To a Dark Place, by Ken Wharton

To a Dark Place shatters your senses and chills the blood in a way only Ken Wharton can. It's a tale of unmitigated terror all the more horrifying for its truth, when fiends of either stripe, Loyalist or Republican, roamed the streets of Northern Ireland, popping up on doorsteps like gruesome Jack-in-the-boxes, and 'offing' innocents for spurious offences against 'the cause'. That apologists for these stone-cold killings attempt to erase them from history is perhaps the greatest crime of all. But that won't happen - not on Ken Wharton's watch.

This is Ken’s thirteenth book on The Troubles and in this mammoth work he focusses solely on the innocent civilian victims of those dark times, when an innocent-sounding knock on the door could herald a hooded villain and instant death. Victims from both sides of the divide bravely share their stories with Ken despite intense pressure from local, compromised politicians, aggrieved family-members and ‘former’ paramilitaries still active in all manner of thuggery today. The stories shared are incredibly powerful and deeply moving; one can see instantly why certain factions currently occupying the ‘top table’ of power in Northern Irish politics would want them to remain dead and buried – literally – because they are stomach-churning tales of cold-blooded murder, deliberate ‘mistaken identity’ and the treacherous betrayal of innocent civilians who weren’t even combatants.

Time and again, the author provides forensically researched examples and testimony from the victims of these heinous ‘doorstep’ crimes. To quote a dreadful military phrase familiar to all soldiers, the level of ‘collateral damage’ suffered by survivors is cruel and incalculable, in terms of destinies changed and previously good lives ruined; surviving family members suffer instant heart-attacks and strokes or drop dead from shock; happy marriages break up as physical pain from lifelong injuries and undiagnosed PTSD bite, resulting in career loss, homelessness, poverty and despair. It is striking how many of these assassinations and bloody deaths were witnessed by children and spouses who often had to endure the unforgettable agony of their loved one dying in their arms, with many rendered instant orphans amidst final whispered farewells.

That these survivors are willing to speak to Ken in such intimate detail is a testament to both their and his courage; he has travelled back to Northern Ireland numerous times and visited notorious crime scenes of both Republican and Loyalist hits repeatedly, obtaining local testimony, unearthing new evidence and speaking to witnesses in a fearless, probing way that quite often the PSNI, Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and local politicians won’t, for obvious political reasons. As a veteran of two NI Tours with the Royal Green Jackets at the very height of The Troubles, and now as a well-known chronicler of these times, he has put himself in danger as both a soldier and writer, and is to be commended for his courage and commitment in unearthing the truth, wherever it leads. He is almost fanatical in his desire to investigate and expose each and every incident of civilian murder committed by the IRA, UVF, UFF and assorted offshoots and won’t rest until his mission - which has become his life’s work - is complete.

Not unreasonably, Ken proposes that ‘Troubles Denial’ by sectarian politicians regarding the mass murders and ethnic cleansing of innocent civilians by NI terrorist groups, should become an official crime, in the same principle and way that Holocaust Denial is a crime (whilst not, of course, equating the scale of the two and accepting that the Holocaust was far worse on an unimaginable scale).

Many of the victims - including on the Republican side - express deep annoyance and irritation that the British government is all-too-willing to ‘go after’ former British soldiers on often flimsy evidence and flawed accounts pedalled by self-promoting politicians, yet at the same time are extremely hesitant to prosecute terrorist crimes even when strong forensic evidence is present, local witnesses and victims are willing to testify, and fingerprints are found on the ‘smoking gun’. In many cases PSNI officers and honest officials have revealed ‘off the record’ to survivors that for political reasons no prosecutions can be brought despite strong evidence and a clear case ‘lying on file’. The reasons given for abandoning such prosecutions are to protect sensitive informants and embedded agents from the ‘Dirty War’ period, to preserve the official ‘clean spirit’ of the Good Friday Agreement and to preserve the increasingly fragile peace of today.

As ever, politics looms large and one can’t help concluding that the real reason these scores of solvable murders aren’t pursued is to avoid upsetting senior, sectarian leaders who will threaten a return to violence at the drop of a hat, if such embarrassing and unforgivable crimes were revealed. It is deeply ironic that these self-same politicians demand full accountability for all British Army misdeeds – both real and imagined – but categorically refuse to accept and angrily reject any responsibility for their own. One of the repeated complaints of survivors is the callous, cynical and cold way that they’ve been treated ‘by their own side’ when it comes to securing justice and genuine apologies for their lost loved ones e.g., innocent Catholic civilians being blown up by IRA bombs intended for ‘the other side’. In such instances the political leadership wing issues mealy-mouthed apologies in public whilst in private telling the victim’s surviving family to ‘suck it up’ and move on. Or even worse, poses as a sympathetic ‘family spokesman’ for the TV cameras whilst ruthlessly suppressing and diminishing the surviving family behind-the-scenes, and not-so-subtly trying to shift all the blame onto ‘the Brits’.

