What If…. Col. Wilford had not sent in 1st Para

At present I’m reading one of those “What If..” essay books, you know type “What if someone had shot Hitler in 1935”, or “What if the Potato had never reached Europe”, intending to show that in some cases a small change seemed to make a massive difference, but also in other cases things were probably fated to turn out much the same,  none of the scenarios are meant to be taken seriously, but what they are great at doing is showing how complex situations were during those various periods of history.

Which Brings us back to Bloody Sunday once again and the question that has probably been in many peoples minds this last week,  “What if the 1st Paras had not went in that day”, almost 40 yrs on would many things have turned out different? for the better? or possibly even for the worse?

One view could be that without the boost the IRA received from the deaths they would not have been able to sustain the campaign, and a political solutions would have arrived sooner.

Another view could be that without the “shock” of Bloody Sunday for both sides the killing peak of 1972 might have been avoided, but things might have increased in a more sustained manner, eventually reach an all out civil war (for those who think it was all out war just look at the 2000 odd deaths in Kyrgyzstan which is regarded as a minor conflict barely worth mentioning by many).

These are just 2 snippets of possible outcomes and I would like readers to submit others, or even adapt these and expand them, the possible variations are infinite and I may contribute more myself later, however  in reality everyone of them are ridiculous as they can never now happen and are not to be taken  seriously.   Neither is this an attempt to trivialise the event, but it is an attempt to get a snapshot of the complexities of the situation at the time, and maybe from that learn a bit about the many “whys” of the period.

Before you start writing a few things should be kept in mind,

firstly the conflict was already well established at that stage, check out the records on CAIN for deaths in the preceding years.

Secondly going by the pattern of the period it is still likely deaths would have occured that day,  possibly on both sides, but certainly not as many.

Finally there is no right answer so go easy on each other…

  • Oracle

    Then Col Wilford would have been Capt Wilford or retired… and someone else would have been ordered to send them in….

    it was going to happen, the Government seemed determined to put manners on the Civil rights

  • british airborne
  • Driftwood


    Not sure if I’m banned completely or chastised, but this deserves an airing, and since emailing is now impossible, I guess it will be ignored.

    Could always iphone it but don’t want to upset the rule book. Anyway hope it -eventually- gets through.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Hezza is always good for a laugh – he has spent years, as have most of the British right wing press complaining about the IRA saying they are criminals, generally trying to do the insurgents down and dissing them at every opportunity and he now has the nerve to say

    “It is the sense of the apparent uniqueness of our soldiers’ wickedness that comes out of Saville that I find so objectionable”

    He’s suddeny all interested in balance when the boot is on the other foot – he needs to get a grip on his union jack knickers.

  • medillen

    No one has made the direct link to the same soldiers of mortar platoon, support company of the paras who did most if not not all of the killing on Bloody Sunday and the same individual soldiers who where in Ballymurphy 6 months earlier and killed 11 people but over three days not one.

  • Driftwood

    Col Derek Wilford (OBE) is the only man to come through this with no stain on his character. An impeccable character, I loved his dismissal of the commie media luvvies.
    A great man. And a tribute to the UK state.

  • Driftwood

    What the IRA cannot admit is that its own excesses were infinitely worse, not least because of their ruthless premeditation, than anything that our soldiers may or may not have done in the heat of the moment. I want no inquiry into why harmless men, women and children were blown up in hotels, pubs and shopping centres by these savages – our lawyers are rich enough as it is – but I think we are due an admission by the IRA that they have even more to apologise for: and, then, an apology itself.


  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    “No one has made the direct link to the same soldiers of mortar platoon, support company of the paras who did most if not not all of the killing on Bloody Sunday ”

    Least of all the ill-informed British public who seem to think their boys just had an off day on Bloody Sunday and otherwise were a bunch of boy scouts. The families in Ballymurphy should stick to their demand for an international enquiry and make sure to expose British security policy (internment etc) into the equation rather than trying to blame the foot soldiers.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    the IRA ran an insurgency – they have already apologised for killing innocent civilians – what is there to enquire into – that is what insurgents do.

