Last November, a former army comrade of mine died after a four-year battle with one of the most dreadful cruel diseases there is - Alzheimer's.
Mick Krasnowski was just 64 when he passed away in a nursing home. And I last saw him as the person I always remembered, at the regimental reunion in Blackpool in June 2011. He introduced me as his 'biographer' to a couple of ladies who had accompanied him in a taxi to the Norbreck Castle hotel where we were all meeting up later that day. My first book had yet to be published, and discussions between some of us turned to an incident in New Lodge which occurred on the evening of August 8th/9th 1974.
During the morning of August 8th, our foot patrols were working around the terraced streets of New Lodge. And as we passed a derelict property on Stratheden Street, Mick and Gnr Dick Witts dropped out of the patrol and secured themselves upstairs in the derelict and set up a covert O/P.
The covert O/P on Stratheden Street.
The patrol continued on their way and left Mick & Dick Witts to keep watch on the Catholic Club just further up the street. Friday August 9th was the anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial and we were all expecting trouble on the evening of the 8th, we were not to be disappointed either. Shortly after midnight, Mick observed a gunman directly opposite the covert O/P, and stood behind him was a woman acting as his look-out. Mick recalled what happened next...
"I was stood at the corrugated sheeting of the window looking through the gap with the night scope. I was looking up towards the Catholic Club, but the view was fairly restricted so I started to scan in the opposite direction and then suddenly I spotted a gunman stood on the corner. He was only a matter of yards away from me and I thought he would be a sitting duck. I've never forgotten the moment when I first saw him. He was dressed in a camouflage jacket and had a stocking pulled over his head. He was holding his rifle and peering around the corner into Edlingham Street. behind him was a woman who was acting as his look-out and behind her was another woman who I assumed to be her back-up."
"I whispered to Dick that we had a contact, but I got no reply. I looked over to him and the bloody idiot was fast asleep. I tried to wake him, but I didn't dare make too much noise in case I was heard. in the end I decided to have a go at the gunman, but the trouble was I couldn't get a clear shot at him because of the corrugated sheeting over the window. I lined my rifle up as best as I could and just fired straight through the metal and hoped for the best. I think I hit the wall just above his head because it didn't half make him jump!"
As soon as Mick fired the shot Dick suddenly woke up and joined in the shooting. Other gunmen joined in as both the covert O/P and our foot patrols returned fire. The diary account written at the time...
The official account of the gun battle gives some idea of the scale of the exchange of fire. The reference to HV and LV is the fire from the gunmen, 7.62 being ours in return...
On August 31st the IRA issued a statement condemning the actions of drunken members of the community.
After the shooting died down the patrols continued with their searches for the gunmen. The following morning Mick and Dick Witts were safely extracted from the covert and went out a few hours later on a mobile patrol. Shortly afterwards, they spotted two women supporting a man who was looking rather dishevelled and went over to investigate. They told Mick that their friend was drunk after the internment celebrations and were taking him back home to sleep it off. They ordered them to let go of him - which they did, and he immediately collapsed in a heap on the floor. Mick later said...
"I spotted a small hole in the middle of his chest. I told the women to let go and he just fell to the ground. I decided to take off his jacket and take a closer look. When I removed it and looked at his back, I could see a hole bigger than a dinner plate. he was stone-cold dead."
Mick Krasnowski and Dick Witts at front of picture.
During our two tours together there were some very scary moments we shared - and also some very funny. He was a good man to have at your side, and all my memories of him are good memories. So long mate, I shall miss you.