Book review: Sunday, Bloody Sunday



Jake Harper-Ronald had no quiet life, and as the title of this autobiography suggests, he was indeed present in Derry on Sunday, January 30, 1972, when British paratroopers opened fire on a pro-Republican protest march, killing at least 13.

Lance Corporal Harper-Ronald was at the time an intelligence clerk and photographer with the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, and was deployed there that morning to photograph events – and photograph them he did – many of the shots are reproduced here.

Harper-Ronald was born in Potchefstroom into a military family that later migrated to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where he later did his national service. He then migrated to Britain, joined the “Paras” and “enjoyed” several years of strife and trouble in Northern Ireland – including the events later immortalised by the rock group U2.

He returned to Rhodesia in 1974 in order to join the Special Air Service (SAS), serving there for several years before barracks politics pushed him towards the Selous Scouts, the British South Africa Police’s Special Branch and the counter-intelligence division of Robert Mugabe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). After being accused of being a South African spy, mainly on the basis of his race and former Selous Scouts affiliation, indeed became a double agent for SA’s National Intelligence Service. He also moonlighted for the British and the US, who in the early 1980s seemed to have had a very close relationship with the CIO, so much so that the latter helped British intelligence bug the new Libyan embassy and assisted their American cousins in acquiring photos of Cuban intelligence operatives posted to Harare. This was an exciting time for Harper-Ronald and an eye-opener for the reader.

In 1989 Harper-Ronald left the CIO and went to Mozambique to work as a security contractor for Lomaco, on a British SIS pay cheque. There he ran a company militia fighting RENAMO and other unidentified “bandits”. Among the farms he protected was that of Graça Machel.

In 1993 he started a new business with a new wife in Zimbabwe, but this died in 2002 as Mugabe’s thugs destroyed the country’s agrarian and tourist economy. This led to the last dramatic episode in is life, two stints as a private mlitary contractor in Iraq.

By then he had suffered and recovered from an initial bout of cancer. It returned in 2006 and Harper-Ronald lost the fight in August the next year. He was 59 and had just completed a draft of this book.

Harper-Ronald was no Eisenhower or even a Ron Reid-Daly. He did not loom large in history. But he has told a story, the story of his life, with pathos and a great sense of humour – and that makes for an easy and great read. 

Sunday, Bloody Sunday: A Soldier’s War in Northern Ireland, Rhodesia, Mozambique and Iraq

Jake Harper-Ronald as told to Greg Budd