    The reason we need an enquiry into British misdeeds in our country is becuase they denied they were in a war and pretended they were operating under the rule of law – if they just admitted they shot people as in Bloody Sunday and in Ballymurphy and that they ran loyalist death squads then we would need any more enquiies unitl then we need to keep the heat on the feckers.

    Get it?

  • Driftwood

    Colonel Wilford has explained, in his properly educated way, what his soldiers were expected to achieve. Under the yellow card rule. Though paratroopers have a separate identity and operational mission than ordinary infantry units.
    They were sent in against an enemy. They followed their training. Handing out sweets is for the ‘ordinary’ infanrty.

    Col. Wilford deserves our thanks. I hope he is given the freedom of Londonderry, or if they are mean spirited, Lisburn.

  • joeCanuck

    Can’t possibly be the same Col Wilford who willfully ignored an order give to him by his operational superior and sent the footsoldiers on a running battle down Rossville Street and into the Bogside.

  • dwatch

    Another If is: If the 13 unarmed civilian Catholics had been gunned down by members the RUC or the UDR (Norn Iron prods) in 1972, all of the culprits would have been found guilty by the ” Widgery report ” and gone to jail.

    Because the establishment’s needed to protect their infamous paratroop regiment (mostly English soldiers) and that fecker ‘Edward Heath’ the British Conservative PM at the time (the buck stops at the top) who ordered “No 1 Para” into doing police work and crowd control

  • dwatch

    Along with Edward Heath (Tory PM in 1972) Another pillock who was protected by “Widgery” was Admiral of the Fleet Sir Peter Hill-Norton GCB who was (Top dog) Chief of Defence Staff from 9 April 1971 to 21 October 1973. Another reason why the “Saville Review” could have taken so long was old judiciary chicanery (keep the ball up in the air until both these jokers died) 2004/5


  • Cynic

    Again the myth….do try and read the Saville report – I assume that you can

  • Rory Carr

    “What if the 1st Paras had not went in that day”,

    Well, I suppose they might have gone in instead.

  • If the Civil Rights Movement had not been crushed in Derry then it might have survived as an alternative to the Provos, in which case the Provos themselves would have wiped it out.

  • Drumlin Rock

    not all in one hour though, would another regiment that day day carried out the same actions or would it have waited till the next confrontation?

  • Fearglic

    Didn’t some of the paras go to Angola as mercinaries and murdered my citizens there . “colonel Callan” was caught and executed by the angolans.

  • Fearglic

    Many citizens!

  • Kevin

    I grew up in Aldershot so know that in the days leading up to Bloody Sunday there was talk of ‘giving the irish a bloody nose.’The idea was to ‘flush the gunmen out[Faulkner’s term at the time of internment]by attacking the march.The ideabeing that if the IRA came out in defence of the people the superior training and weaponry of the Bristish would destroy them as an effective force,alternatively if they didnot engage the Paras then,so the reasoning went,their claim to be defenders of the people would be completely discredited.Obviously things didnt quite pan out that way…I was also inAldershot a few weeks later when the sticks blew up the barracks…

  • Rory Carr

    This ‘whatifery’ is even more idiotically annoying than ‘whataboutery’ and in this instance I suggest it is being used in an attempt to soften the blow of the Saville Report by and for those who are unhappy with its conclusions.

    If it is really (as I suspect) a roundabout way of asking if Bloody Sunday justified all that followed (and then answering, “No !”) then I believe that exercise also to be futile. History does not ask for justification, merely analyis and explaination. It does not aid this process in any way whatsoever to treat it with such fantastical confabulations dreaming of what might have happened “if only”.

