Battle of the Bogside: Unionists believed insurrection and rebellion were on the march

Rossville Hall is set ablaze
Rossville Hall is set ablaze

Gregory Campbell was just 16 years old when he took part in his first Apprentice Boys march in derry in August 1969....

The ‘Battle of the Bogside’, like so many other political issues, had a completely different meaning for Unionists compared to Nationalists.

The international context was one of unrest in a number of countries - in France, there was near insurrection, and, in Czechoslovakia, the ‘Prague Spring’ resulted in invasion by Soviet troops.
While there was no direct read across to the violence here, for unionists the message was clear: insurrection and rebellion were on the march, whether against legitimate governments or otherwise.
The October ‘68 march and the months after set the scene, but very few people thought outright violence was on the cards.
As a 16 year old working class Protestant, I took part in my first Apprentice Boys parade on August 12. The route took us through Waterloo Square and I recall being close to the end of the parade and stones were thrown at us from the William Street direction.
Within hours, it became really bad, no one realising the intensity of what was beginning to unfold.
Over the next couple of nights, I crossed the river from our small rented terrace house (with an outside toilet and no bathroom) in the Waterside to Great James’ Street Presbyterian Church which appeared to be coming under attack.
Petrol bombs were raining down on ill-prepared police officers; on one occasion, republicans sent a large burning industrial type tyre careering down Great James’ Street towards a group of us outside the church.
On those nights, it was surreal as it seemed there was an armed rebellion underway. During the day, as I worked in the city centre, rumours swirled around that Irish Premier Jack Lynch had moved Irish troops up to the border and his speech that his government would ‘no longer stand by’ was taken by unionists to mean they were preparing to cross the border.
The present day ‘Siege mentality’ for many Unionists can be traced to this short period - relatives of mine, along with scores of others, moved home across the River Foyle in search of safety.
They were to be followed by thousands of others in the course of the next few years as threats, intimidation, terror and murder took hold.
Fifty years later, the scale of the enforced movement of thousands of people is staggering as more than 90% of Londonderry’s west bank Protestant population fled their homes.
What made it worse was that, throughout that period, there was virtually no recognition or acknowledgment of this fact, let alone condemnation of it, from the leadership of Irish Nationalism.
The silence was deafening.