On this day, February 22, 1972, Father Gerard Weston CF, chaplains with the Paratroop Regiment in Belfast, died along with six civilians when the Irish Republican Army detonated a car bomb at Aldershot. It was the first major act of war against the British Army on English soil. Father Gerry is the last RAChD Chaplains to be killed in hostile action.
As a young priest he had been ordained by Archbishop Heenan in 1960, and spent his first years of priesthood as curate at St Benedict’s Church in Hindley, Wigan, where he founded a very successful youth club. After six years as a parish priest, in 1966 he joined the British Army as chaplain. He served in Germany, the Persian Gulf, Kenya and Northern Ireland.
During the height of the ‘Troubles’ Father Gerry frequently went alone to the dangerous areas of Ballymurphy and Turf Lodge in Belfast. His commanding officer, Lt Col Howlett, said “Padre Weston was an absolutely tremendous Roman Catholic priest, he did a tremendous amount to try and bridge the gap between the Catholic community and the Catholic Church and our soldiers. He was continually going around into Catholic estates to try and achieve this, very often by himself and obviously unarmed”. He was in great personal danger, especially when a rumour circulated that a British soldier was operating in the area, disguised as a priest. For his own safety, his commanding officer eventually ordered his withdrawal from Northern Ireland.
On February 17, 1972, he was ordered the MBE (the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for bravery. Only seven days later, Father Weston drove his car to the Officer’s Mass of the 16th Parachute Brigade in Aldershot. As he was exiting his vehicle, a huge bomb exploded-instantly killing him along with six civilians. The IRA claimed responsibility.
Father Gerry’s last words to his parish priest at Great Crosby, Fr. Francis Danher, explaining his planned return to Northern Ireland, were “I am only doing God’s will.”
He is buried in the churchyard at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Crosby.