    Unarmed citizens were wilfully murdered while fleeing from armed agents of the state hell-bent on murder, that is the reality we must face and live with. How we view that reality says as much about ourselves as it does about those who perpetrated, sanctioned, covered up or justified those murders.

  • kevin moran

    Hello Driftwood. It seems that I’m in the same boat as you with my posts disappearing or, and is this a news tactic (?), held for days before being put up when the thread is stale and most folks have moved on.

    Although on a site where someone as thoughtful as Turgon can be howled down as a bigot I can’t say that I’m surprised at the reaction to my few bon mots.

    At the end of the day I can’t really say that I care. I’ll leave the site in the hands of those republicans who live their lives weeping about how bad they’ve had it at the hands of the Big Bad Brits.

    Then again if I lived in some West Belfast s***hole at best ‘earning’ an average industrial wage as a community worker or more likely awaiting the giro to drop onto the mat I might spend my days dreaming of the Golden Future Time when manners have been put on the unionists before loading them into the cattle trucks and shipping them out. Although I doubt it.

    Anyway Driftwood keep poking the hornets’ nest I’m away.

  • If it didn’t happen that day, it was going to happen eventually. The Paras had previous history (Belfast, six months earlier as medillen points out @12.55am). There was no suggestion of internment easing in January 1972 and the NICRA campaign would have continued. Indeed as the weather improved during the spring, there would probably have been an increase in NICRA protests. When you deploy frontline combat troops in a (nominal) peace-keeping role when they are trained for tactical engagement with regular forces, they are not prepared to deal with civilian demonstrators. So, it isn’t the case of individual officers being responsible – it was the general policy that was misguided – if it hadn’t happened that day in Derry, it would have happened some other day not long after.

  • Greenflag

    Drumlin rocks,

    ‘none of the scenarios are meant to be taken seriously, but what they are great at doing is showing how complex situations were during those various periods of history.’

    And lets not forget that situations are even more complex now 😉

    The ‘no potato’ scenario is interesting . While the humble spud was brought to Europe by Sir Walter Raleigh and was first despised as ‘food ‘ fit only for horses it ‘probably’ saved the Irish ‘nation ‘ from ‘extinction ‘ if not as a people then certainly as an entity that would ever have aspired to any form of ‘independent’ political existence .

    At the same time the humble ‘potato ‘ probably helped first expand the usage of the Irish language from the 1700 to the famine era at least in terms of the numbers speaking it as their first and sole language . Thereafter the death and emigration off vast numbers of Irish speakers to the Americas ‘weakened ‘ the language and ultimately along with other factors expedited the demise of the language up to modern times .

    The potato had another geopolitical impact which is less known for it was the humble ‘potato’ which provided the basic reserve staple for the Prussian State of Frederick the Great in his wars against the French and Austrians . The latter two powers never did understand why the Prussians were always able to find the numbers for their army despite the Austrians and French continually raiding and grabbing their grain reserves and burning their wheat/oatfields etc . The Austrians and French did not consider that the Prussian peasantry were being fed and kept alive on the humble spud.

    So in the what if ‘scenario’ if the Prussian State had been ‘strangled at birth ‘ would German military imperialism ever have raised it’s head . It was after all the rise and military success of Prussia that gave rise to the first German Empire .

    Sir Walter Raleigh has a lot to answer for eh ;)?

  • Greenflag

    ‘if it didn’t happen that day, it was going to happen eventually.’

    Nonsense . It might have happened but we’ll never know . Policies change . Those who say NO for 40 years are known to change their minds . NICRA may have built on their success to make political reform not just an option for the then UK Government but a necessity .

    Neither Hitler nor Stalin were inevitable . LIke ‘accidents’ they are caused – by the political , economic and even personal circumstances in which people and nations find themselves . History is not predestined even if in hindsight it appears to have been .

