Right, the date is 22nd February 2019. Mary Moreland, Chairman of the War Widows Association, conducting an interview with Wendy Gibson. Wendy, if we cold start maybe with your name and age, please?
I’m Wendy Gibson and I am 55 now.
Okay, and maybe a bit about, if we start with what you’re doing now – life at present?
Life at present is relatively good as I recently retired from working 22 and a half years in a doctor’s surgery, which was very, very stressful. I have my granddaughter, who’s 3 years of age, which brings me a lot of joy. Also could also throttle her at times too right enough. [Laughs].
But my daughter and my granddaughter are really what I live for. I’ve a lot of interests, a lot of hobbies, like sewing – not sewing, sorry: knitting, crocheting, and quite a lot of crafts, new crafts, things, with a group called MUVE, which is ‘Mid-Ulster Victims Empowerment’. I’m on the board there and I’m secretary for them, which takes up quite a bit of time as well; going to meetings and courses and things. Just recently, I have started to do an aromatherapy massage course, which is going to take a year.
And hopefully, I will be productive in making a wee small business for myself, or even just having it as an extra string to your bow. [Laughs].
I left school with no qualifications and I’ve certainly made up for it since. [Laughs].
Yeah. So you mentioned school there, so maybe back to your childhood, early life, if we sort of start at the very beginning?
I was born in Omagh. The eldest of two girls. My mum had very bad health. When she was young, she had TB and she was in hospital from when she was 16 until she was 22. She … I suppose she was late developing and with her schoolwork too, because of being in hospital so much, so she done secretarial courses and all. And then she met my father and they got married. And he owned, well, was the goodwill of a petrol station garage, you know, for tractors and bailers, things like that there. And Mummy would have done all the paperwork in it. I then … Daddy died at … In 1977 with cancer. Um, Mummy still had the garage and I done the petrol pumps when I was 14. Then I was at school for a while doing a lot of typing, seemed to go down the route of the secretarial end. And she went into partnership with a man and the business ended up in liquidation. But when the business was going, she had me out in the summer holidays typing up tractor warranties and things like that there. So then at 16, I decided, “Right, I’ve had enough of school,” and I wanted to join the Police. At that time they weren’t really interested in taking women on, and because my eyesight wasn’t that great, they turned me down.
And I wouldn’t go back to school for Mummy, wouldn’t go back to the Tech or anything, so I ended up with sort of youth training programmes. ‘Young Help.’ So I got into Young Help and I was doing, like, care assistant work in a nursing home, and done my year in it then, we were unemployed. Then in-between times then, I met Ned, or Edward, but he always was called Ned. He was 16 and I was 18, so we really were children when you think about it now. [Laughs]. When you look back on it, we were children. He wasn’t good at going to school either, his mum used to leave him at the school gates, and by the time she went out of the gates, he was away on the bus around the country. So we sort of met at a local hotel in Cookstown. He used to drive a wee 50 motorbike at that time because he was only 16, he hadn’t his driving test yet. He used to come to see me in Omagh with the wee 50 motorbike. He was nicknamed ‘Ned and the Flying 5-0’.
He had maybe two pairs of trousers, two t-shirts on, and he liked a wee smoke, so he would have stopped halfway – it took about two hours getting from Coagh to Omagh [Laughs]. He then got in a youth training programme as well in… oh….? It was in Omagh. And he stayed in a flat at that time, and then I had a variety of jobs, didn’t settle at jobs for a long time. We were only going out five months when we got engaged. Of course, my mum thought I was pregnant. [Laughs]. But I wasn’t.
He was working for Jim Henry’s at that time, so he was in the army camp a lot, and he decided to join the TA [Territorial Army]. So he was in the TA for a long time. We set a date then for 14th April ‘84, um, but in 1983 … August ’83, I got the opportunity of a nursing auxiliary job in Omagh Field Hospital. But unfortunately, they wouldn’t keep me because I had eczema, very bad eczema on my hands, and they more or less said I could infect somebody or they could infect me, therefore, I lost the job. So his mother got us a council house up in Windsor Terrace. She used to work in the Brew Office [nickname for the Social Security Offices] where she knew people and was able to get us a house that was empty. And we moved in there and then with losing the job, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew our wedding date was set and I was going to come to live in Coagh anyway, um, so that was alright. We got, um … I worked then in Hanover House; his uncle owned it. And his aunt and uncle owned a shop, a wee grocery shop, so I worked there as well. So I was doing the three jobs up until I got married. I got married and then Marlene came the next year; 1985.
