In the summer of 1969 Clive Limpkin was a staff photographer on the now defunct Daily Sketch. He’d found the job unrewarding, and was wondering if he wouldn’t be more interested in copywriting, going to J Walter Thompson for an interview. He didn’t take the job because of the meagre salary.
He went back to the Sketch, where the picture editor had got wind of his intentions: he said:
— Ulster. Apprentice Boys march in Derry on Tuesday. We think the shit could hit the fan.
On the day, nothing much happened; Limpkin photographed the marchers going up and down. He retired to the City Hotel, and dozed over a coffee. The porter roused him.
— Are youse a photographer then? It’s all happenin’ now.
— What is?
— It’s all started — in William Street.
— Oh, F—!
Limpkin realised he’d nearly missed the main event. He spent the next days photographing the rioting between the Bogsiders and the RUC, B Specials and the British Army, witnessing pure sectarian hatred. It started, Limpkin says, when a nationalist threw something at the marchers.
On the first day he nearly ran out of film; he ran into a chemist’s and bought the entire stock. “The pictures came on like a tap — all you had to do was press the button.” He was photographing what came to be called the Battle of Bogside.
Limpkin became the go-to photographer for the Troubles, though a bad call at the picture desk meant that he missed Bloody Sunday.
Eventually, Fleet Street tired of images of rioting and the Troubles, “no room for them” they said. Limpkin took his images to Penguin, and within a few days they agreed to publish The Battle of Bogside both in the UK and in the US.
His pictures were exhibited at the Photographers’ Gallery in London, and in the National Portrait Gallery.
Limpkin was awarded the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 1972 with a citation reading: “For superlative photography requiring exceptional courage and enterprise abroad”. Capa was the enigmatic European war photographer of the middle part of the last century, who said, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. True advice, but dangerous in a war zone.
For the fiftieth anniversary of the events of the Battle of Bogside, Limpkin’s book has been republished by the Guildhall Press, in association with The Museum of Free Derry and the Bloody Sunday Trust. Limpkin has slightly revised the original text.
The pictures — there are around 150 — are arranged partly chronologically and partly thematically, under headings such as Day One; British Troops Arrive…; …and the ‘B Specials’; The Children; and Living with the Troubles.
There is to be a formal launch of the book at the Museum of Free Derry on Tuesday 13 August at 7pm (here); admission is free. Clive Limpkin will be there.
The new edition of The Battle of Bogside is available from Guildhall Press (here); it’s on amazon (here), though the fulfilment is through Little Acorns Bookstore in Derry; that’s where I got my copy. It came expeditiously, and with a delightful little note thanking me for my order. If you like black and white photographs, if you are interested in the Troubles, then I thoroughly recommend this book.
At the very end of the book there is a page titled ‘The Solution’. Limpkin writes:
In the early months of the Troubles, three ‘solutions’ to the problem were proposed… and then describes them briefly.
Lt Col Mitchell suggested taking 100 suspected terrorists and shooting them; “by the time you’ve knocked off ten, the other ninety will be in Killarney.”
L Marsland Gander suggested a Great Wall of Ulster, like the ones in safari parks.
General Walker suggested “going in” after the food and fuel supply had been cut off, and after the women and children were allowed to escape.
“The Petrol Bomber” by honestjoe is licensed under CC BY-ND
Robert Campbell is a retired surgeon.