Terrorists hit London
This Army responds with compassion
by Robert Docter –
Providing counseling for surviving victims and multiple ministries for those engaged in rescue operations, teams of Salvation Army disaster relief workers continued to work in rescue and support operations following synchronized attacks during London’s morning rush hour traffic on Thursday, July 7—a date now beginning to be referred to as “7-7.”
Commissioner Shaw Clifton, territorial commander for the Army’s work in the United Kingdom, stated: “Not for the first time in its long history, London has been subjected to the action of the bombers. Londoners have reacted with amazing poise and dignity amid the carnage. The Army is at the point of need, almost the first to be there. Sirens have sounded all day long outside our THQ building just south of the River Thames. We have gone into action in accordance with preformed plans, but we have also—and just as instinctively—gone to prayer. Only God knows ultimately why this happens and he alone is our refuge and strength.”
The Army is part of the emergency response plan of London and has been involved in planning and training programs designed to cope with just such an emergency. Teams were dispatched to the King’s Cross station of the London underground system and to nearby Russell Square, the site of a bomb explosion on a transit bus where 15 people died. Here, personnel worked through the night to assist and minister to rescue personnel.
Working at the King’s Cross station where upwards of 21 people died in the bombing, Army officers accompanied rescue workers and paramedics down into London’s deepest station to assist as they recovered bodies. Still others provided these workers opportunities to share their feelings after they returned to the surface.
“‘As soon as I came on the scene and saw the Salvation Army canteen I knew we were in safe hands,’ says the police sergeant manning the cordon near Kings Cross station as I hand him a cup of tea,” writes Major Nigel Bovey. “He thanks me profusely then turns to yet another cluster of commuters anxious for word as to how they can get home.”
Seven hours earlier, just before 9 a.m., the officer-in-charge of The Salvation Army’s Faith House, Captain Estelle Blake, felt the explosion in the underground tunnel beneath her Argyle Street centre, 100 yards from King’s Cross station. “I rushed to the end of the road, where a police officer was cordoning off the area. I said, ‘I’ m from The Salvation Army, how can we help?’”
Within minutes, staff at Faith House were serving refreshments to members of the emergency services and the center became the focal point for counseling for travelers and rescuers. By 11 o’clock Blake was working with the staff at nearby Burger King to provide hot food and drinks to emergency personnel and civilian engineers. The center also provided clothing, food and whatever assistance commuters needed after leaving their belongings in the bombed tunnel, some experiencing severe trauma and distress, and provided a quiet place for them to share with others and telephone relatives.
“A director of an NHS Trust called in to offer us a hand,” says Blake. “He spent the rest of the day cooking and serving burgers.”
At 10:45 a.m., in response to a request from the London Fire Brigade, a Salvation Army canteen drew up on the east side of King’s Cross station. Staff served light refreshments to emergency personnel until 6:00 in the evening.
At around 5:30 p.m. St Pancras and King’s Cross stations re-opened to the public. Weary commuters plodding their uncertain way home in the rain gratefully accepted bottles of water from the Army team who had positioned themselves at the entrance to King’s Cross.
As water supplies ran low, Majors David and Karen Shakespeare (from The Salvation Army’s training college in South London) contacted the manager of the Sainsbury’s store in East Dulwich, who readily emptied the shelves for transportation to the disaster area.
Faith House remained open through the night, with Blake and her team serving refreshments and offering a comforting ear to members of the hard-work emergency services.
Major Anne Read, who participated in the Army response at Russell Square, observed: “People who have been in the tunnel have witnessed some very grim, disturbing scenes. They have been grateful for the chance to talk in confidence about what they’ve seen.”
As people struggled to make their way home in the face of a closed underground system, London’s major transportation system, Army personnel assisted tourists and commuters in locating alternative means of transportation. With thousands of commuters unsure as to how or whether they would get home, a number of Army centers were on stand-by to provide overnight accommodation.