The cynicism is breath-taking and the utter contempt with which survivors are batted aside and used as sacrificial pawns in a game of political football further postpones the day when they can consider themselves healed. Even more poignantly, many of these decent, honest people, graciously want to forgive their warped attackers, so that they can grieve and remember their lost loved ones in peace and dignity, unencumbered by hate and rage. Survivors want to put the horror of what happened - whether bombing, shooting or stabbing - behind them and to heal without bitterness and rancour ruining what remains of their lives. But quite rightly few of them are able to - because as they point out - to forgive the perpetrators of such violent terrorist acts, the perpetrators have to be genuinely sorry and full of remorse. And in the case of these vicious sectarian attacks, as Ken’s book abundantly makes clear, the vast majority of former IRA, UVF and UFF killers aren’t sorry at all. Quite the opposite, in fact, with many of them stubbornly proud, completely unrepentant and openly scornful towards their victims, right up until the present day.

The political wing apologists who speak on their behalf aren’t sorry either – not remotely, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon, no matter what horrors To a Dark Place reveals. But, by God, Ken Wharton is to be commended for trying and in my eyes he has succeeded a thousand times over, in shining a light where it needed to be shone.

Amazon product
 
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I have read two of Kens books about the troubles. Found them both a great read.

I think I’ll have to download a few more for my kindle.

Thanks for the heads up :thumleft:
 

sirbhp

LE
Book Reviewer
Totaly agree with the above comments, I certainly will get hold of a copy .
 
I have read two of Kens books about the troubles. Found them both a great read.

I think I’ll have to download a few more for my kindle.

Thanks for the heads up :thumleft:

I have most of his books covering events up to the early 80's. He could have simply left it in the past and walked away from it all after leaving the Army like so many others, including myself, have done. Instead he has devoted years to setting the record straight and showing the soldier's point of view for the first time.

FWIW I think he deserves an OBE (at least) for his work.
 
I have a couple of his books. They’re very good reading on a subject that most people pretty much ignore because of politics. Over 750 troops were killed in NI and thousands more suffered terrible injuries and yet it wasn’t a war!

My children brought me one of his books as a Christmas present quite some years ago now. Ken had canvassed NI veterans for anecdotes about their time there on tour. I sat down on that Christmas morning and began reading the stories and soon came across one where I exclaimed to my kids, “crikey I remember this, I was there!”

I then turned the page to read the rest of the story and found myself to my great surprise reading my name in the book. I’d been included in the story. I said to my kids, “I’m in this book!” Well there was one or two words in front of that exclamation that I can’t really write here.

I’d prefer not to have been in the book because the story was about the brutal murder of a friend and colleague who was killed just a few yards from the front gate to Girdwood Park. He had a young family including an unborn baby due to be born within a few weeks. A child who would never know their father because some killer thug shot their father in something that wasn’t really a war according to some people.

I’d much sooner that my name wasn’t there not because I value my anonymity but because if it wasn’t, then perhaps this brutal murder might not have happened and the children of my friend and colleague might through all these years have enjoyed having their father around and no doubt by now, like me, he would be a grandfather proudly seeing his grandchildren running around the house playing with each other.

Ken Wharton having been one of us on the streets of NI manages very well to tell it like it really was.

I tend not to read a lot these days because there are so many ways of passing our free time relaxing what with iPads and Netflix etc but I may well buy this book.
 

Nato12345

Old-Salt
I have a couple of his books. They’re very good reading on a subject that most people pretty much ignore because of politics. Over 750 troops were killed in NI and thousands more suffered terrible injuries and yet it wasn’t a war!

My children brought me one of his books as a Christmas present quite some years ago now. Ken had canvassed NI veterans for anecdotes about their time there on tour. I sat down on that Christmas morning and began reading the stories and soon came across one where I exclaimed to my kids, “crikey I remember this, I was there!”

I then turned the page to read the rest of the story and found myself to my great surprise reading my name in the book. I’d been included in the story. I said to my kids, “I’m in this book!” Well there was one or two words in front of that exclamation that I can’t really write here.

I’d prefer not to have been in the book because the story was about the brutal murder of a friend and colleague who was killed just a few yards from the front gate to Girdwood Park. He had a young family including an unborn baby due to be born within a few weeks. A child who would never know their father because some killer thug shot their father in something that wasn’t really a war according to some people.

I’d much sooner that my name wasn’t there not because I value my anonymity but because if it wasn’t, then perhaps this brutal murder might not have happened and the children of my friend and colleague might through all these years have enjoyed having their father around and no doubt by now, like me, he would be a grandfather proudly seeing his grandchildren running around the house playing with each other.

Ken Wharton having been one of us on the streets of NI manages very well to tell it like it really was.

I tend not to read a lot these days because there are so many ways of passing our free time relaxing what with iPads and Netflix etc but I may well buy this book.

Yep, seen more than a few of my buds quoted in these books .... plus myself as well. Swift and Bold Ken.
 

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