Ballygawley bomb survivor’s emotional reunion with young heroine

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A bomb victim has shared an emotional reunion with the young heroine he credits with saving his life.

Former soldier James Leatherbarrow, who was badly injured in the Ballygawley IRA bus bombing nearly three decades ago, has traced the passer-by who saved his life.

The forty-eight year-old suffered extensive injuries during the attack in 1988 but survived thanks to first aid he received at the scene. Now he’s managed to find the lady who helped him.

27 years ago, a bus carrying 36 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Light Infantry was travelling from RAF Aldergrove to their base at Lisanelly Barracks in Omagh, after an 18-month tour of duty.

As the bus passed through Curr near Ballygawley, the IRA detonated a 200 pound roadside bomb, planted in a nearby vehicle.

The force of the explosion hurled the bus down the road, threw soldiers into neighbouring fields and left a six-foot crater behind it. Eight men lost their lives, 28 others were injured.

But amid the devastation, help arrived and the injured soldiers were given first aid at the scene.

James remembers being treated by a young girl – who he believes kept him alive – and he’s wanted to thank her personally ever since

It turns out the girl was a member of Londonderry’s Star of the Valley Band who’d been travelling in coaches behind the fated bus. James launched an appeal via the local paper and radio and was inundated with messages helping him to track her down.

Now he’s finally been able to speak to her again. “It was quite emotional really”, he said. “One day we’re going to meet up and I’ll be able to thank her in person.”

For him, it was a chance to complete part of ‘a big jigsaw’. He’s since spoken to several people who helped him that night and learnt how he was trapped under the rear axle of the bus and dragged to safety.