“Bomb disposal” said the sign across the back of the Land Rover. In white letters against a red background, the sign contrasted with the green camouflage colours of the Land Rover. It was a vintage vehicle with civilian number plates and was presumably used by a re-enactment group. The canvas roof and simplicity of the Land Rover seemed a world apart from modern bomb disposal vehicles with their armour and advanced electronic and computer technology. It would be hard to imagine a contemporary bomb disposal officer contemplating going to remove a threat with such sparse protection and equipment.
The idea of a re-enactment of a bomb disposal scene seemed odd, but perhaps it is no odder than the many other military re-enactment groups. How seriously can suffering and death be taken when its portrayal becomes a hobby?
I knew two men who dealt with bombs, or devices suspected of being bombs.
One was the legendary Werner Heubeck, the boss of Northern Ireland’s Ulsterbus during the Troubles. Buses were regular targets for rioters and for suspect devices. Terrorists set on paralysing towns and cities would target the public transport network, bombing both buses and railways.
Werner Heubeck has been a member of a church where I was briefly rector and spoke to the congregation about his experiences. He believed that the Germany in which he had grown up had been guilty of the most heinous crimes and described how he had vowed that he, personally, would do what he could to atone for those crimes. His efforts at atonement had included the removal of suspected explosive devices from buses. He had carried a package from a bus for the first time in 1974, and for the last time in 1988. He was a truly remarkable man.
It is hard to imagine Werner Heubeck would have taken bombs in a spirit other than one of great seriousness.
The other man I knew served in the Irish Defence Forces. He had returned from Afghanistan, where I did not realise any of the members of the Defence Forces had served. Apparently, if there were less than twelve, the approval of the Oireachtas was not required.
”What were you doing there?” I asked.
”Dealing with IEDs,” he said, “that’s bombs to you.”
It was a step beyond anything I could imagine. Afghanistan, the Taliban, improvised explosive devices – and volunteering to undertake such a mission.
Bombs are not a game.