcham, Principal Director of Music for Royal Marines Band Service, laying a wreath at a previous. Photo: Jason Burcham
Lt Col Jason Burcham, Principal Director of Music for Royal Marines Band Service, laying a wreath at a previous. Photo: Jason Burcham

Instead, Mr Burcham was in the adjacent accommodation block, having just come out the shower when the bomb went off.

He said: "I remember the training band was in rehearsal and I could hear them playing the Aces High March, which is also known as the Luftwaffe March, and they had just stopped playing, and then 'bang'.

"I was aware of the music, and then the bang being the end of it. I knew it was a bomb straight away.

"The windows smashed and glass came in and ceiling panels came down. But it felt like it was in slow motion."

Mr Burcham, still in his towel and flip flops, piled out of the building with his colleagues.

He said: "It was a case of get out of the building and get out the way.

The explosion impacted local houses too
The explosion impacted local houses too

"There was dust everywhere. People were giving out instructions. A colour sergeant had his legs trapped and a corporal was giving out first aid.

"The extent of the damage was apparent quite quickly. People were straight away trying to find tools to recover people under the rubble.

"I was not in a position to help, which frustrated me at the time, but now I feel relieved, as I don't hold the images in my head."

Mr Burcham, who now lives in Hampshire, managed to find some clothes and remembers the recovery teams arriving, including cranes from the Folkestone site of the Channel Tunnel, which was still being built.

"People were trying to be useful," he said. "Those who had been training came across and tried to remove rubble.

"The roof had come down intact."

The Aftermath of the Deal Bombings at the Royal Marines School of Music Building
The Aftermath of the Deal Bombings at the Royal Marines School of Music Building

Many victims were trapped in the debris for hours. Firefighters used thermal cameras and dogs to search for victims and volunteers dug out the rubble by hand.

Kent ambulance crews, who were limiting their duties due to industrial action, abandoned their dispute that day.

They pulled out all stops to ferry casualties to Deal Hospital, Buckland Hospital in Dover and Kent and Canterbury Hospital.

A telephone helpline was set up with 10 extra lines at the barracks to answer calls from relatives desperate for news.

Ten Royal Marines died at the scene. They were: Msn Mick Ball, 24, Msn Andy Cleatheroe, 25, Msn Trevor Davis, 39, Msn Richard Fice, 22, Msn Richard "Taff" Jones, 27, Band Cpl David 'Mac' McMillan, 26, Band Cpl Dean Pavey, 31, Msn Mark Petch, 26, Msn Tim Reeves, 24 and Msn Bob Simmonds, 34.

The 11th, Msn Christopher Nolan, 21, died in hospital from his injuries on October 18.

Firefighters gathered near the scene
Firefighters gathered near the scene

Mr Burcham, a dad-of-two and grandfather-of-two, said he remembers feeling angry, confused and guilty at the time.

He said: "Some of the men I knew very well, some less well but I knew all of them.

"I was a junior member and still finding my feet. They were senior to me and people I revered.

"I felt guilty that people I admired and looked up to were not here any more. Why was I here but they were not."

"People in Canada Road opened their doors to us, offered cups of tea and a cuddle..."

The IRA afterwards claimed responsibility, having rented a property at Campbell Road to plot the attack.

But decades on, no one has ever been convicted.

Mr Burcham said: "I don't dwell on it. I made a point of not wasting my time thinking about the people who did it.

"On that first day, one of the things that is important to note, is the relationship between the Marines and the people of Deal.

"People in Canada Road opened their doors to us, offered cups of tea and a cuddle. That is one of the things I've never forgotten.

"The way people acted in a moment of real adversity, they got on with what needed to be done.

"And that extends to the people of Deal, the human spirit.

"It was a really dark day but you look back and I think the people were amazing and that is so humbling. We didn't break, and neither did the people of Deal."

Gaps were left in a march through the town the week after where their comrades should be
Gaps were left in a march through the town the week after where their comrades should be

The remaining staff were sent away for a week following the bombing, but they returned on Friday, September 29 and held a special emotion-charged march through the town, leaving empty spaces which would have been filled by their comrades.

Mr Burcham said: "The march was out of respect to the men killed but also an act of defiance.

"And for me, that is part of the next 32 years that followed in terms of my attitude and one of my most important commitments.

"We thought 'we're going to pick ourselves up and carry on'.

"It was very much out of respect for the memory of those who were lost, but also to say we're not going to hide, you're not going to scare us.

"In the band service that sense of unity has always been there."

"The march was out of respect to the men killed but also an act of defiance..."

Kent Police say the case remains open.

Det Ch Supt Paul Fotheringham said: "The case investigating the fatal explosion at the Royal Marine Barracks in Deal in 1989 which resulted in the deaths of 11 people and injuries to many more remains open.

"Following these multiple murders, Kent Police, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist unit, launched one of the most extensive inquiries seen in Kent.

"Whilst progress was made, there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individuals for this crime.

"This case continues to be subject to extensive review and if any further new information is received, this will be looked at."

A service was due to be held this morning (Wednesday) to remember those lost and their families at the memorial garden in the former barracks.

Read more: All the latest news from Deal

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