  • Glencoppagagh

    ‘I was also inAldershot a few weeks later when the sticks blew up the barracks…’

    Thanks Kevin. I’d forgotten that it was the despised stickies who exacted direct revenge for Bloody Sunday not the pure (provisional) heroes of Republicanism. Did the provos ever manage to kill any paratrooper?

  • dwatch

    ‘Did the provos ever manage to kill any paratrooper?

    16 out of the 18 soldiers killed at the 1979 Warrenpoint massacre were all para’s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warrenpoint_ambush

  • I don’t know, I’m not arguing pre-destination – since Saville doesn’t seem to find any particular event that sparked off Bloody Sunday (and if we are playing whatifery) there doesn’t seem to be any reason why the paras wouldn’t have ended up doing the same on another day. All the circumstances would have been pretty much the same for a while. There weren’t any intiatives on the go that were likely to defuse tensions, end internment etc. How things would have developed afterwards is impossible to guess.

  • Michael

    Given Heffer can’t watch a ‘repulsive’ two hour film before concluding it’s director is Hitler incarnate, what’s the chances he even read a page of the Saville Report before firing up the hatewriter?

  • ‘Did the provos ever manage to kill any paratrooper?’

    Never face to face, only when shooting them in the back or by planting bombs that let them get well offside first. A bit how the provo’s murdered most of their other victims too really.

  • Michael

    Your complaint is that they didn’t see the whites of their eyes?
    Does that means battleships with cruise missiles, tornados, B52s and all, are essentially floating/flying coward platforms?

  • Nunoftheabove

    Purely speculative however it’s not inconceivable that they wouldn’t have had to wipe it out. A combination of loyalist reaction, political unionist intransigence and continued impartial and heavy-handed policing would have done the job for them, one would hazard.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Yes the more traditional approach to murder by shooting someone in the head while holding the chap’s gaze at the moment of truth is considered much more ‘the thing’ in one or two of the more crack regiments is my understanding.

  • Michael

    Provided the other chap is armed with a nothing more high tech than a spear ofc.
    Otherwise, time to call in the airstrikes.

  • Munsterview
  • Munsterview

    I have been making the point constantly over the last number of days that far from Bloody Sunday being an accidental happening; it was probably a deliberate act carried out under orders in furtherance of a specific policy.

    If Kevin’s experiences are genuine, could he please go into more detail of how he came to in Aldershot and then more as to this ‘ giving the Irish a bloody Nose ‘

    If true it could provide one of the most useful insights into this whole debate that we have got so far.

  • An Phoblacht Abu

    yes because the brave para’s would never shoot someone in the back now would they?

  • Secret Squirrel

    Anyone still think the Alphabet Army won’t be prosecuted for, at least, telling porkies ?

  • Drumlin Rock

    Saville didnt think that,

  • Drumlin Rock

    the “stickies” didnt kill any paras Glen, they killed civilian cleaners and a Priest, what heros.

  • Drumlin Rock

    with Marty in the courtroom next door?

  • Greenflag

    During the Cold War the USA and UK and other western ‘intelligence’ agencies spent hundreds of billions on surveillance , espionage , economic studies etc on the former Soviet Union .

    Not one of these agencies predicted the USSR’s collapse . But collapse it did .

    In every war be it international , civil or uncivil crap happens and as a result even more crap can happen or indeed may not . We don’t know in advance . Had General Maxwell not ordered the immediate execution of the 1916 revolutionaries would there be Irish Republic today ? Who can say ?

  • I don’t think there is any point in such a debate as this what if? and maybe it is just an attempt to detract from what has been firmly established i don’t know.
    But what we do know is that the 14 people shot/murdered 38 years ago were innocent. And that their families and the people of L’Derry appear to have some sense of closure.

  • Munsterview


    For the families there was one overwhelming concern : they knew that all their loved ones who had been killed and wounded were innocent of any wrongdoing, yet these dead and wounded had been deliberately tainted with terrorism.