As the investigation and clean-up operation begin Army personnel continue to offer practical assistance and emotional support to those involved. The long term commitment of the Army to its mission of “serving a suffering humanity” was emphasized by the UK Chief Secretary, Lt. Colonel Vic Polk who said: “We will continue to do all we can to help emergency services, survivors and the relatives of the bereaved during these difficult days.”
An eyewitness account
Salvationist Susan Barton, former soldier at the Pasadena Tabernacle Corps, provides New Frontier with an eyewitness view from London following the recent bombings. Barton is employed at UK THQ, along with her husband, Andrew.
From the euphoria that hit the city on Wednesday with a successful Olympic bid for 2012, to the devastating catastrophe of Thursday morning’s disaster, Londoners have certainly had a week of highs and lows.
Week of contrasts
For most living in Britain, the week actually began with heavy news coverage of the Live 8 London Concert on Saturday, and the peaceful protest march held in Edinburgh leading up to the G-8 summit being held in Scotland. What a contrast—to have 220,000 people calling for the eradication of world poverty forming the largest peaceful gathering for a cause in Britain’s modern history, followed by the death and injuries in a barbaric act of terror targeting innocent city workers on their normal journey to start their day.
Watching the reaction to these events has been a story in itself. The normally civilized Brits let loose on Wednesday with a party in Trafalgar Square to celebrate a surprise victory over the Paris Olympic bid. The air was filled with excitement and expectation of things to come over the next seven years as London gears up for the ultimate in sporting events. The “stiff upper lip” quickly returned as Thursday’s events unfolded, and people seemed quietly determined that such invasive violence would not disrupt their city or their lives. And true to their resolve, Friday morning saw service running on the London Underground, albeit limited, and a regular bus schedule resumed. While ridership was somewhat lighter than usual, employees returned to their posts, and the city still had a functioning business day.
There appears to be much less shock and surprise at such an attack here as compared to the reaction in the U.S. after the attacks on September 11, 2001. While the scope and magnitude of the attacks were far different, and direct comparisons are not possible or appropriate, the concept of terrorists invading home soil came with a sense of utter incredulity after the World Trade Center and Pentagon incidents. Perhaps because of the long term bombings from the IRA, Londoners have seen decades of explosions and news coverage of such horrible events. There was never a question here as to if such an attack would occur. It was very much a matter of when and how the city and its services would react. Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, spoke directly to the attackers through the media on Thursday saying passionately, “You have not succeeded. You cannot defeat London that easily.”
And London is a beautiful array of culture, ethnicity, faith and experience. One of the saddest parts is that this terror attack had no discrimination, targeting Christian, Jew, black, white, young, old, Muslim and Sikh. One after another, leaders of churches, synagogues, mosques and cathedral spoke on national radio and television deploring the violence and calling for a defiant show of tolerance and love. The Archbishop of Canterbury said, “We in faith communities will have to continue to stand and work together for the well being of our nation and for our shared understanding of the life that God calls us to. I hope that we shall keep that vision alive at this deeply sad and testing time.”
For many the daily headlines of bomb attacks in Iraq have taken on a new reality. In England’s capital, 75 died needlessly, and London has been forever scarred. Since January 2004, an average of more than 20 Iraqi civilians have been killed every day from similar bomb attacks. As my heart cried out for Londoners, should I not be equally torn by those daily headlines from Iraq? In a time of plenty, should I not be forced to my knees knowing that 75 children die in Africa due to unnecessary poverty every three minutes? Preventable diseases cause a silent tsunami every week in Africa. By no means should one diminish the grief and sense of loss felt by those in London, but too often we fail to hear God’s heart for those beyond our borders.
The Army’s work
The Salvation Army has been incredibly busy in the aftermath of Thursday’s events. From initial response of canteens at each explosion site on Thursday, providing counseling at local London Salvation Army centers, the Army’s presence has been felt.
