Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

31 October 2002 Edition

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Francie Hughes' guns on display


I was in London recently visiting family and I decided to take in the museums and galleries. One of the places I decided to visit was the Imperial War Museum, as they are currently hosting a Holocaust exhibition. To be honest, I also wanted to have a look at their 'Trench Experience' exhibition, dealing with some of the aspects of the First World War. My paternal granda, who passed away long before I ever appeared on this earth, got a medal for his involvement. When he returned, however, it was to a divided city and a statelet that ignored his suffering and the suffering of thousands like him.

The experience was a lot more interesting than I had expected, dominated, as you would expect, by the two World Wars. There were elements of 'glorying in the trappings of empire' about a lot of the exhibition windows, but in general they managed to capture, in a small way, the sense of the periods covered.

The Holocaust exhibition was, though, in a league of its own. The use of film, sound effects, photographs and letters or other personal mementoes was stunning. The menace in the Nazis' early words and the insanity of their racist theories are well laid out and frighteningly clear. I say this deliberately against the accepted dictum of the period - 'we didn't know'!

One of the most poignant memories for me was the series of photos of Jewish former soldiers, thousands of whom served Germany and the Kaiser from 1914-1918. How great was their confusion and sense of betrayal once the Nazis' depraved policies began to bite?

I was on my way out of the museum when I decided to have a dander through the MI5/Secret Service section. Here I came upon what for me was an astonishing exhibit. In the midst of all the super secret paraphernalia - long past its sell by date or of course it wouldn't have been on view - I came across a window which sent my pulse racing.

I found myself staring at a heavy US made MI4 which was accompanied by a silver .38 Special and holster. The caption informed me that these weapons were recovered by the RUC after an engagement between members of the IRA and a British army SAS unit. The exhibit also showed the weapons used by the British soldiers which had been seriously damaged in the firefight as well as the soldiers' Tupperware lunch box, which had clearly taken a few 'rounds' more than it was geared for.

There was something vaguely familiar about these weapons, something reminiscent of a story I had heard in my years in Long Kesh. I couldn't put my finger on it initially - the date of the piece was 'sometime in the late '70s, nothing more precise... then it struck me, these guns had been carried by one of the most daring guerrilla fighters thrown up by the IRA in its more recent phase. They had been used by Francie Hughes as he scoured the hills and lanes of his native county Derry and further afield as he engaged and struck terror into the hearts of his enemies - both military and paramilitary - in the British forces here.

I remembered my last conversation with Francie as he recounted the story of his arrest. He told how, when he was eventually tracked down, wounded and exhausted after his firefight with the SAS unit, the RUC captors wanted to shoot him dead there and then. The British soldiers accompanying refused to allow it, stating - 'That man is a soldier.'

The fact that some of these people have ensured his guns are now on show in the War Museum again points-up how these people are paying homage to Francie Hughes

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1