Then things… Things were tight moneywise because I wasn’t working. The pregnancy didn’t run very smoothly, I’d had high blood pressure and he ended up having to leave the TA ’cause it was, Coagh to Omagh was too much of a journey and not having the money both really, basically. So then he had a bad accident in the car at the bridge. He’d been away … I don’t know what you call it? Racing round a field. [Laughs]. Racing round a field is all I can say. Coming from it the blood, the adrenaline must have been flowing. Or whether he was speeding or not, I don’t know, but he hit the bridge, wrecked the car and had to get 18 stitches then in his head. So life was very difficult for a wee while then too because we’d no transport or anything, and he had no job for a while. He got into the bacon factory for a while, he working in that too, as they had a variety of jobs.
He then worked, when we first viewed this house that I’m living in now, it didn’t work out at first. He was working for a roof-tiling company, and when he asked them to fill out the form that was needed for the ownership part of the house, they said they couldn’t guarantee him a full-time job so that was put on the backburner then. He then got onto the council, and he loved working in the council because it was a variety of things. He could have been on the bin lorries or he could have been doing, up at the bowling green, he could have been lifting litter off the streets, cutting grass. He had a variety, he wasn’t doing the same thing every day. He joined the UDR for extra money as well, and that would have been in the February of ‘88. Then around the Eastertime of that year my mother took sick. She passed away on 4th April, aged 55, and then my wedding anniversary was 14th April, and Ned was murdered on 26th.
If I could just take you back, with military connections in the family …?
Ned joined the UDR, you wanted to join the police, was there any military connections running through the family?
Well, my father had been a B man, he also was in the part-time Reserve Police. Um, quite a long history of my family … My uncle was murdered, he was in the Police Reserves as well, he was murdered in ‘79. Ned’s family … He had an uncle would’ve been a policeman. His brother was in the Navy. He did apply to join the navy but, what’s this was wrong? Did they find a murmur in his heart at that time? When we first were married too and he was working in the army camp, he had taken a notion he was going to join the army. But he had varicose veins in one leg and he would have had to get them removed, and his sister more or less talked him out of it because … She said that varicose veins, I think, do they grow back again?
I think if you’re prone to them, they do.
Aye. Well, it seemed to be a family trait, because his mother had them and he had them, all in the one leg, so they had. So he was very keen on, I suppose … He loved it. I can see the day he came home with his kit, I could have cried. I never actually seen him in his uniform, I did in the TA but not the UDR uniform. He come in with the … He was like a big child. He come in with a kit and he put it down out there. I smiled because he was so happy, just coming home with this kit; he was like a big child. Friends seen him when he was out on duty one night and he sort of said to the fella, “Hey boy, what are you at?” And the fella said, “Holy ghosts! Look at the cut of you. What are you doing in that?” [Laughs]. Well he was so proud of actually being in the uniform and all, so he was. He really was. It was just a pity he only got a short time in it.
Then my mother thought, it wasn’t that he’d be killed or anything like that there, it was ’cause Daddy liked a wee drink. She thought; Ned didn’t drink, that he would go on the drink. And she … That was just, she was sad at the idea of him joining the UDR, that this would happen.
Worried for you?
Probably, yes. It wasn’t that he … It wasn’t the thought of him being killed, it was the thought of him going on the drink. It should have been me she should’ve been concerned about. [Laughs]. Going on the drink. [Laughs].
[Laughs]. What about your very first date?
Oh, my goodness.
Do you remember that?
Oh, flip! Well, it wasn’t really … I met him in a hotel and I had been going with a fella from round here and it fell apart, and his brother had met a friend of mine in Omagh, that weekend. The weekend before, we actually went out together. We had been [laughs] in a, in a, Silverbirches [Hotel] in Omagh and I had been standing at the bar and he was standing behind me, and he pinged my bra. I turned round and goes, “Cheeky shite!” [Laughs] and walked off.
I know! [Laughs]. I goes, “He’s one cheeky devil that there,” went to, headed back and … Never seen him then the rest of the night. It was the next weekend then we were sitting and this fella had said for me not to be brought up to Cookstown again, so I thought ‘nobody’s telling me where I can and can’t go’. And I was sitting and I actually asked him up for a dance and we went up for a dance and the next thing we were courting and …
The rest is history.