While International Headquarters is near the underground stations of St. Paul’s and Blackfriars, it is not in close proximity to the bombing sites which were all in the northern or northwest parts of the city. The London Central Divisional Headquarters has been the planning center for the response effort, and has coordinated hundreds of volunteers to make cups of tea and coffee, and form “befriending teams” to aid the workers. A canteen continues to operate at the Russell Square site, where the body recovery from the train at King’s Cross station is taking place. Major Nicola Garnham, corps officer at Raynes Park, served at the canteen on Saturday. “The sense of community and teamwork was amazing. Each of the emergency services groups (fire brigade, police department, forensics team, anti-terrorism support team, etc.) worked together with such a sense of camaraderie,” she said. “We are there to just provide a break from the intensity of their jobs, which are lasting for 12 and 15 hour shifts. Most aren’t looking for intense counseling. They just want a friendly face and a drink to take their minds off the task at hand.”
On Monday, July 11, a family assistance center was opened near Victoria Station for families and friends of those affected by Thursday’s events. The Salvation Army is part of this cooperative effort, providing teams of counselors to staff the center 24 hours a day.
Back to ‘normal’
Other than cordoned off crime scenes, and a significant police presence, the city has resumed its normal pace of busy streets and busy commuters. While last week’s tragic events are certainly not forgotten, they are being left in last week, and today is a new day. For the families of victims, this week will bring the hard reality of funerals and burials. The rest of London moves forward, with a slight wariness, determined to make life normal again.
Twenty-first century England is considered by most to be an un-churched nation, but at the same time, there is a strong interest in spirituality. In other words, to most, church is irrelevant, but faith is intriguing!
Understandably in times like this people wonder “where was God?” and wonder “why did he let this happen?” As followers of Christ we hold on to many verses of scripture, none more pertinent that Psalm 46, which begins “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” and concludes with the verse “The Lord Almighty is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.”
The real challenge is how the church in England––The Salvation Army being part of it––relates to a generation that has given up on church, but is fascinated by God.
Emergency vehicles have been in attendance at King’s Cross and Russell Square tube stations, with additional teams at Edgware Road, Liverpool Street and opposite King’s Cross station. A Salvation Army team is also in action at the Family Assistance Center, working with colleagues from the police and other agencies.
One emergency worker from the British Transport Police writes:
“I have just returned from the aftermath in London and I wish to express my deepest thanks to your members who were based outside of Russell Square tube station. We had long days; however, they kept us going with drinks, food and friendly chat. Their help and assistance helped us get through a difficult task and I would just like to say a huge thank you to them and your organization.
You are doing a wonderful job helping us, the emergency services. You are equally and vitally important in these circumstances.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for all you are doing and thank you for taking care of us all.”
Muslims, Christians make joint statement
The following is a joint statement from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) and The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).
“Deepest sympathy is expressed at the death and suffering which the series of coordinated attacks in London has caused to the families and loved ones who have been the victims of this terrible atrocity.
“This criminal attack is condemned in the strongest possible terms. No good purpose can be achieved by such an indiscriminate and cruel use of terror.
“The scriptures and the traditions of both the Muslim and Christian communities repudiate the use of such violence. Religious precepts cannot be used to justify such crimes, which are completely contrary to our teaching and practice.
“We continue to resist all attempts to associate our communities with the hateful acts of any minority who claim falsely to represent us. In the present uncertainties, we look to all community leaders to give an example of wisdom, tolerance and compassion.
“The events of recent years have challenged Muslims and Christians to work together in order to acknowledge our differences, to affirm our common humanity, and to seek ways to share life together. Much has already been achieved, and nothing must undermine the progress that we have made. These attacks strengthen our determination to live together in peace, and to grow together in mutual understanding.
“This crime must inspire us to work unceasingly together in pursuit of peace, justice and respect for difference.”
Note: Churches Together in Britain and Ireland is the umbrella body for all the major Christian Churches in Britain and Ireland. It liaises with ecumenical bodies in Britain and Ireland as well as ecumenical organizations at European and world levels. See www.ctbi.org.uk/news/p.
Muslim Council of Britain is the UK’s representative Muslim umbrella body with over 400 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools. See www.mcb.org.uk.