Today is the tenth anniversary of the terrorist bombings that hit London during the morning rush hour on Thursday the 7th of July, 2005. Three Underground stations were targeted, with attacks by suicide bombers sitting in packed trains. Later, a bus was also blown up, by the last bomber. He had been unable to get on a train, so decided to explode his device on the top deck of a crowded bus instead. This was not an attack by foreigners, as those responsible were all British. It was not an attack on the military, or any specific group, as the victims were of all races and creeds, and from every walk of life.
Fifty-two people were killed, including the bombers of course. More than seven hundred were injured, many of them seriously, including traumatic amputations, burns, and various other life-changing injuries. Those who survived, and those who went to help them on that morning, will bear the emotional scars too, for the rest of their lives. It remains the second largest loss of life on UK soil from a terrorist incident, after the Lockerbie Air Disaster. The attack was planned to coincide with the announcement that London had won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics, and was carried out by Islamic Fundamentalists, British men radicalised by teaching received in certain mosques.
The centre of London was brought to a standstill. The public transport system was halted, the mobile phone networks overloaded. The sense of shock was palpable, and everyone who could help, in any way, did so. The emergency services were all deployed at full stretch. Paramedics, Fire-Fighters, Transport Police, and Metropolitan Police all rushed to attend the scenes of the incidents, with no regard for their own safety. London Transport staff and Rescue Units also went in, without hesitation. The bus bomb had happened outside the headquarters of the British Medical Association, and doctors based inside went out into the street to help victims. The city came together as one, as it always does, in the face of adversity.
I worked for the emergency services in London for over thirty years, so where was I that day? Amazingly, I slept through it all, not waking until mid-afternoon. I was on night duty with one of the Met Police Special Operations departments at the time, and had not returned home until 06.30 that morning. Despite living close enough to be able to see one of the scenes from my flat, (Tavistock Square) I had been sound asleep all day. As anyone who has lived in London can tell you, sirens are a part of life there, and more sirens just suggest a busier day than usual. Once I was awake, and watching the news, I realised just what a terrible day it had been. I watched former colleagues from the Ambulance Service on the TV, conveying injured people from Underground stations, as well as current colleagues from the police, rushing here and there on their motorcycles.
I was due back at work that night at 10pm, but I thought that I should go in a bit earlier, as I was sure that the others in the control room where we worked would be exhausted, and due an early relief. I left home at 7pm, with no alternative but to walk the thirty minutes or so it would take. It was pleasant weather, still broad daylight, and there was little indication of the horrors of earlier that day, save for the absence of buses, and closed Underground stations. Walking south along Tottenham Court Road, I saw many others walking in the direction I had come from. At the junction with Oxford Street, close to Centre Point, it suddenly dawned on me that I was the only person walking into the central area. Every other pedestrian was heading out.
Not for the first time, I thought about that fact. That is what the emergency services do. Whether it is in London, New York, Baghdad, Damascus, or Kabul, they head into the place that everyone else is walking away from. Fire crews, Police Officers. Paramedics, and anyone charged with assisting the situation, they just go in, no questions asked. That is what they do, and it would not occur to them to do otherwise. There have been some emotional services and meetings today. Some were televised, some attended by dignitaries and royals, as well as victims of the incident. It is right that they should be remembered, and that those whose job it was to help them were remembered too.
Let us hope that it is the last time we ever have to remember anything like it.