The rest is history, as the man says. Well, because his brother was going with a friend of mine from Omagh, he would have brought him down at that time. Then it was whenever they fell out, he would come to see me on the motorbike then. So young, we were so young.
Now, I suppose, moving on to Ned’s death, if you don’t mind me calling him Ned.
You said it was the 26th April?
The 26th April, 1988. So if you just take me through, sort of, how you found out or, you know –
What happened that day?
Through the story, I think.
Yep. [Pause]. Well, he’d been out on duty the night before, and sort of, as you do, he slept in a wee bit and I said, “Ned, you’ve got to get up and go to work.” He was on the bin lorry that day. At some stage, he’d come into the house, I suppose I wasn’t up out of bed. He’d come into the house and I’d come down to see whether he was still here or not. There was bin bags left on the sofa. I thought ‘what’s he doing? That’s a bit strange’. I went up the stairs to get Marlene up out of bed, pulled the curtains, and maintain I saw him go past in the car. Now, we’d only got the car maybe a week or two, and it was a Renault. I thought ‘what’s he doing?’ I was okay. My neighbours lived in the first house. We’d no phones or anything in those days, and there used to be a pub at the corner. She had toothache and she had asked me to sit with her children while she phoned a dentist.
But I had a friend, she was an older friend, Tishy, and she was down here with me for lunch. She had stayed in the kitchen, I’d went up to No. 1 and Marlene had come with me. Lesley Dallas, who unfortunately was murdered the following year, had come to the window, knocked at the window, and said, “There’s two men looking for Mrs Gibson.” Well, the both of us were Mrs Gibson, so I said, “Which one?” and he pointed at me. I thought ‘what the devil’s wrong now?’ So I came running down the back of the houses, and all I could think of was ‘what’s he done? What’s he done? Has something happened to him in that car? What is it, like?’ I come in through the door and Tishy was standing at the front door with the two men. So they asked Lesley was I another friend of Mrs Gibson, so he says, “No, that is Mrs Gibson.” So they showed me their identification and they come in and sat here on the sofa. They started to say, um, er, “You’re Edward’s wife?” I says, “Yes, what’s happened?” or “What’s wrong?” And they says, “He’s been fatally wounded in Ardboe.”
I wasn’t taking in the word “fatally”, all I could hear was “wounded”. I said, “Well, is he alright?” “No, Mrs Gibson, he’s been fatally wounded.” I still couldn’t digest that he was dead. And, “You’ve two children, Mrs Gibson?” I said, “No, I don’t. It’s not Ned then. I said, “I seen him going past in the car this morning. He wasn’t on the bin lorry?” “No, Mrs Gibson, the car is in the council yard.” Eventually, I fixed my eyes on the clock and I said, “My mother’s only dead three weeks.” And at that stage, I went into hysterics. All I can remember is the two men, one of them was up one side, one was up the other side, Lesley come through that door, Tishy come through that door, and sort of … I just was in hysterics. I think the doctor, because the doctor is only down the road a wee bit, I think I was given an injection of diazepam or something to calm me down. Everything is quite a blur of what happened for the next couple of hours.
I remember being told afterwards that my mother-in-law, God help her, she was down visiting. There was a lady over from America, she was a cousin of my mother-in-law’s, and they had been down visiting her mother and father. She got the word and had to come up the road and was stopped by the army, at Ballinderry Bridge, and they asked her where she was going. She said, “My son’s shot down the road.” They let her through. My father-in-law worked in the cement works and my sister-in-law had to go to tell him the news. Just … There’s things come back to you in bits and pieces that you can remember of people coming, and some of it’s very vivid and some of it’s just, it feels that long ago, sometimes, that, “Has this really happened?” Then the story started to come out that it wasn’t … it was mistaken identity, that it wasn’t Ned they were after at all.
But years later, I did learn that there was another guy at the council that was in the UDR, probably quite long … not quite long but he was in it longer than Ned had been in it. Ned didn’t even have a personal weapon. So the story goes that the guy was on, supposedly on the Kildress Run outside Cookstown. Because obviously the security forces knew that there was an alert of somebody going to be murdered, they were fit to call him in and take him off that run. And the word come from the council yard, “Tell whoever it was in Ardboe that it’s still on. The one we want is not there but there is another UDR man on the Ardboe run.” Now, it wasn’t mistaken identity because in the Inquest, they did say that the called him by his name before they shot him. And I have … My mother-in-law and I went to the inquest because we felt … I suppose we felt we needed to know what actually happened. It didn’t do us any good, it didn’t do us any favours. But we went.
