Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the Guildford bombings
The devastated Horse and Groom pub in North Street
On the night of Saturday October 5 1974, IRA bombs ripped through two Guildford pubs, claiming the lives of five young people and injuring more than 65 others.
Many more lives were shaped by the events that night, which became a defining moment in the history of the town.
The first blast was at 8.50pm at the Horse and Groom in North Street, with the second at the Seven Stars in Swan Lane 35 minutes later. No warning was given of either explosion.
The device in the Horse and Groom was thought to be 10lb of nitro glycerine, hidden under a bench seat in the corner of the pub. It was probably powered by a battery and a stopwatch served as a timer.
“Nothing was real,” said, one of the drinkers in the pub that night, Sammy Norris.
“One minute it was laughter and the jukebox was playing, then screams and moans.”
A member of the public made the first 999 call to Guildford ambulance depot at 8.50pm. A message from the police headquarters followed one minute later.
The Horse and Groom was full of customers when the first bomb went off
The county town was measurably different to Guildford of 2014.
The army presence at Stoughton, Pirbright and Aldershot meant the town centre was a popular destination for soldiers, and Guildford was on the edge of one of the largest army training complexes in the country at the height of the Troubles.
The bombers knew this only too well. Soldiers were paid on a Thursday and weekend nights would be when they would head out of the barracks.
The Horse and Groom was popular because it was reputed to have the cheapest beer in town. The Seven Stars had a disco.
Servicemen and women would start their evening at the Horse and Groom and then move on to the Seven Stars.
It was believed this was the reason why the Seven Stars bomb was detonated later that night.
Police officers who were on the scene recalled that at first the bomb at the Horse and Groom was thought to be a gas explosion.
Initial reports suggested it had not been considered that more pubs would be targeted after the Horse and Groom explosion, and consequently it was only after the second blast at the Seven Stars that all other pubs were evacuated.
Seven Stars publican Brian Owen O’Brien evacuated his pub after hearing about what had happened. Between 150 and 200 people had been there earlier that evening.
The Surrey Advertiser reported that Mr O’Brien heard the first blast and left the pub to see what had happened. After seeing the horrific damage, he rushed back to his pub and told everyone to get out.
Brian Pool, a Welsh Guardsman, also worked part time behind the bar at the Seven Stars.
He said the pub was busy that evening but emptied after the first explosion when Mr O’Brien told them to leave.
They heard there had been an explosion at the Horse and Groom. The two men checked the pub and nearby shop doorways but found nothing.
Minutes later the second bomb went off, injuring Mr O’Brien and his wife, four pub staff and a girl who was walking past. They had searched the pub but could not find anything.
The 35-year-old landlord suffered cuts to his head and hands and ended up hospitalised.
“I am sure that the bomb was under a cushion on the bench seats around the bar, ” he said.
“That was the only place we did not look.”
The Surrey Daily Advertiser’s front page after the bombings
Of the five people killed in the Horse and Groom, four of them were teenagers.
They were Caroline Slater, 18, from Cannock, and Ann Hamilton, from Crewe, who was 19 – both were training at Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Pirbright.
Two teenage boys undertaking basic training for the Scots Guards at Pirbright also lost their lives that dreadful night.
William Forsyth, 18, and John Hunter, 17, came from the same street in Barrhead, Renfrewshire, Scotland.
The other victim, the only civilian killed, was 22-year-old plasterer Paul Craig, from Borehamwood.
He had travelled from Hertfordshire to Guildford with the parents of friend Carol Ann Burns, who was based at barracks in Stoughton.
Carol Ann had turned 19 and Paul would have celebrated his 23rd birthday the next day.
A total of 17 ambulances including four military vehicles took bodies and casualties to the Royal Surrey, Farnham Road and Cambridge Military hospitals.
Recollections from the time said that a garage opposite the Royal Surrey was used as a temporary mortuary.
The hunt for the bombers saw four men jailed for life before their convictions were quashed in 1989.
The Guildford Four included Gerry Conlon, who died in Belfast in June this year following a long battle with illness.
See also Guildford Pub bombings – a policeman recalls the horror