Deal barracks bombing

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Deal barracks bombing
Part of The Troubles
Location Royal Marine barracks, Deal, England
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Date 22 September 1989
08:22 (GMT)
Target Royal Marines School of Music
Attack type
Time bomb
Deaths 11 Royal Marines
Non-fatal injuries
21 Royal Marines
Perpetrator Provisional IRA

The Deal barracks bombing was an attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on a Royal Marines barracks in Deal, England. It took place at 8:22 am on 22 September 1989, when the IRA exploded a time bomb at the Royal Marines School of Music building. The building collapsed, killing 11 marines from the Royal Marines Band Service and wounding another 21.


The Royal Marines School of Music is a professional training centre for musicians of the Royal Marines Band Service, the musical arm of the Royal Navy. It takes students at school-leavers age of 16 and trains them for 32 months to become both professional musicians and battlefield medics.[citation needed] Originally created at Portsmouth in 1930, it moved to Deal in 1950 and in 1989 was still there as part of the Walmer Barracks.[1] Throughout the 1980s, the IRA had been waging a paramilitary campaign against targets in Britain and Northern Ireland with the stated aim of achieving the separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.[2] These operations had included an attempt to kill the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and a similar attack on a military band in London in 1982.


At 8:22am on 22 September 1989, a 15 lb (6.8 kg) time bomb detonated in the recreational centre changing room at the Royal Marines School of Music.[3][4][5] The blast destroyed the recreational centre, levelled the three-story accommodation building next to it and caused extensive damage to the rest of the base and nearby civilian homes.[3] The blast was heard several kilometres away, shaking windows in the centre of Deal, and created a large pall of smoke over the town.[3] Most of the personnel who used the building as a barracks had already risen and were practising marching on the parade ground when the blast occurred. These marines witnessed the buildings collapse, and many of the teenaged personnel were in a state of shock for days afterwards.[6]

Some marines had remained behind in the building, and thus received the full force of the explosion. Many were trapped in the rubble for hours and military heavy lifting equipment was needed to clear much of it. Kent Ambulance Service voluntarily agreed to end its industrial strike action to aid those wounded by the blast. Ten marines died at the scene with most trapped in the collapsed building, although one body was later found on the roof of a nearby house.[6] Another 21 were seriously injured and received treatment at hospitals in Deal and Canterbury. One of these men, 21-year-old Christopher Nolan, died of his wounds on 18 October 1989. Three of those killed were buried nearby at the Hamilton Road Cemetery, Deal.


Grave of Mark Petch, one of the dead bandsmen
Memorial bandstand at Walmer Green

The IRA claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was a continuation of their campaign to rid Northern Ireland of all British troops who had been deployed there since 1969.[6] Many British people were shocked at the attack, carried out on a ceremonial military band whose only military training was geared towards saving lives.[6][7] The public were also shocked by the ages of those killed, as many were new recruits to the School and most of those injured were teenagers.[2]

The British Government also condemned the IRA's attack. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made a statement from Moscow, where she was on an official visit, saying that she was "shocked and extremely sad".[4] Leader of the opposition, Neil Kinnock, described the attack as an "awful atrocity" and said, "Even the people who say they support what the IRA calls its cause must be sickened by the way in which such death and injury is mercilessly inflicted".[4]

The Commandant General Royal Marines Lieutenant-General Sir Martin Garrod appeared on television soon after the bombing condemning the bombers as "thugs, extortionists, torturers, murderers and cowards – the scum of the earth". Further ""We will emerge stronger and more determined than ever before to end and destroy this foul and dark force of evil."[8]

The base's security caused controversy as this was partly provided by a private security firm. This arrangement prompted a thorough review of security procedures at all British military bases and the replacement of the firm's employees at Deal with Royal Marine guards.[4]

