The Mother

They came at half-past eight in the morning and told us they were going to search the house.

I said to them: “This is private property, I have my rights.” They laughed and said: “You don’t have any rights.”

We were ordered to remain in the sitting-room. I objected because I wanted to get my eldest child off to school.

Anyway, it’s best to try and keep your eye on them, otherwise they might plant an ammunition round in your house and pretend they’ve found it there.

Finally, they agreed to let me do what I wished, though my husband had to stay where he was with the little ones.

The soldiers, there were about ten of them, stripped down and put all their weapons in a corner.

They started by pulling all the carpets and the floorboards up. In the kitchen they were smashing the cupboards with axes. One was making Xs on the floor with a piece of chalk.

I had to ask him four times what he was doing before he would answer. He then told me they were going to dig the floor up.

“You must be joking,” I said. “You dug a hole in the floor the last time you came, and I was told that if ever we had another raid, I was to say that the floor was made of reinforced concrete.”

“So what?” he laughed. “We’re going to do it all over again.”

They then brought a pneumatic drill into the house, and a generator was put outside the front door.

You had to step over it to get out.

It was leaking, and I felt sure that it was really dangerous. The noise was terrible.

The soldiers put masks on their faces, to protect them from the dust caused by the drilling.

In the living room they took down our holy pictures and tore them up. They threw our books on to the floor and read all our letters, even the bills.

They took notes all the time, like the colour of the carpet and the wallpaper. All the time they were doing it they were making vile remarks.

I couldn’t stand it, so I went upstairs.

There, the soldiers were going through my underwear, saying disgusting things for me to hear. I couldn’t stay there either, it was too humiliating.

This went on all day long.

I tried asking the soldiers why they were doing it, but they said they weren’t allowed to talk to me.

Some of them were exhausted, and really fed up, but their officer was always there to push them on.

My eldest boy came home from school at three o’clock.

He told me that some jeeps had followed him when he’d gone to school that morning.

At the top of the road the soldiers had jumped out of the jeep and surrounded him, laughing and calling him names like “cry-baby” and “Andy Pandy”.

They took his satchel and tipped everything out, and searched him. He was in an awful state.

He’s only nine.

I made a complaint to the officer in charge. His reply was: “It wasn’t me, I don’t want to know.”

My son could see how upset I was, and he was trying to comfort me.

The children’s toys were getting smashed and he was angry. At one point, when one of the soldiers came near he spat in his face.

I didn’t want him to do that. I didn’t bring him up that way so I told him it was wrong.

He just broke down and cried.

About half-five, the soldiers were cracking jokes about the kitchen floor. asking the kids if they liked their indoor swimming-pool.

They were crying their eyes out.

One soldier asked what time the kids went to bed. I thought he was serious and asked what time they thought they’d finish.

He was joking. Next thing I knew, they’d brought an even bigger drill and a more powerful generator.

That evening there was a protest meeting on the estate about what was going on, and the traffic was held up.

You see, they didn’t just pick on us.

There were twelve houses raided on this estate that day.

There was a pensioner, here on the corner, with a handicapped son. In her house they were even knocking the walls down.

In another house, the soldiers had urinated on the beds.

There was a lot of anger, and some trouble started between some youths and the soldiers.

We are people, you know.

A few days before, they had wrecked people’s homes on another estate. It’s as if they’ve got a new policy . . . to seal off an area and pick houses at random.

They don’t bother with search warrants. If you open your mouth at all, you will probably get arrested. And if you close your door, they knock it down.

Around half-eleven that night, the soldiers started putting their coats on.

I asked them if they’d finished. They wouldn’t answer; they just laughed.

One said: “Come and check the damage we’ve done.” So I went round the house with him, noting it all down on paper.

When we’d finished he said: “Well, that’s the damage we’ve done, but I don’t know about the next squad.”

And as they walked out, more jeeps drew up and another squad piled in, and began going through all the rooms again.

My children had to go to a neighbour’s house.

About 2am I went upstairs and there were two soldiers asleep on my children’s beds. So I went down to speak to the officer in charge.

“What the – are you complaining about now?” he asked.

I told him that if my children couldn’t sleep in their beds, then neither could the soldiers. He had to make them get out and sleep on the floor.

About 4am they cut through some pipes in the kitchen floor and the water had to be cut off so that they could continue drilling.

The whole street was without water all the next day.

They went through ten inches of concrete, then a layer of wire and insulation, then more concrete, through the foundations of the house, to the soil underneath.

At 7am another squad came in, and it all began yet again.

I was walking up and down the street by then. I just couldn’t stand the noise and the dust any more.

The rubble from the kitchen was being taken away in bin bags. I didn’t know at the time that half our belongings were in there as well . . . clothes, photo albums, memory cards from when my father died, books and letters.

Later that morning, two reporters came from the local paper and were chased out by the officer in charge. I was told then that if I let anyone in at all, they would lock the front door.

At one point they were talking about putting “Plan X” into action. There was talk of bringing a bulldozer in.

One said: “Oh, we couldn’t do that.”

I think now that they were just pretending, but at the time I thought something even worse was going to happen to the house.

I said: “For all I care, you can get your bulldozers and knock the whole house down.”

I wouldn’t cry in front of them. I went in next door to do that . . . but I couldn’t stop myself from shaking all over.

They finally left at three in the afternoon, but before they got into their jeeps, they went into everyone’s house, as if to say . . . we’re going to raid yours now.

They banged on one door and there was nobody in.

The neighbours stood between the soldiers and the door so they couldn’t kick it down.

The women were pushed about all over the place, but they didn’t give way.

The first thing I did when they’d gone was to get the priest to bless the house. I couldn’t go back in until that was done.

Everything was wrecked.

The carpets were stained with food that had been trodden in, with spilt coffee and with oil. All of them had to be thrown out.

I would have liked to have thrown my clothes away after seeing them handled the way they were. I did wash them all but they still seemed dirty.

The day after it happened, the office sent a man round who gave me an hour to write down all the damage and estimate the cost.

I broke down then completely. I couldn’t cope.

Luckily I was able to call a solicitor who came straight away and he helped me.

Of course we couldn’t stay there.

The council put us up for one night in a hotel, and after that we had to go and stay with my mother, sleeping on the floor.

It took six weeks of solid work to get it liveable again.

Now we’re all terrified that it’s going to happen again. It’s like a punishment they deal out.

On the streets they do everything they can to cause trouble with their vile abuse, and they’re only too eager to let off a round of plastic bullets.

When anyone is ill or injured, they walk about with grins on their faces.

Not long ago, a woman died leaving eight children. Coming back from the funeral, the soldiers were taunting them, singing that song: “Where’s your Mama gone?”

They just don’t seem to be human. Now, we are not even safe in our own houses.

Note: This chapter is based on the testimony of a woman in Belfast.

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