As a younger man, I worked in the security industry in London.
The company I worked for employed a lot of former military personnel. One of the contracts we had was the London headquarters of a large Swedish bank. The bank was located in London’s Financial District, in an area known as Bishopsgate; directly across the street from the NatWest Tower, the headquarters of the National Westminster Bank, a well known landmark, which dominated the London skyline at that time.
I had the good fortune to work there for a little while in 1993. It was a nice place to work. In fact, many of the guards considered it to be one of the best contracts our company had. I was scheduled to work there for a few months because one of the regular guards had been involved in a motor vehicle accident and needed time off for surgery, physical therapy and recovery.
At that time, I was taking classes every Sunday to earn the Royal Life Saving Society Bronze Medallion and Pool Lifeguarding Qualifications, and I worked every Saturday, so I’d be guaranteed a day off on Sunday to attend my class.
On the weekends, the bank was closed, so it was very quiet. Sometimes, one or two employees might come in to catch up on paperwork, but, usually, you’d have the place to yourself. You did your patrols and checks every hour, but when you weren’t patrolling, you could pretty much relax, but, of course, having spent the previous five years in the military, I could never relax, so I would patrol the premises continuously.
Although, sometimes, I would go up to the second floor, put the kettle on, and make myself a hot cup of tea. For some reason, though, they only ever had Earl Gray Tea, which was not my favorite, but I learned to acquire a taste for it while I was there.
My partner, Roy, was a former coal miner from the north of England who moved to London after the coal pits closed. Roy was short and stocky; he had a broad chest, broad shoulders, and big, powerful arms. He was built like an ox. He was tough as nails, and he was true gentleman. I liked him immediately. We got on really well. Everyone liked him; he was a nice guy, and he always had a funny story to tell; he could keep you entertained for hours.
He was married to an Irish lady. They had been happily married for many, many years, and they took their holidays in southern Ireland every year. He loved it there and spoke very fondly of the country and its people.
As you can imagine, I was disappointed when our supervisor informed me that I was to be reassigned to a different location as the other guard, who was still recovering from surgery, had decided to come back to work early, against his doctor’s advice. Apparently, he had chosen to do so because he was genuinely concerned that he might lose his position at that assignment.
Two days later, on Saturday, the 24th of April, 1993, the Provisional IRA parked a truck laden with what was estimated to be around 2,000 pounds of explosives outside that bank.
The terrorists notified the emergency services that an explosive device had been placed somewhere in London’s Financial District, but did not give the exact location, and the Metropolitan Police Force scrambled in an attempt to evacuate all non-essential personnel.
My good friend and partner, Roy, was sitting in the basement of the bank when the timing device detonated that massive bomb. It was said the sound of the bomb blast was heard 50 miles away.
Until this day, I have no idea what happened to my good friend and partner. Of course, I made inquiries, but the only information they could give me was that he was pulled from the debris by emergency services. I don’t know the extent of his injuries, but he would never be able to return to work again.
I had been scheduled to work that day. If it were not for a twist of fate, I would have been in that building instead of my good friend. I have many happy memories of my time there, and it was very difficult viewing the devastation after the incident. Initially, I didn’t want to go, but I needed to see it with my own eyes, but the area I had known well was unrecognizable.
It’s been 29 years since that incident, but I still think about it from time to time. You know, it’s funny how different foods, drinks and smells bring certain memories flooding back. Since that time, whenever I drink a cup of Earl Gray tea, I think about that incident, and I think about my old friend, Roy.
Life is short, and it can change in a heartbeat. Be nice to each other. Treat everyone with respect. Be polite. Be honest. Protect those who cannot protect themselves. Don’t argue about stupid stuff; it doesn’t matter.
People may be different from you, and that is OK. You have your thing; they have their thing. Open your eyes and learn to appreciate what you have before it is too late, and give thanks to those who, in times of crisis, run towards the danger.
(Richard Markham is a resident of Kiel.)