'Am I living or dead?'

By Freya McClements
BBC News

Image caption,
Alana Burke recovering in hospital, 1972. Courtesy Museum of Free Derry

For years, Alana Burke longed to meet the driver of the Saracen armoured personnel carrier which injured her on Bloody Sunday.

Her lower body was crushed when the vehicle ran her over on Rossville Street.

"I wanted to let him know what it has done to my life.

"I wished for that, and then it happened in London. He came on the stand before the inquiry, but I wasn't there to see him and hear what he had to say.

"I wasn't very well, and even though I had been to London a few times, at the time he was giving evidence I missed it.

"From what I've been told he thought he hit a kerb or a dog or something.

"He could have killed me," she said.

Eighteen-year-old Alana went to the march with a friend to show off her new coat.

"That was why most of the young people went, for the craic.

"There was the usual aggro and stone-throwing when we got down to the corner at Rossville Street, but that happened nearly every weekend in those days.

"People had sat down in the ground in protest, and there was a bit of stone-throwing, and then they brought out the water cannon and the CS gas.

"There are photographs of me standing on the corner at Chamberlain Street, and I'm completely drenched, and I was physically sick because of the gas.

"I remember thinking I'd had enough and it was time to go home, and in hindsight I should have gone up Harvey Street to the Diamond and down Bishop Street, but I didn't, I cut through the alleyway that took you onto waste ground on William Street.

"I could hear the rubber bullets and the CS gas and I could hear the cracking, but it never occurred to me they were firing live rounds.

"I didn't know where to run or what to do, and then I heard the roar of the army's engines revving up and I was afraid.

"People were running on either side of me and I could see a man lying against one of the old buildings at the back of Chamberlain Street, he was bleeding from his head.

"I could hear the engines and I could see the soldiers coming in on foot, and I was in the middle of this waste ground absolutely petrified.

"I couldn't move, I was just glued to the spot in pure terror. I can't explain how bad it was.

"Everybody was running for their lives.

Image caption,
Soldiers man a barricade on Bloody Sunday

"I could hear the shooting, and I could see the crowds coming from Rossville Street and the Saracens coming behind, and I knew I wasn't going to make it.

"I crossed onto the tarmac of the flats and I started to run and that's really all I remember.

"I could see the Saracen coming towards me, and there was squealing and crying and horrendous panic all around me, and I just lay there.

"I thought he was going to come back over the top of me again, and I remember crawling on my hands and knees thinking I was going to die."

Other marchers lifted Alana and took her to a nearby house.

"I was in somebody's living room, and the people there were looking out of the window and could see what was going on.

"I could hear them saying that people were crawling along the ground, and saying that it was alright because Barney McGuigan was going out to help whoever was lying on the ground.

"Then there were this screeching, because they'd just blown Barney McGuigan's head off.

"I was lifted into the ambulance. They put me on the floor and there was a body on the right hand side and a body on the left hand side and there was somebody at my feet and there was somebody at my head.

"I didn't think I was going to make it to the hospital.

"I thought, am I living or dead?


"That ambulance stays with me, that'll never ever leave me.

"For years afterwards I used to think that if I'd said an act of contrition, or prayed into someone's ear, or if I had... but they were dead, I know they were dead.

"I'm so lucky that I'm here."

Now in her fifties, Alana has struggled with ill-health since Bloody Sunday.

"My injuries dictated the way I had to live, and dictated the way my family had to live.

"I was the eldest, my father had died six months previously, and I came home to my mother in a wheelchair.

"I had one son, thank God, he was a miracle, and I went on to adopt another son, who's 18 now.

"The doctors at the time told me I was very lucky to be able to carry my son full term because of the way my pelvis had been crushed.

"He's a solicitor now and I'm very proud of that.

"I feel I triumphed over something that was very traumatic in my life."