Then recently, we went through some of these Ulster Human Rights Watch, were able to obtain … My daughter wanted to know more about what happened to her father and would like to know who murdered him. So we obtained the Inquest. But because I worked in the surgery, I nearly… I already knew quite a bit of it; of the witnesses. The man’s house was 15 Anneeter Road. He was a patient at the surgery as well, so I knew him. And his wife actually said to me, “You know, your dear husband was murdered here,” and was always very pleasant. And he was very brave that day because they ordered him to give them the car keys or to open his house, and he wouldn’t do it. He was out in the field and he wouldn’t do it. There was another man, he’s since passed away. He was coming behind the bin lorry in his car and they hijacked the car from him. He ended up with Parkinson’s, which they say was the shock of this trauma that brought it on for that man.
Then the bin lorry man, the fella that was driving the bin lorry come in here the day of the wake and he was in bits. He just says, he says, “I thought they were gonna shoot us all.” He says, “And I drove on. I thought they were gonna be dead.” He was already dead at that time like. They’d shot him nine times in the torso and twice in the head. When we heard that at the inquest, my mother-in-law was saying, “They’d already shot him. Why did they have to go and shoot him in the head?” That’s what bothered her so it did. It really upset her.
So at the time then of the funeral or the wake and the funeral, sort of that’s quite a short period in Northern Ireland.
Um, your mum had just passed very recently. Your dad had died a number of years before. Um, so really, your only close family was your sister.
Um, so what support did you get from your family and sort of then the wider family, Ned’s family? Were they very good?
Ned’s family were very, very good and they, unfortunately, they had lost a daughter too in a car accident when she was 18. But they … Marlene’s very like her father and she’s just as … She has that bit of him that they hang on to. And they were so good to me. They really were very good to me. But then Ned had a best friend who was only 16 and … Ned was 22 when he was murdered. He had a best friend George and then one of Ned’s cousins and they used to come and visit me because, he, he only told me this lately. He says, “I’ll never forget,” he said, “You used to say people are great at the time and they’ll come and they’ll visit you. If you need anything, you know, just give us a shout,” and all the rest. And he says, “I always had that in my head that I was going to see you and Marlene.”
And they started to call, there was about four or five of them, and they’d come in here and we would have watched a video and some of them smoked. Their parents didn’t know they smoked so I suppose that was, my house was the smoking house, a cup of tea when it was cold. Well it saved them standing at the corner as their mam talks about … But they saved my life. They really saved my life and Marlene enjoyed them. And they were, they’d have done anything for Marlene so they would have because she didn’t have her daddy anymore. Well they’d have done anything I suppose for me too but I’m, I’m one of these people that I’m alright, as long as Marlene’s alright, I’m alright, you know? Do whatever you want or say whatever you want about me [laughs], don’t dare to anything to Marlene [laughs].
She was obviously very young.
She was three. She was three. I have to say that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was … I don’t even know how I told her now. I can remember her coming in. She knew something was wrong because her birthday was the 11th March and before that there was cards and all sitting … Or maybe, maybe they might have been anniversary cards for us but there was cards. And she never would leave cards alone. She was, “Read this to me,” or show you the cards. And the sympathy cards were sitting. And I don’t know whether she was at my sister-in-law’s or at her granny’s but somebody brought her in anyway and there was a pile of cards. She never touched one of them. And I says, I started to tell her and of course I started to cry, got very emotional and says, “You know, bad men shot your daddy.” And that’s always been the way.
And how she remembered but a year after it we were going to Portrush and we’re coming through, like a Desertmartin, and all the buntings was up for, coming up to the 12th. And she, she just out of the blue said, “My Daddy put them up.” Well Daddy couldn’t have put them up, but he’d done it the year before in the village so he had. So obviously that was in her head, that she … “My Daddy put them up.” [Laughs]
Um, and then sort of I suppose the funeral and around all that sort of stuff.
Oh, it was horrendous. It was …
‘Cause it would be media as well. There would have been interest from the press.
I [sighs] everything … Because him only being in the UDR eight weeks, everything, grieving for my mother I suppose. Well I don’t even know whether I was grieving for my mother or grieving for Ned. I think with the both of them I didn’t know where I was. But I’d a cousin that was in the UDR and he kept me right about things, “Do you want somebody from the Northern Ireland Office?” and I looked at him, he shook the head, “No.” Did I want somebody from such and such a place? And then the … I wanted half the funeral UDR and the other half was from the house, was private and then they took over. There’s a tradition in Coagh, if somebody gets married, you go up the hill to the church. If they die, you go round the stone, round Tamlaght Stone for the funeral. So whenever we were going round the stone, the UDR took over then and they took over and we put him in, into the church.
