British Priest Who Died During “the Troubles”: “I Am Only Doing God’s Will”

The paratroop brigade thought the world of him.  His friends described him as “gay, outgoing, generous and energetic.”

On February 22, 1972, Fr. Gerard Weston, chaplain with the Paratroop Regiment in Belfast, died along with six civilians when the Irish Republican Army detonated a car bomb at Aldershot, a town southwest of London.  It was the first major act of war against the British Army on English soil.

The young priest 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, he joined the British Army as an army 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, talking with local people in an effort to reduce tension. He was in great personal danger, especially when a rumor began circulating that a British soldier was operating in the area, disguised as a Roman Catholic priest. For his own safety, his commanding officer eventually ordered his withdrawal from Northern Ireland.

On February 15, 1972, he was awarded the MBE (the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for bravery.

Only seven days later, Father Weston drove his car to the the Officers’ Mess 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, in retaliation for the deaths of 26 civil rights protesters and bystanders in the Bogside area of Derry, in Northern Ireland, just three weeks earlier in what was called the “Bloody Sunday” attack. Public revulsion for the attack was in part responsible for the IRA’s ordering a ceasefire three months later.

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 Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Crosby.

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