    Nail bombs had been planted on some of dead and the fact of the ‘discovery’ of these had been widely reported in the Irish and International media has a significance that has not really registered in all of this debate given the overwhelming concern for establishing the victims innocence.

    It is now generally accepted that the Provo IRA took extraordinary steps to ensure that there were no guns, bombs or other war material that could be readily accessed along the route of the march…….. why ? What did the IRA leadership know or what were they expecting ?

    Since nail bombs were present at the scene and planted on the remains of some of the dead, then it follows that there was a scenario that anticipated this event and since this was premeditated what happened were acts of deliberate and willful murder carried out under orders by an elite unit of a professional Army under State orders and control.

    The families may be satisfied that the innocence of their dead family members have been established and whit the clinical facts of how they were murdered in cold blood but society as a whole also needs as a matter of priority to also establish the ‘ why ‘ of these murders.

    It took close to forty years to establish the first of the true facts; the innocence of those murdered, it could take as long again before the murky interfaces of Government, State and Security forces are revealed and what the strategy of that day was, if indeed it ever will be disclosed.


    I have posted the web address of this document regularly over the last number of days; why no comment on it from the usual defenders of State Forces. Could it be that they know all too well the validity of my contentions and are following the judicial policy of ‘ let sleeping dogs lie ‘!

  • I dunno why no one has commented munsterview, maybe people are wary of what could be another conspiracy theory and we all know there’s plenty of those around on t’inerwebby 🙂

  • Munsterview

    As this aspect of the debate seems to have run it’s course, and to contextualise my arguments for anyone that is prepared to think outside the box the following are worth perusing for a different perspective. All may be accessed through…..


    The history in general of state and governing institutions in world history

    Frank Kitson, Low intensity operations: subversion, insurgency, peacekeeping, (1971)
    Reviewed by Dale Wharton, 11 January 1966. The author fought subversion and insurgency and tried peacekeeping in Kenya 1953-5, Malaya 1957, Cyprus 1962-4, and Northern Ireland 1970-2. He explains that traditional methods may fail, and so required is deviousness, patience, and determination to outwit the opponents by stealth and fraud.

    New Technologies of Political Repression
    6 January 1998. An edited version of a 112-page Special Report to the European Parliament prepared by the Omega Foundation for the European Parliament’s department of Scientific and Technological Options Assessment (STOA). A new technology of repression spawned to contain civil unrest.

    Amnesty International releases statistics on worldwide executions for 1999, calls for moratorium
    News Release, 18 April 2000. Releasing its statistics for the number of worldwide executions carried out during 1999, Amnesty International called on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to take a strong stand against the death penalty and establish a moratorium on executions.

    Holocaust and genocide
    Robert Fisk, Independent (London), 5 August 2000. All acts of genocide deserve equal recognition. The 1915 Armenian Christian genocide as world’s first genocide. Hitler’s Holocaust should not be privileged.

    Denials. Editorial policy.
    The Forgotten Terrorists
    By Mumia Abu-Jamal, 24 September 2001. The terrorism waged against the poor and powerless of many nations. State terrorism kills, maims, tortures, and destroys many thousands of people every year, far more than private terrorists. The example of the CIA, which has overthrown functioning constitutional democracies in over 20 countries. How many died as a result of U.S. stimulation of world tensions?

    In the name of fighting terrorism
    By Terrie Albano, People’s Weekly World, 8 June 2002. A look at what has happened in the world in the name of fighting terrorism. Right-wing extremism. War on terrorism used to support reactionary policies. It takes courage in these times to speak out responsibly.

  • Rory Carr

    Munsterview, you ask“What did the IRA leadership know or what were they expecting ?”

    One thing they did know which I do believe informed what they were expecting was the number of reports they were getting from the anti-internment demonstration on Magilligan Strands on 22 January 1972, just a week before Bloody Sunday. I know that influential people including Frank McManus M.P. and Adrian Corrigan both cautioned that the army was up to something sinister and the behaviour of the Paras at Magilligan indicated that they were spoiling to spill blood and that the forthcoming Derry march could prove to be that opportunity.