That, that always annoys me about the way they done that. ‘Cause, ’cause Mummy only dying three weeks before, I was fit to walk behind Mummy and the coffin into the church. Up there I wasn’t allowed to. I had to go in first and I, I, that … I detest that. I really detest that. I’ve said when I die, I’m gonna get a thing put on the back of my coffin, “Follow me.” Nobody’s allowed into the church [laughs]. And everybody knows ’cause I have scolded so much about it. “Is it the Church of Ireland …” ’cause I was Presbyterian, “Is it the Church of Ireland just does that?” I said, “The woman sits on one side and the men’s on the other side. None of that.” I said, “Youse are not allowed it.” I’m gonna get a sign “Follow me,” [laughs], follow … Follow Wendy and her coffin [laughs]. I really detest that about it, I really do. It’s, I think I, whenever Ned’s grandmother died, it was the same thing. The women was on the one side, the mens on the other side.
And I said, “Should they not have been together to comfort other?” you know? But in saying that now I did get great support from his family. They’ve been very good to me and Marlene all over the years. Ach, we’ve had our rows, don’t get me wrong, too. Like there’s been things has happened that probably shouldn’t have happened and all. But at one stage now, shortly after it, I was gonna move. Once the inquest was over I was gonna move back to Omagh ’cause I had my mother’s house and I would have paid my sister whatever it was and lived there. But Canon Moore come to see me shortly after it and he gave me the best bit of advice and I wish somebody had have done that with my mother too when our Daddy died. He said, “I had lost the three most important people in my life at a very young age. At 24 years of age I’d lost the three most important people,” and not to make any major decisions for a year.
And it was so true, it really was so true, ’cause it could have been a big mistake moving to Omagh. Selling up here and moving to Omagh, ’cause then I would have had nobody. I would have had no support, you know? They used to … They had a caravan at Portrush and every weekend Marlene was nearly away with them. So it was lonely for me but at the same time I wanted her, she didn’t have her daddy. My grandparents was gone, she needed her grandparents so she did.
So obviously, after all that, because he was in the UDR and stuff there’s, in any death, forms to fill in, the government to deal with, all that sort of stuff. So what about welfare support?
The UDR Welfare, now they … They arrived, I can’t even remember how soon after the death was, they come and they gave me, I think it was £1,000 or £2,000 or something like that there. And I remember saying, “What’s this for?” “That’s for you to keep you going till we get, you know, your forms filled out for the War Pension and the Armed Forces Pension and things like that.” And I … Um, “Is this to pay for the funeral?” “No, no, no. We pay for the funeral.” I hadn’t a clue. I really didn’t have a clue. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know anything about finances or what way, just what way I was gonna be fixed. And I suppose, I suppose it’s the grief. It’s like a numbness or something. You can’t even think straight, you know. And people are telling you things that … The Welfare Officer was very, very good, I have to say, at that time.
It was a girl called Marjorie, um, Marjorie and Dorothy, and they were very good. And to the day I was … I couldn’t drive; the day Ned was shot, my first lesson was booked so that poor man ended up done out of money three or four times [laughter]. He was done out that day of the test, which I should have been paying for. Or the day of the first lesson that Ned was shot. I booked with him again and, because of the circumstances, he wouldn’t charge me for that. Then the day of the test, you’d had to pay for your use of your car as well as the test and I only gave one. I says, “That poor man.” But he used to say there was a difference in me … I can’t remember the right way of this. If I had come out, something had annoyed me, I’d have drive and I’d have been cross and I’d have scowled and I’d have cursed and I … And if things was going alright or not too bad, he says I drive away and I was content, quiet.
But when things was, wasn’t right, he said he could see the difference in me. And the day I passed my test, I just was, “Thank God for that.” [Laughs] I so needed it. [laughter] You know, ’cause I couldn’t drive, I had to depend on other people, you know. It was …
And how long after Ned’s death did you, did you drive ’cause obviously you had started to learn?
I just was starting to learn the first day. It was September when I passed my test. He was shot in April. It was September by the time I got my test. Determination is a great thing [laughs]. ‘Must do’ is a great thing I suppose [laughs].
