Memories and Remembrances

Three years ago today I went to work by bus. I could have walked, but I didn’t. When I arrived, I started the morning with a cup of coffee – the regular pattern back then. I arrived before most people and liked the moments of quiet before I got going.  Then people started to drift in talking about problems on the underground – on the buses too. Most of us were in the office by that time and we turned to the BBC website for some information about what was going on.

07 11 10 031 Looking towards St Pauls

First they said it was a power failure, then some talk about gas explosions, no-one really knew. Then news about a bomb on a bus, and then more news about more bombs on local buses. Much confusion – lots of rumours. The telephones had all gone down by this point. Mobile phones and landlines. The Internet was still working and I got an email from my sister asking if I was ok. She said there was trouble in the city. We heard the police sirens. We heard the ambulance sirens.

We were told not to leave the office and that our managers had to account for all of us. When the phones came back, we all phoned everyone we had been due to visit that day to tell them we couldn’t come. No-one was surprised.

Everyone knew someone who could have been affected. It comes from living in the city and the underground network being so extensive. Parents whose children went to schools in the city, spouses with partners working in the centre. Close friends, more distant friends, acquaintances.  Everyone had someone they were worried about. No-one could make contact – not for a few hours.

We sat together – not knowing whether to stay or to go- the relentless chatter dying out as we ran out of things to say to each other – and the things we didn’t need to say to each other.

We went home late that day. We were asked, those who lived within about an hours’ walk of the office, if we could put up colleagues in our homes. There was talk of a shelter being set up.  Although the offer was there, in the end, everyone wanted to go home – no matter how far it was – the buses started to clunk back into action later in the evening.  But I walked home that night – on the roads with many others, there were no cars around that evening – not as I remember it.

murky murky at Flickr

A few days later, our council – the Social Services Department anyway, was asked, as all Social Services Departments in London were, I believe,  to provide social workers for the Relatives Reception Centre at the The Royal Horticultural Halls near Victoria. I am not at all sure how I got to be one of the people to go. I honestly can’t remember the process of deciding who was going to go. I know I volunteered and then was given a day to go down there. I was glad to be able to do something but had no idea what to expect – nor what form the help that I had volunteered would take.

I was told when I arrived, that a new way of coordinating disaster relief was being used. Families and people affected were directed to the hall where we were. There was to be a central point of contact in which all agencies that might be able to offer help would be located.

Access was limited to those who were brought in by the police – namely those who were either directly affected or had a close family member who was directly affected.

We (the social workers) were there alongside the Metropolitan Police, Salvation Army, Transport for London, CRUSE Bereavement Services, Victim Support and no doubt many other services I don’t remember.

I was told that the model of providing a centrally located ‘one stop shop’ type place for the people affected was a result of disaster-planning that had taken place in consultation with the US authorities following the destruction of the World Trade Centre. It had been in place – the behind-the-scenes mechanics of the preparations for an attack that was never really a great surprise.

The lead authority would be chosen depending on where the disaster occurred and other authorities would be called on to help.

We  were available to provide advice and support – let people know what would be available and coordinate with their own local authorities. Of course, this was generic work at its most generic as the people attending could have been from anywhere – but as it happens – one of those things, the first person who came to us actually did live where I work – so at least in that case I was able to advise with a bit more assurance.

Mostly, it was, at that stage, confused and distressed people. Family members of people who were still in hospital asking about what kinds of things could happen when they came home – if they were able to. Or injured parents who wanted to know how to visit and support each other while maintaining as  much normality for their children.

I felt humbled and still do that I was able to play at least a very minor part in the those days. On 7th July 2005, 52 people died and 700 were injured on three underground trains and one bus.

The city pulled herself up and moved on. But she didn’t forget.

07 10 28 010 Covent Garden

11 thoughts on “Memories and Remembrances

  1. That is amazing that you were able to play a role in helping people affected by those attacks in London. It’s hard for me to fathom what it must have been like for you. I remember how it was when 9/11 happened and I was separated from that by our entire country. I can’t imagine being so close to such an event.

