When my friend Winston is on guard duty at Horse Guards, he will leave the Knightsbridge Barracks with the other Cavalry Blacks at 10:30 am. They walk through Hyde Park, past Buckingham Palace, up the Mall and turn into the Horse Guards Parade for the Changing of the Horse Guards. On July 20, 1982 the 16 horses of the Blues and Royals and their soldiers never made it to the Horse Guards Parade.
At 10:40 am, as they were walking along South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park, a nail bomb, composed of 25 lbs of gelignite and four and six inch nails ,that had been placed in a parked car, was remotely detonated. The explosion was devastating. Three soldiers were killed outright and a third died of his wounds in hospital three days later. In total seven horses were killed and 8 were severely injured. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) claimed responsibility.
The IRA had been carrying on an intermittent campaign of bombings and as I lived in London from 1971 -1984 I was familiar with it. There had been pub bombings, train station bombings, bombs at the Tower of London, The Houses of Parliament, Harrods and Selfridge’s department stores, the Hilton Hotel and several restaurants. In doing research for this blog I learned that in 1974-1975 there were a total of 40 bombs killing 35 people. But let me be clear. London was not a Damascus and the IRA did not go in with assault weapons and kill dozens of people in a pub. It was Terrorism and it was dreadful but it was not at the level we see today.
Nonetheless the Hyde Park bombing, which was followed two hours later by the bombing of a bandstand with a military band playing in Regents Park killing 6 bandsmen and a 7th dying later of his injuries, was a devastating event. I remember the front page of the newspaper I got that evening had a picture of the wreckage of the car and the dead horses lying on the pavement and above it a single word: ”BASTARDS”.
England is a horse loving country and it was almost as if killing people in the military or civilians was one thing but to kill a horse…..that was too much. There was an overwhelming outpouring of anger and outrage. One of the horses, named Sefton, had 38 wounds and went through 8 hours of surgery and managed to survive. I remember well the day Sefton was well enough to come out to greet the media and the public at the entrance to the Knightsbridge Barracks. There were stacks of carrot bags and treats, the media recording the event and the public cheering. Sefton took it all in stride and actually came back to work as a Cavalry Black once he was recovered. Support for Sefton led to a fund being established that raised £300,000 that went towards the construction of the Sefton surgical wing at the Royal Veterinary College.
Sadly Sefton’s rider Michael Pedersen could not recover from the mental injuries he suffered that day and decades later, separated from his wife, he took his own life and the lives of his two children. Not all the scars are physical.
There is a permanent memorial in Hyde Park at the place where the bomb exploded. As the Horse Guards ride past the memorial the soldiers turn and salute. Even today I suspect that Winston and the other horses may also have a sense of what happened there.
The Cavalry Blacks have served in many wars in the past but I would never have been imagined these horses would perish on the streets of London as victims of terrorism. On that day these lives were lost: Lieutenant D.R.A. Daly aged 23, Staff Corporal R.J. Bright aged 36, Lance Corporal J.V. Young aged 19 and Trooper S. A Tipper aged 19. And the horses: Cedric, Epaulette, Falcon, Rochester, Waterford, Yeastvite and Zara.
I think that despite this tragic loss of life it is worth remembering that after many years of the “Troubles” in Ireland and the terrorism of the IRA a peace agreement was finally reached. I have purposely chosen not to show any photos of the scene of the bombing.
My next installment on the Cavalry Blacks and my friend Winston will be a much happier one focusing on the ceremonial duties and ….where Winston and his comrades go for a summer holiday.