Conservative former Army officer tells MPs how he cradled a girl as she died

A Conservative former British Army officer has told MPs of how he cradled a girl injured in a bomb blast as she died.

Speaking at a Commons debate to mark Remembrance Day, Bob Stewart recalled how the young girl, who had lost her legs and one arm in the attack, asked if she was going to die – and he told her she would.

Mr Stewart (Beckenham) also said he watched six men under his command die during the same incident in Northern Ireland in 1982.

“I remember all the men that were killed under my command and in particular today may I mention those killed at Ballykelly on 6 December 1982 where 17 people were killed. Six of them were civilians and 11 were soldiers,” he said.

“Six of the soldiers were from my own company, the company of the Cheshire’s: Stephen Bagshaw, Clinton Collins, Philip McDonough, David Stitt, Stephen Smith and Shaw Williamson. They all died when I was present.

“I was the incident commander and as I went into the wrecked building that was the Droppin Well (Pub), almost the first person I saw was a girl lying on the ground. I was horrified. Both her legs had gone and an arm. I knelt down horrified again and spoke to her.”

Mr Stewart continued to describe how he spoke to the girl before she died.

“‘Are you alright darling?’ She said, ‘I think so’. I said, ‘Are you hurting?’ She said, ‘no’. I said to her, ‘How are you feeling?’ She said, ‘I don’t know, what’s happened?’ I said, ‘There has been a bomb’. ‘Oh’, she said,’ am I hurt?’ I said, ‘You’re hurt’. She said, ‘Am I hurt very badly?’ I said, ‘You’re hurt very badly’.

“She said, ‘Am I going to die?’ But, forgive me, I said, ‘yes’.

“There was blood everywhere. And she said, ‘Am I going to die now?’ And I said, ‘I think you are’. And she said, ‘Will you hold me?’

“I held her and she died within two minutes. I wept. She died in a state of grace,” he said.

Armistice Day 2020
Bob Stewart was speaking at a Commons debate to mark Remembrance Day – one of many national events to commemorate the occasion (John Rainford/PA)

Fellow Conservative MP Richard Drax (South Dorset) called on the Government to invest in Britain’s armed forces, adding: “We must invest in our armed forces to ensure they can fulfil their role and face future threats with confidence and with the right equipment.

“This is rightly a solemn occasion. But I wouldn’t be doing my duty I fear if I did not impress on the front bench that spending 2% or thereabouts of GDP is woefully, woefully inadequate.

“I hope the hundreds of billions we are spending on this pandemic will not affect the future funding of our armed forces.”

Opening the debate, shadow defence secretary John Healey also warned over forces’ pay, recruitment and morale, adding: “Our highly trained British troops are indispensable.

“I say again, constructively and respectfully, if ministers talk up our armed forces they must also account for the declines there have been in the last decade too.”

We face the biggest national crisis since the war.It requires situational awareness, strategic planning, command, communications and operational delivery. All the skills offered by our military.They’ve done a brilliant job to date. But remain a vastly under-utilised MACA asset. pic.twitter.com/Fl10OapSGg

— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood) November 10, 2020

Meanwhile, Tobias Ellwood, Conservative chairman of the Defence Select Committee said British troops had been an “under-utilised asset” during the pandemic as he described “clunky” Government decision making.

Mr Ellwood told MPs: “Some of the decisions that have been made by this Government I’m afraid have been clunky. The best decision makers that we have, the strategists that we have, are in the MoD. Yet the quad, the top decision making body that we have dealing with this pandemic, there’s not a military person to be seen.”

Summing up the debate, Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said: “There is a community out there who are the best of us, who care so much about this country they actually signed up to serve, and some of their experiences have been wholly unacceptable.

“We are changing that but we must redouble our efforts.”

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