  2. The scale was different from the 9/11but the impact I think was immediate. We all knew it could have been any one of us. The transport network is so pervasive in this city – everyone uses public transport here. I don’t even have a driving licence and have never felt the need for one in London.

    Thanks for the comment, Amy. It seems in some ways, like a long time back but it really wasn’t.

  3. That was such a vivid account of the day, a really interesting account I cannot believe its already three years ago. I remember being at school when we found out, everyone was trying to call parents who worked in london and loads of us were allowed into the sixthform commonroom to watch the news on their tv. I remember all the unknown, the lack of facts allowing your mind to wonder over hundreds of worst cases. Hannah X

  4. I didn’t remember this day marked such a sad reminder. Only now that gas prices are so high are people starting to use public transportation here – the public transit system in my smaller city is pitiful. But I guarantee if several buses/trains were blown up, it would take a very long time for people to ride them again, if ever.

    The only similar experience I’ve had was after Hurricane Katrina. Everyone who worked for my agency- hundreds of employees- had to report to the Civic Center, the largest enclosed public space in my city, and assist thousands of people by taking their information and filling out food stamp applications. Probably more than 15 thousand when it was all over. The requirements were much lower than in normal times, so nearly everyone was eligible for food assistance at some level. We were there 12 hours a day for 5 days in a row. It was a very exhausting experience. I realize the obvious differences – larger scale, natural disaster vs. terrorist attack, etc. But, when you are in the position of helping people after a traumatic event of any kind, you can’t help but absorb their trauma. I can only imagine the feelings of those you saw after that event. And did you take some of their trauma home with you? I think secondary traumatic stress is totally overlooked in our lines of work and really should be studied more.

  5. Thanks for the comments. One of the things I remember most is the way that rumours spread, Hannah, so people had heard some things and noone really knew. At some point people were saying there had been a bomb at the end of the street we were in and things like that.
    It’s interesting, LA because I know a lot of people who said they would never use the underground again – they all do now because there isn’t really an alternative. It really doesn’t make sense to drive in the city.
    Of course, the scale of Katrina would have been much much bigger. All I can say is, from here, I followed the news with disbelief and concern.
    I really do think that secondary traumatic stress can be a big issue. In the case above, I was dealing very much with the practical side of things and so it wasn’t as bad for me as it was for the people providing the counselling services alongside us.
    I have though, had some difficulties managing some of the things in other situations that I have talked through at work. It can seem a bit of a weakness when you are supposed to be supporting someone and you find it hard to ‘manage’ the things that they are telling you about but I think that’s where peer support and supervision need to come in.
    And thanks Welshcakes for dropping by – your news from Sicily is warming in many ways.. I have very fond memories of the island..

  6. I was at home the day of the Bradford City Football Club Fire Saturday 11th May 1985 – I got called to go into work – I worked in ICU at the time – I ended up in Casualty – Not a day I will forget. 56 people died.

  7. I can imagine, Silvawingz. I remember when that happened although through a child’s eyes. I think that must have had a big effect, I wonder if any support was given there to the staff at the hospital afterwards..

  8. I love that you are able to remember this day with thankfulness for your ability to participate in a supportive way. I don’t often think of social workers as national security response team members, but it’s true that we can serve the broader community in this way. I’m glad the plan included social workers as part of the response, and that you were there. Thanks for the reminder that we can offer our settings such as this.

  9. Thanks. I have to say, when I was asked to go I was worried there would be some kind of counselling involved which I would have been ill-equipped to deal with.. as it was, I can definitely see the place of it in terms of people wanting to know about more practical support that can be offered, even if it was in terms of a few months ahead as regards one person who was asking about his daughter who had lost a leg. Sometimes practicalities can be very reassuring..

  10. Agreed–practicalities can be very reassuring. In fact, you almost have to work on a practical level before you can hope for successful counseling, I think. But what do I know, I also shy away from straight up therapy.

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