Through many dangers
Those of an older generation will vividly remember one of the darkest days of ‘the troubles’ as they were known in Northern Ireland. In July 1982 those ‘troubles’ came to the heart of London as six army bandsmen lost their lives. About a year ago one of the men suspected of carrying out the atrocity was arrested, only to be released in February of this year due to legal technicalities. Dot Heritage is the widow of John, one of the bandsmen killed as a result of the bombing. This is her story.
I always believed there was a God. I believed there was someone who had made us and the world we live in – all this didn’t just happen by chance! As a child my family and I went to the Salvation Army where I enjoyed the Sunday school and the singing. Then as an adult I sometimes went to the Anglican church. At the time I believed we were good Christian people who, although we could do better if we tried harder, I suppose, on the whole we weren’t bad!
Where was God?
Life continued and I joined the army as a nurse where I met and married John, a musician in the army. We went on to have two children and life was good. Then suddenly in July 1982 everything changed. The IRA had planted a bomb underneath the bandstand in Regent’s Park, timed to explode whilst the band was playing. Six men were killed instantly and John died 11 days later in St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. During those 11 days I spent a lot of time in the small chapel opposite the intensive care unit pleading with God for John’s life, promising anything if only he would get well – but John died.
In my grief I blamed God. Oh, I know he didn’t plant the bomb, but he could have stopped it, couldn’t he?! I thought either there wasn’t a God or if there was he obviously didn’t care about me. Why had my husband died and why had my children been left to grow up without the father they adored? I had lots of difficult questions with no easy answers!
After John’s death I came back to Cardiff to live and soon after I was contacted by an old friend. She had become a Christian since we last met and she invited me to a ladies’ meeting organised by St Mellons Baptist Church. At first I was reticent to go but after a while I agreed. I think I went for the company more than anything. I was very lonely as I lost not only my husband but, on leaving the army, all my friends as well – everything had changed completely.
Although the ladies were very kind and welcoming, I didn’t really believe that the God they talked about cared anything for me. As I listened to the speakers I’d often think ‘Well if God loved them so much, why didn’t he love me?’ I would often leave in tears, vowing never to go back again! But I went back, and with hindsight I realise that this was God’s leading. He was guiding me even though I fought against him.
It was during this period that I was invited to a Billy Graham meeting in Bristol. I really can’t remember what he spoke about that evening but he said that if anyone wanted to know more about the Lord Jesus Christ they should come to the front; and since I did want to know more I went forward! Because of this everyone thought I’d had this amazing experience and I’d been saved, but I was terrified – I’d only said that I wanted to know more! I now felt that everyone had these great expectations of me that I couldn’t possibly live up to. I didn’t know very much about God and still didn’t like him very much anyway. With thoughts like that going on in my mind, how could God possibly want me?
It was this fear that drove me to pray as I had never prayed before. It was then that I felt God’s arms around me. He said, ‘Trust me. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know everything.’ You see, he knew everything about me, even my bad thoughts and now I was sure I belonged to him. Now I knew that he cared for me and had shown that so wonderfully by sending his son Jesus Christ to die for my sins on the cross at Calvary. I felt a peace I had never had before… I mattered to him.
Thirty years have now past by and it’s not been all plain sailing since then. There have been many ups and downs. There are still many things I just don’t understand. It’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey. But I feel God is with me all the way, holding my hand, sometimes with a gentle touch and sometimes with a very firm grip! I have learned to trust God. He knows what he’s doing… and one day I will know too.
Dot Heritage is a retired nurse and a member of St Mellons Baptist Church, Cardiff.