John Vane’s London Stories: A Tube driver died in someone else’s war

John Vane’s London Stories: A Tube driver died in someone else’s war

There used to be a lot of bombs about, starting with four of them in cars. Two went off, including one outside the Old Bailey which killed a man and injured 180 others.

That was on 8 March 1973, the year of Quadrophenia and Carry on Girls. Three years later, and two years after the ones in Guildford and Birmingham, a bomb was defused at Oxford Circus station and another went off on an empty train near Cannon Street, injuring eight people on board another one.

Then, on 15 March 1976, a five-pounder exploded in the front carriage of a westbound Metropolitan Line train leaving West Ham station during the late afternoon peak. Travelling with it was Adrian Donnelly, usually known by his middle name Vincent. Donnelly was from Donegal and had been living in London for a few years.

Reportedly, the bomb began leaking smoke, prompting Donnelly to throw it to the other end of the carriage where it went it off, blowing a hole in the train and injuring nine of Donnelly’s fellow passengers.

The driver stopped the train and got out. Donnelly got out too. The BBC reported that the driver, named as Julius Stephen, pursued Donnelly before the Irishman took out a gun and shot him dead. Post Office engineer Peter Chalk, working nearby, also chased Donnelly, who shot him too, wounding him seriously.

Out on the street, Donnelly is said to have threatened passers-by with his revolver but was cornered by police, including a PC Raymond Kiff, before shooting himself in the chest. He survived and in 1977 was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in jail.

Donnelly’s suspected target was rush-hour Liverpool Street. His failure did not deter the Provisional Irish Republican Army from continuing its attacks in London and elsewhere in England.

The day after the incident at West Ham a bomb went off on a Tube train at Wood Green. Later that month a bomb planted by the “Provos” in a litter bin at the Olympia exhibition centre where the Ideal home Exhibition was taking place, injured 85 people, one of whom died from her wounds three weeks later.

That was not the end of it. IRA operations continued in the capital for another 20 years. They included twice bombing Harrods, in 1983 and 1993, and executing the Bishopsgate attack of 1993 – leading to the Square Mile’s security “ring of steel” – and the huge Docklands attack in 1996.

Two years after that, Adrian Vincent Donnelly became one the first IRA prisoners to be released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Julius Stephen, the Tube train driver whose life he ended, was a 34 year-old West Indian Londoner who lived in Twickenham with his wife Janet and their four year-old son.

Like his killer, Stephen was perhaps known by his middle name rather than his forename. That would seem to explain why the plaque in his memory unveiled at West Ham station earlier this year, refers to him as Joseph Stephen. If so, the similarity ends there for the Tube train driver who fatally became a victim of someone else’s war.

John Vane writes word sketches of London. Sometimes he makes things up. Follow John on Twitter.

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Categories: Culture, John Vane's London Stories

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