So we, we touched on sort of support, sort of government, financial and stuff like that or the War Pension. Um, charities and other organisations. I mean obviously Coagh is a very small community so what about community support and, and that type of thing in the area?
Not … Nothing really and I’m, at that time too because of what had happened, I was a very bad church goer. I go a bit more now like but at that time I suppose you may say I lost my faith. As I say, Canon Moore did come, he was very good. Um, [pause] and he, he had asked me to go to church and prayer and all this. And I says, “I’m sorry. My mother is what I would have called a Christian and,” I said, “Yes, she was a very ill woman and I can accept that God wanted her but I can’t understand why God allowed my husband to be murdered three weeks after my mother.” I says, “I’m very angry.” And he says, “That’s understandable.” He says, “But it wasn’t God’s work.” He says, “That was evil mens work.” And I says, “Well just at the minute now I’m angry towards God and I’m angry towards everybody.” Um, as I say, those young fellas that were friends of Ned’s and his cousins, they were my support network, you know? ‘Cause when I, Marlene would have went to bed for school the next morning. Even my friends, I used to have good friends in Omagh, and I could have been on the phone to them. And I could have maybe been on an hour and a half. And the phone used to be out in that porch, it was quite cold. And the boys would have been coming in, “I wouldn’t like to be paying your phone bill. Look at the length of time you’re on that phone.” [Laughs]. Very good friends as well, um …
Were they in the UDR any of them?
Mmm [pause], no, no. The Welfare, the ‘Aftercare’ as they’re called now, were good at the time but as usual, you’re left to get on with it. You have to get on yourself. I did go to see, um, a homeopathy doctor at one stage because a friend, Tishy that was here the day Ned was murdered … I couldn’t settle. If I’d have went to the hairdressers, and maybe I was supposed to get a perm or a colour or something like that there; I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stay. I just, I says, um, “Just a wash and trim today.” I had to get out of it. I would have went up to visit her. I wouldn’t have been there ten minutes ‘til I had to get out again, I had to get home. If I went anywhere, I had to know I had my route home. And even … I was, for some reason I was paranoid about getting more bad news or anything else happening. I wanted to be at home to get it. I didn’t want to be out anywhere for the bad news coming. I wanted to be at home. Strange I know. It’s strange but …
… It’s just, just the way I was I suppose. And I suppose I went, I went for counselling at different times too. But there’s no, there’s nothing really, no community groups in round Coagh to be honest, unless you’re a very good church goer and you go, there’s more that way.
So what about changes then after it? Obviously work, career, childcare, er [laughs], home, you haven’t changed your home.
No, I still stayed here. Well I’ve done a lot of improvements to my house now. I think that was, um … That would have been a sanity thing. I had to get … Put units in, put units in the bedrooms, changed the bathroom, changed the kitchen, you know, put the oil in, put double glazing windows in. Every year there was something I was doing to the house.
When Marlene started primary school, I went back to school as a mature student and that’s when I started to do … Get my qualifications in RSA Stage 1, 2 and 3 typing, er, word processing. Done my English. Terrible at my maths, it was a disaster. I can’t get RSA Stage 1 and 2, tried them, failed them miserably but everything else; great at English, great at the typing. So then I ended up in a wee job part time. What did you call it? You’re like a Visiting Officer.
It was the ACE scheme, that’s what it was. I was like a Visiting Officer. I would have went out and visited … They had a clientele built up so I went out as a Visiting Officer and visited people. Maybe done messages for them, take them to the town for messages, things like that, done that for six months and then the other six months was done in the office. So then I got a job at Herron’s Country Fried Chicken and was working there for six months and an opportunity came up for the surgery. So I went for an interview. I didn’t get the first interview I went for. And then there had been something in the paper about me being a mature student. There was a photograph of us all as mature students and the Practice Manager at that time was Sheila Kelly and she had seen it. So she had said to the doctor, there was a girl pregnant and she was going off on maternity leave, “What about trying Wendy Gibson?”
So they phoned me here and I … He said, “I, would you be interested, Wendy, in a full time … Full time temporary position?” I goes, “Oh well surely.” I says, “But I would have to give notice.” “Oh now, I don’t want to be taking you from a full time job.” I says, “Well I didn’t go back to school, Dr French, to get qualifications to just sit cooking chicken and chips all the time.” So I ended up round in the surgery and I stayed there for 22 and a half years. My mother says I could never stick at nothing, so I can’t believe I actually stayed 22 and a half years [laughs].
