Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Cold Monday in December

Photo Credit - chrissi
I was at home because I was due to leave later on a business trip to Chester and that was a pretty long drive from my then home near Southampton. I decided to do some Christmas preparations - wrapping presents, writing cards and the general stuff that we all do in December. I had the radio on - Radio 1 in fact, for I was still in my 20s. All of a sudden, at about a quarter past 8, there was a newsflash that there had been a train crash between two or three trains near to Clapham Junction station. My heart froze for a moment. I worked for a company that had offices in Oxford Street so I regularly travelled into London through Clapham Junction. I knew people who travelled regularly. I could know people on those trains.

Now, this was before mobile phones and internet usage were commonplace so there was no way to ring anyone I knew. There was also no 24 hour news channel to tune in to for updates. For a while, it was unclear which trains had crashed but soon, they said that one of the trains involved had come from Poole. Which only meant one thing. It stopped at my station. I knew people on that train. I felt sick.

I made sure I rang my mum at that point. She worked then in a factory and listened to the radio. She didn't know enough about my movements to know if I was on the train or not. I don't think she was overly worried but she was pleased to hear from me.

As the morning wore on, the news got worse. It was becoming obvious that people had died. There was no information from anyone commuting - if they weren't involved, they would have been behind the crash and therefore stuck on a train.

I left for Chester. All I could think about the whole time were the people involved in the crash. The number of deaths reported went up and up and up throughout the day. By the end of the day, they had confirmed more than 30 people died. Hundreds of people were injured. I got to Chester and watched the television news in horror.

As it turned out, my trip was a waste of time. Late on the Monday evening, I started to feel ill and had to cancel the course I was meant to run the next day. I had to drive all the way home again, still not knowing whether everyone I knew was OK. It might be different now but long distance commuters were often friends on the train only and didn't have contact numbers for each other at work or home.

It was another couple of days before I managed to speak to someone "from the trains". People I had been worried about were OK. As usual, with these things, plans had changed, people missed trains, and their lives were possibly saved. Others, not so. I remember the words that the man I was speaking to used:  "We lost two of our number". Both women, Gill and Bev. Lives cut needlessly short. Another was the Hat Lady, who I've blogged about before. I was ill the whole of that week with 'flu. I felt sorry for myself at home, but it seemed trite to complain.

I, along with many other commuters, went to the memorial service at Winchester Cathedral in late January. I remember the words sung by the choir. "May light perpetual shine upon them." Sadly, one of the victims, who remained in a coma for some time after the crash, died after the memorial service.

Only a couple of months after the crash, I started a job that required me to commute full time into London. I got to know people who were on the Poole train that day, mainly in the buffet car. They were fortunate but they didn't feel that way. Some of them saw terrible, terrible things - and yes I know what they were, some of them couldn't help talking about it occasionally - which I won't repeat on this blog. Those things haunted them, which took its toll mentally and physically, no doubt on their relationships and their families too.

They built a memorial and a garden for the victims, above the crash site. Services were held there annually until the 10th anniversary, when it was decided that no future memorial service would be held, which frankly shocks me when you consider that other disasters that happened around the same time are commemorated in some way regularly. The 35 victims - and the crash itself - have been forgotten. Last year, there was even a story about how the gardens beneath the memorial were being neglected by Network Rail.  The railways that failed these people, that caused their deaths, seem intent on trying to forget them, in the hope of writing them out of history perhaps. I wonder just how the families of the victims feel about the way that the memory of their loved ones is treated with apparent contempt.

I, for one, will not forget what happened. The news images from that day stick in my head. I think, as I blogged before, of the ones I knew alive from time to time. Once, I read through as much as I could of the report from the Hidden Inquiry - if ever there was an apt name, that is it - and it's a depressing account of the events leading up to the crash. Some of the recommendations from that report have never been fully implemented. Shocking. Shame on those who allowed that to happen.

Today is the 22nd anniversary of that cold, clear day in December. Monday 12th December 1988 at 08:10, thousands of lives changed. 35 of those lives ended as a result.

When I was looking for an image to illustrate the post, I found this. It has a factual error in the words on the screen - no-one in fact died on the Basingstoke train on the front - but it is a fitting tribute to those that died. I am not afraid to admit that it made me cry a lot when I watched it. I often find I react more to such disasters since becoming a mother - everyone who died was somebody's child, and many children were robbed of parents and grandparents.

To end, I'm going to list the names of the victims, because they deserve to be mentioned and not forgotten. They were:

Gillian Allen, Clive Attfield, Jane Aubin, John Barrett, James Beasant, Michelle Boyce, Timothy Burgess, Glenn Clark, Arthur Creech, Norman Dalrymple, Brian Dennison, Stephen Dyer, Romano Falcini, Paul Hadfield, Edna Hannibal, Geoffrey Hartwell, Stephen Hopkins, Everett Lindsay, Stephen Loader, Joseph Martin, Alison McGregor, Christopher Molesworth, David Moore, Teresa Moore, Michael Newman, Beverlie Niven, Austin Perry-Lewis, Alan Philipson, John Rolls, Alma Smith, Tracey Stevens, and Alan Wren.

As the choir sang during their memorial service, may light perpetual shine upon them. RIP.
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