By Vincent Kearney BBC News NI Home Affairs Correspondent
Tim Francis still clearly recalls the moment a car bomb blew him off his feet and across a street in Londonderry. He walked away unscathed, but that day in 1974 marked the end of his dream of a career in the British army.
"My clear recollection of that time is actually flying through the air and thinking to myself, 'I'm number four', because we'd lost three guys previously," he said. "I think that was the final straw on my Army career.
Tim Francis left his home in Wales to join the Army when he was just 16 as an apprentice surveyor. Three years later, he was sent to Northern Ireland as a member of the Royal Artillery Regiment. During his first tour, he was based in Newtownhamilton in south Armagh. "Initially when we went there we went to shops, we could buy cigarettes, we could buy whatever we needed from local shops," he said. "But gradually that became more of a problem and we were no longer welcome.
"During his four months there, the teenage soldier was in an armoured truck, a Humber Pig, that hit a landmine. "There was a big flash, bang, we were lifted off the ground," he recalled. "We seemed to be in the air for quite a while, but it couldn't have been very long, and then hit the ground with a big bang. Incredibly, none of the soldiers inside were injured.
The driver managed to bring the vehicle under control and they drove back to their barracks.
Members of the regiment based in Crossmaglen and Forkhill were engaged in lengthy gun battles during the tour. In one, he said, it's estimated that about 3,000 rounds were exchanged when an army patrol was attacked by an IRA gang firing from just across the border in the Republic of Ireland. Eighteen months after that tour ended, Tim Francis was sent back to Northern Ireland for a second. This time he was based in Derry. "That was much more difficult than the first tour," he said. "A very unfriendly atmosphere generally there, a lot of danger, a lot of bomb incidents, serious injuries, deaths. It wasn't a good tour.
Three members of his unit were killed during the tour, including one of his friends, on 21 June 1974. He was Sergeant John Haughey."He was leading a foot patrol, he took cover behind what was a junction box for either electricity or telephone, it had an explosive device fitted inside it, and somebody detonated it."
Some members of his unit witnessed the attack and saw their friend die "It was horrible, absolutely horrible," he recalled. It was somebody that I knew and respected, I knew he was a good guy. As it happened, from an Irish Catholic background. "It's very difficult to put into words how the whole unit feels when that happens. It's as though you've lost a very dear brother.
The following month he was caught up in the car bomb attack that flung him into the air and across a street. He resigned from the army five months later. Members of regular regiments of the British Army killed 302 people during the Troubles; 159 were civilians. All of those killings are now being re-investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) Legacy Investigation Branch, as part of a review of all killings during the Troubles.
A number of former soldiers have recently been charged with murder. Regimental associations, a number of MPs and national newspapers have claimed former soldiers are being treated unfairly because the PSNI has prioritised military killings. The PSNI has said that is not the case and that all Troubles killings are being reviewed with the same investigative rigour.
Some MPs have called for emergency legislation to prohibit former soldiers being prosecuted. Tim Francis does not support a blanket ban on prosecutions, but says he shares the view that former soldiers are being treated unfairly. He said there was too much focus on the army and not enough on former members of the IRA and other paramilitary organisations.
"By and large I don't think the current situation regarding prosecutions is justified whatsoever," he said. "Because I don't see it happening in the opposite direction, I don't see it happening to, presumably they are still alive, people who killed people that I knew. I don't see those prosecutions happening. The former soldier said he does not believe those who killed his friend in the bomb attack he witnessed in Derry were ever prosecuted.