One week after the bombing, the staff and students of the School of Music marched through the town of Deal, watched and applauded by thousands of spectators. They maintained gaps in their ranks to mark the positions of those unable to march through death or serious injury.[7] A memorial bandstand was constructed at Walmer Green to the memory of those who "only ever wanted to play music".[9] A memorial in the Walmer Barracks chapel was destroyed when the building burnt down in 2003, but the site is now a memorial garden.[10] The surviving barracks at Walmer were converted into flats when the base was decommissioned in 1996, and the School of Music is once again based in Portsmouth.[1]

Every year the Royal Marines Band from Portsmouth visit the memorial bandstand in Deal to pay their respects to those who died in the bombing. In July 2009, a memorial concert and re-dedication ceremony was held at the bandstand on Walmer Green, attended by thousands.[11]

Deal Parochial Church of England School now stands in the former barracks' Drill Fields. A large carved stone bearing the Globe and Laurel (the cap badge and emblem of the Royal Marines) sits at the entrance of the school. It originally adorned one of the buildings facing the parade square in the barracks. On Tuesday 22nd September 2015, the 26th anniversary of the bombing, following a restoration of the stone by the school's Year 6 pupils, the school held a rededication service to mark the role played by the Royal Marines in the town.

No one has ever been arrested or convicted in connection with the Deal bombing.[10]

There were security warnings given by local people in 1988 and early 1989. These do not appear in the Admiralty Board of Inquiry Report. Kent Police have always refused to investigate how they dealt with the warnings. In August 1997 the Kent Police Authority called for an inquiry and report (during Deputy Chief Constable Bob Ayling's investigation into the Stephen Lawrence murder case) with common lines of inquiry concerning former users of Deal Royal Marines Barracks and a Detective in the Lawrence case, however Kent's Chief Constable (David Phillips) refused to conduct the called for inquiry. In December 1998 a formal application was sent to the then Home Secretary Jack Straw seeking compulsion of the called for inquiry, however in March 1999 Straw refused. Ronnie Flanagan, the RUC Chief Constable at the time, expressed concerns at Straw's decision and David Phillips, Kent Chief Constable, abruptly left the Rosemary Nelson murder inquiry in Ulster, being replaced by the Deputy Chief Constable of Norfolk, Colin Port.

In 2003 General De Chasterlain Good Friday Agreement Arms Decommissioner made a report of concern and questioned his terms of reference. This was essentially about whether private military training based in Deal Royal Marines Barracks in 1980s satisfied legal requirement of Crown Authority Unlawful Drilling Act 1819 Kevan Jones MP for MOD replied to Joan Walley MP on 4th Nov 2009 under ref MCO 4902 2009 that MOD had no record of Crown Authority for the paramilitary training provider who had based himself in Deal Barracks 1970s and 1980s. On the face of it the Arms Decommissioners would in fact have been entitled to deploy to Kent to investigate the security history that had been omitted from the Admiralty Board report into the bombing. . The Northern Ireland Office says it has no record now of what advice they gave Gen De Chasterlain in 2003.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 [dead link], 'Royal Marines School of Music', retrieved 6 March 2007
  2. 2.0 2.1 P.374, Williams & Head
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 P.376, Williams & Head
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 BBC On This Day, '1989 Ten dead in Kent barracks bomb', retrieved 6 March 2007
  5. CAIN incorrectly states that the bomb was placed in the concert hall at the base. CAIN database, Chronology of the Conflict – 1989, retrieved on 6 March 2007
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 P.377, Williams & Head
  7. 7.0 7.1 BBC On This Day, '1989 Remembering the Deal bombing', retrieved 6 March 2007
  8. Lieutenant-General Sir Martin Garrod, Daily Telegraph
  9. Inscribed on the bandstand, P.379, Williams & Head
  10. 10.0 10.1 P.379, Williams & Head
  11. "Concert recalls 11 killed by IRA". BBC News. 12 July 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Anne Williams & Vivian Head (2006). Terror Attacks: The Violent Expression of Desperation – Attack on the Royal Marine School of Music. Futura. ISBN 0-7088-0783-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • "'Mental scars' of IRA bomb survivor". BBC News. 12 July 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> – report on the continuing effects of the attack