You must have liked it.
Well there was days I didn’t [laughs], days I come home crying, “I hate that place. Why have I got to go to my work?” [Laughs] Oh! Childcare, my mother-in-law, they would have kept Marlene up until she was about 14. Then she was allowed to stay in on her own but she wasn’t allowed to touch the fire or anything like that there. Maybe put the oven on. Written down instructions all the time, sometimes there were, um, [laughs] … There was one day, it was fish or something, and I says, “Put on at such and such a thing.” Thankfully I had got home early from work that day and I went out to check. She’d put the fish on alright but she didn’t take it out of the packet [laughs]. She’d done what she was told, put the fish in the oven on the tray [laughs].
What age, 14?
14 [laughs]. Oh flip me. She was very good. Her and her cousin are only six weeks difference so the two of them used to fight. The porch door you used to lock so whenever she had wanted Sharon to go home, [laughs] she’d lock the door. And then there was two phones, there was one at the top of the stairs so they would talk to each other on the phone, “Let me in.” “No, I’m not letting you in, go home.” And this was going on and I didn’t know it was going on. There maybe would have been a tie up the Hoover or something. They used to carry on fighting [laughs], I suppose good natured fighting. So they were.
So throughout it all, the dealing with grief, you’re own grief and Marlene’s grief at that time, just sort of roughly just talk, things that influenced it.
[Sighs] What do you mean, sorry?
I mean dealing with it. I mean it’s obviously there and it’s there all the time.
Ah-ha, it is there all the time. Anniversaries can be very tough and birthdays can be tough and …You know, he missed everything. He missed her going to primary school. He missed her going to high school. He’s missed everything she’s ever achieved, which has been an impact on her too because … Well a bit of it’s maybe a family trait anyway, but she couldn’t decide what she wanted to do. She’d done Travel and Tourism for the first year, then changed her career direction. This is when the Armed Forces then cut my pension because she changed her career direction. Yet if she’d had stayed on at university, they’d have paid for the university for the three years of Travel and Tourism. I wrote about it but no, she’d changed her career direction. And I had wrote a strong letter saying, “If her father was still living, he would be paying for her to go to school.”
She had to take my car to go to Ballymena to do the beauty therapy course for two years. Um, so that, that was a bit tough being … You just feel you’re being penalised all the time. Sometimes, you know, you can’t win. So, different people says, “Oh go to your MP, local MP about that.” I goes, “I’m not going to my local MP, and him Martin McGuinness.” I says, “They’d love that, a UDR widow going to him!” I says, “He maybe blooming setting my husband up in the first place.” But she done travel, she done the Travel and Tourism, she done beauty therapy and then she went to childcare. Her aunt had a playgroup, so she done the childcare. Then … Jobs then started to vary then as well ’cause she … Lynne was giving up the playgroup, she was retiring. So she … She must have been great at interviews ’cause any interview Marlene nearly went to, she nearly got the job.
So she finally ended up with doing her Speech and Language Therapy Assistant. So that’s what she works at now and loves it. She wishes she had have went and done speech and language therapy but she didn’t know then. She has all these things under her belt, as the man says.
She can do anything she wants.
Yeah, jack of all trades, master of none [laughs].
What about your, yourself then? Did you ever remarry or new relationships or anything like that?
Not really. I never remarried, never found anybody I suppose that I wanted to marry again. I would like to have, to be honest. Now that I’m older I suppose maybe I feel that I’d like companionship if nothing else. I never seemed to meet the right kind of man. I seem to attract the wrong sort [laughs]. Then I think there’s a stigma too with widows too. They think, “Just ’cause she was married before she’s just, she’s up for it,” like, and they don’t want a relationship. They just maybe want a bit of fun or else I’ve just … Somebody said to me one day that I’m too choosy. I says, “I don’t really got a choice,” [laugh] sometimes. But as my daughter used to say, they used to say to her too that she was too choosy. But she says, “Don’t you forget this is the boy I want to spend the rest of my life with,” which is right, so you don’t want me taking any old boy [laughs].
That’s a good way of looking at it.
I’m going to take my daughter’s advice, I just don’t want any old boy [laughs].
So all done in the public gaze and the public media. Um, was there much intrusion from the media around the time or after or …?
