Life changed drastically - Sharon Austin

Marie Newton and Sharon Austen.
Marie Newton and Sharon Austen.

Excerpt taken from beyond the silence published by guildhall press

I was eleven when my brother was murdered. His name was Leonard Winston Cross, and he was only eighteen years old and a happy-go-lucky teenage boy. He was flirty and funny and did anything for laughs.

Sharon Austin.

Sharon Austin.

Winston worked as a painter in Ebrington Barracks and was leaving his work one Friday in 1974 to join the army the following week. He had papers to sign up on Tuesday 11 November 1974 – Poppy Day – which is why that day is very significant to us. That’s his day.

When he didn’t come home that Friday night, my mother presumed he had gone out for a drink with friends. His best friend, Joseph ‘Bert’ Slater, was with him. They never came home.

The IRA had abducted both of them from a bar across the border. They had been taken to Donegal and tortured for three days before being hooded and shot on Sheriff’s Mountain. There they left them – lying at the side of the road – with black bin bags over their heads. At first, the IRA said that he was an informer for the military because he worked in Ebrington Barracks. They then changed their story and claimed it was a case of mistaken identity, and they apologised for taking him and shooting him. That part is hard to take. I still have the newspaper clippings from 1974; my mother kept them all.

The people in the Glen were all mixed, but they still gathered together and paid for the funeral. That’s how close-knit our community was.

My mother couldn’t live there anymore, though. From where we lived, the house looked right out onto the TV mast on Sheriff’s Mountain, and she couldn’t cope with that, so her brother and sister helped us move closer to her family in town. That’s where our life changed drastically.

My father became an abusive alcoholic. He was a sergeant major and, although he was a drinker, it was never to that extreme. Now he drank six nights a week and got very abusive and violent towards my mother and brothers. It was awful. Sunday was the only day that pubs didn’t open, so I would always wake up feeling so relieved on Sundays. Then it would be Monday, and the drinking and violence would start again.

My mother became totally dependent on drugs and tried to commit suicide. She tried everything to end her world. We didn’t matter anymore. There was nobody else in her mind but Winston, and she could be quite violent and argumentative, too. She attended the local psychiatric hospital, and was talked to about electric-shock treatment because she kept trying to commit suicide. She must have tried at least twenty or thirty times. Once, she set the bedroom on fire to kill herself. I remember walking into the bedroom and seeing her just standing there, squealing so loud, and then fighting with me for trying to help her. She took overdoses for years, too, all when I was still a child.