Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 17:10 UK

Boss who took bombs off buses dies

Werner Heubeck
Werner Heubeck was head of Ulsterbus until 1988

A man who made a name as the boss who took bombs from the buses during the Troubles in Northern Ireland has died.

Werner Heubeck, the former managing director of Ulsterbus and Citybus, died aged 86 in hospital in the Shetland Islands on Monday.

His years in the Luftwaffe helped form the man who was determined to keep the bus service running through Northern Ireland's darkest days.

He ran the public bus service from 1965 until he retired in 1988.

During the Troubles he became famous for carrying bombs from hijacked buses around Belfast.

Mr Heubeck was born in Nuremberg in 1923, the son of an engineer, and was conscripted into the Luftwaffe in 1942, aged 19.

He served with the Hermann Goering division in western France, then in Italy, before being despatched to join Rommel's Afrika Korps in the last stages of the north African campaign.

An air attack on the transport ships pitched the young man into the sea, four and a half miles from the African coast, but he not only swam to the coast at Cape Bon, but helped rescue some of his comrades; only 60 of the original 550 on board survived.

Captured soon afterwards, he was taken to the United States on the last prisoner of war convoy, in September 1943, to spend the rest of the war in a work camp in Louisiana.


Repatriated in 1946, Mr Heubeck helped his family to rebuild their home in Nuremberg, and to provide for a total of nine people, including a homeless elderly couple billeted with them.

After a period working for the American army, he secured work as a translator and proof reader at the Nuremberg war crime trials.

It was there he met Monica, his future wife. She was from South Wales and also employed as an interpreter. She had studied German before the war, and been involved in intelligence activity, based at Bletchley Park.

In 1949, despite the bureaucratic difficulties facing German citizens entering Britain, they came to Britain to marry and settle. Mr Heubeck took out British naturalisation papers five years later.

In 1957, he moved into the paper industry, joining Alex Pirie & Sons at Stoneywood, near Aberdeen.

He recalled that he saw, almost accidentally, the advertisement for managing director for buses in Northern Ireland, and prepared for the successful interview by spending a day with the local bus manager in Aberdeen and taking a weekend in Northern Ireland.

From his appointment in 1965, he turned the economic fortunes of Northern Ireland's bus operations around.

The Troubles during the 1970s and 1980s presented Mr Heubeck with his greatest challenge.

He rallied the staff to keep the bus services running throughout difficult times when buses were being burnt out on the streets.

He was known to the public for his exploits in lifting bombs off buses, but he also supported staff and their families.

Jogging 'target'

Keen on physical fitness, at one time he was given a strong reprimand by the police, because his jogging route around the Belfast Docks area afforded no security for such a public figure.

In recognition of his early achievements, he was awarded the OBE in 1977, to be followed by the award of the CBE for his services to public transport in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 1988, the year of his retirement.

During retirement near Glenoe, County Antrim, he created numerous handcrafted artefacts and furnishings.

Many of these were commissions for churches, and he had made pieces for more than 40 churches across Ireland before he closed up the workshop and moved to Shetland, where one of his three sons works as a professional ornithologist, monitoring the seabird populations around the coast.

Monica, his wife of 60 years, died in September 2009. He, himself, had been fighting cancer for 30 years. He is survived by his three sons.

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