'I held her and she died within two minutes' - war hero's emotional speech during Remembrance Day debate

·4-min read

Tory MP and war hero Colonel Bob Stewart has given a harrowing account of the horrors of conflict in an emotional Commons speech during a Remembrance Day debate.

He told how he wept as a girl who lost both legs and an arm in a Northern Ireland bomb blast died in his arms - and how he felt responsible for the death of a lance corporal shot in the head in Bosnia.

Colonel Stewart - who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order after seven tours of Northern Ireland and later commanding United Nations forces in Bosnia - sits on parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee.

MP for Beckenham since 2010, he described how he watched six men under his command die during the Droppin Well pub bombing in Ballykelly in 1982 and cradled the injured girl in his arms as she lay dying.

"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," he said.

"Six of them were civilians and 11 were soldiers.

"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, 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."

Describing their conversation before she died, Colonel Stewart revealed he asked her: "Are you all right darling?" - to which she replied: "I think so".

"Are you hurting?" Colonel Stewart then asked her.

"No".

"How are you feeling?", he continued. She said: "I don't know, what's happened?"

"There has been a bomb."

"Oh", she said, adding "Am I hurt?"

Colonel Stewart continued to describe their emotional conversation, telling her: "You're hurt."

"Am I hurt badly?" she asked. "You're hurt very badly," came the reply.

She asked "Am I going to die?"

He said: "Forgive me, but I said 'yes.'"

He said: "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," he continued.

"I wept. She died in a state of grace."

Colonel Stewart told MPs the girl was one of 17 people killed that day and it took him four hours "to identify my six soldiers in the morgue".

He said: "I went to their funerals in Cheshire. Six funerals in five days, two on the Friday."

He also told how during his time as UN commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, a Lance Corporal died escorting the injured to hospital under his orders.

"I remember too, my escort driver, Wayne Edwards, killed on 13 January 1993," he said. "I'd given the order to escort four women to hospital through Gornji Vakuf and he was shot through the head as he did so.

"I am responsible for his death."

Earlier during the debate, Defence Minister James Heappey, who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan during a 10-year career in the Rifles, in which he reached the rank of major - told MPs of his experiences.

"When you join up you know there's that risk that the moment might come where you have to put yourself in a position where you might lose your life," he said.

"And when you're stood at Sandhurst or Dartmouth or Cranwell or Catterick or HMS Raleigh and the flag is there, the Queen is on the wall and the Bible is put in your hand, you're filled with confidence that you're on a career path that is worthy and great.

"But when you're behind the wall and the rounds are hitting the other side or an IED (improvised explosive device) has just gone off, and you know you've got to stand up and close with the enemy and do your duty, it's a moment when you realise a lot about yourself.

"It's also a moment when sadly people don't always return at the end of it, and their loss is something that I feel so keenly every time that I pause and reflect on my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I know for the entire veterans community there'll be a face that is in their mind when the Last Post is blown and the two minutes of silence follow."

Another former Army officer, Defence Select Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood, told MPs: "I remember myself sitting on my grandfather's knee and he explained the medals that he was awarded from the First World War.

"That created a bond with me which has never gone away.

"Perhaps it actually influenced me stepping forward wanting to serve myself."