Not, not really afterwards anyway. You’re, you’re a three day wonder I think sometimes. It goes on for the three days in Northern Ireland. Your … You have your wake for the two days and the funeral’s the next day and then he’s in the papers the next week, and doesn’t maybe be mentioned again unless you put in the anniversary. Or, well in saying that, I’m wrong I suppose maybe in saying that because at the 30th anniversary there, the News Letter got in touch with me and done a piece about Ned and our family life then. But before that, there wouldn’t have been anything so there wouldn’t have.
And do you think there’s much change between how you were treated, 30/31 years almost ago now and somebody in today’s military, how they’d be treated?
I think there’s more awareness now of grief and compassion for … Towards widows. Whereas there wouldn’t have been much in our day type of thing. Like 31 years ago. Yes, people had compassion for you and felt sympathy for you and felt sorry for you and all the rest of it but you basically were left to get on with it. You’d lie down or get up and work at it because nobody was gonna do it for you. You had to get up and do it. But I do think there’s a lot more … And there’s a lot more [pause] I suppose financial help for widows and all now. The likes of me yes, I’m … To me, I’m very grateful for, for having the Army Pension and the War Widows’ Pension. But if I needed anything else, I’d be ruled out for it through Social Services or anything like that there, probably too I should be thinking of my old age when it would come to needing care or things like that there. That’ll all go against me. With working in the Health Service for so many years I can see them things is gonna go against me.
But at the same time, I am very grateful for having the pension. It has … It has helped me in being able to retire last year knowing that I have that security network so it has. But the widows nowadays, I know the Army Widows’ Association are very helpful as well as the War Widows’ Association. Those things weren’t readily available years ago. You didn’t know about them so we didn’t. It’s more of a support network now with them.
Peer to peer support.
Yes, because like, we have the internet now and majority of people have the internet unless you’re very elderly that maybe doesn’t bother about it. So you can get in contact easier, you know if you’re finding things difficult. There’s always somebody there to talk to.
We’re sort of probably pretty close to, to winding up. Um, I suppose there’s a lot of other things you could talk about, the situation in Northern Ireland, the political situation in Northern Ireland and how did that impact on you and how that made you feel or, you know, any other topics that you want to cover, anything else you really want to say?
I don’t know.
Because obviously, being UDR, Ned, while he was only in it a short time, lived within the community. It wasn’t like living on bases you were within it.
Oh aye. It … Probably it affected me more when I was younger because of my father being in the Police Reserve. You know? You, you didn’t open the door to anybody. You stood behind it. You stood to the side and asked who was there. The same with any phone calls, you never gave out anybody’s name. You gave the phone number, whatever the phone number was and asked who was speaking. Um, my father used to drive with a gun underneath the seat of the car. We never went the same road. Everywhere that … In the community that we had to go, should it have been him selling a tractor or whatever, you come home a different way, should it have been visiting my grandfather, and my grandfather lived in Ardboe, which is a very Republican area. Whenever my father died and we first went down to visit Granddad Scott, we got totally lost and we were petrified, petrified ’cause it was at the height of the Troubles.
This was in the ’70s, and just were afraid. We were Protestants. We could have been hijacked if they found us. We were just … There was just that fear element there. Ned was self-con-, er, was security conscious too. He would have checked under his car. And because I didn’t have … We didn’t have the drive at that time, it was a garden, he … It was at the front of the house and he always would have checked under the car. Um, I suppose certain shops he wouldn’t have went into because they were known as favouring Republicans. They wouldn’t have served maybe Police or UDR people. Um, as for the politics, I think they should all let new blood come in and sort themselves out for they don’t know what they’re doing. I think we could do a better job than them [laughs].
It’s been said before.
I really think that … They don’t know what they want. They don’t know what they’re doing and they definitely shouldn’t be getting paid for doing nothing. I’d love to have their job. I’d probably do it better [laughs].
Just do nothing.
Aye. I could sit at home too, the very best and get all that money. Or maybe my opinions might, might make a difference [laughs].
Is there anything else you sort of, you want to return to or you want to cover or you want to get down, um, sort of, I mean I think we’ve covered quite a bit.
I think I’ve covered everything. I don’t think there’s a subject I haven’t touched on [laughs].
[End of Recording]
 Interviewee amendment. Should have said Mid-Ulster Hospital, Magherafelt.
 Refers to the ‘B Specials’, a voluntary role in the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
 Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, 12 July.
 Action for Community Employment was a scheme in Northern Ireland to assist people of all ages to obtain new skills and gain employment.