    Here is the CAIN excerpt on Magilligan:

    Saturday 22 January 1972
    item mark An anti-internment march was held at Magilligan strand, County Derry, with several thousand people taking part.
    As the march neared the internment camp it was stopped by members of the Green Jackets and the Parachute Regiment of the British Army, who used barbed wire to close off the beach. When it appeared that the marchers were going to go around the wire, the army then fired rubber bullets and CS gas at close range into the crowd. A number of witnesses claimed that the paratroopers (who had been bused from Belfast to police the march) severely beat a number of protesters and had to be physically restrained by their own officers. John Hume accused the soldiers of “beating, brutalising and terrorising the demonstrators”.

  • Ben

    So what are the bigger lessons here? It’s good to get the truth out (and the report has pockets of real clarity in Volume I, but some fuzzy areas as well), but hopefully there are some lessons in all of this that are relevant for the future, not just pertinent to the past. One lesson seems to be that aggressive soldiers and commanders don’t do well amongst unarmed civilian populations, and that crowd control is an art, not a science, so best to keep them separate. In the bigger picture, some battles just shouldn’t be fought, and least not with force. One of the consequences of Bloody Sunday is that non-violence got shelved for decades (for the most part).

    As a (very) aside, and since Munsterview asks for thinking outside the box, what is it with the whole Kyrgyzstan bit that Drumlin mentions? 2,000 people murdered, and barely a peep. What, no Irish flotilla to bring balm to their wounds? Is it just because they’re landlocked? The whole world paid attention to Bloody Sunday, it seems that these things are universals, so don’t get fixated in your perspective on injustice. Anyway, the report is fascinating, and all the attached documentation show the power of the internet, it’s unbelievable! Cheers, Ben

  • Munsterview


    The first part of your analysis is predicated on the fact that what happened did not occur as deliberated, premeditated strategy to implement agreed State and Government policy. In this context it is a random act, unique in the factors that contributed to and culminated in the Bloody Sunday Massacre.

    If it was a deliberate act, and my contention is that it was, then the establishment as a whole are in ‘ Appalling Vista’ territory because what we then have is not an accidental or random act but a wide open door into area that otherwise is concealed and sub rosa to general society.

    As to the second part that dichotomy was always there historically, investigate England’s concern with the ‘Prisoners Of Naples’ and what they were demanding in relation to these political prisoners when contrasted against the treatment of their own Fenian Prisoners of the same period. Brian Dillion was chained to a wall by a collar around his neck, his arms tied behind his back and he had to eat off the floor like a dog for months as they attempted to break his will or drive him mad !

    I will leave the sanitation aspects of his situation to the readers imagination !

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    british airborne,

    Driftwood already linked to that article above.

    There will be period of readjustment required for quite a few people including Simon as their version of reality get replaced by the facts – expect more of the same when further details seep across the Irish sea regarding the Ballymurphy killings.

  • Munsterview

    As I have pointed out continually on these postings, a strategy was in place within which these killings took place. This had to have Top Level and British Government approval !

    In the earlier enquiry the Brits wanted a certain result for reasons of State and Widgery delivered the goods for them.

    In this enquiry the Brits also wanted a certain result for reasons of State and Saville delivered the goods for them.

    That is what Judicial members of the British establishment always do : most of that ignoble profession knew what the true situation was with the Guilford Four and the Birmingham Six yet they allowed that running sore and festering injustice to continue as long as it was necessary for the State to maintain it.

    Innocent people had their lives wasted in jail, one even died there but the majority of the Irish in Britain got the message, if it happened to these people, it could happen to anyone! They kept their heads down and avoided any anti-Brit protests irrespective of what happened in Ireland.

    It was the old slave owner policy, pick one for public flogging ever so often to keep the rest in line.