7 July 2005

Elena Mazzoni Wagner

LONDON Jacqui tells the terror. The fear and the risk of dying. Even that day, as always, Jacqueline Putnam (60 years old), took the underground to go to work. In the carriage next to her, a bomb. Years pass but she still remembers the details of that hell. With a cinematographic precision. And with an extreme delicacy, in her voice and words.

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«On the morning of Thursday 7th July 2005 the Circle Line platform at King’s Cross wasn’t as crowded as usual. I was heading for Paddington. My train was a few minutes away so there was plenty of time.

There are always people on the underground who behave oddly. This time it was a young autistic lad holding a large bag. I remember his eyes: large, brown, intense. He seemed on edge and made me uneasy, so I decided to walk on down the platform. I never discovered the young man’s name but, because he made me uncomfortable, I did not die that day.

At Edgware Road the train pulled out of the station and accelerated. There was a yellow flash and a sound like a firework. The windows imploded and the air was filled with tiny shards of glass. They shot through the air as if fired from a gun. The engineers’ access panels in the floor blew upwards, leaving gaping holes exposing moving machinery. An invisible force at the back of my head and left shoulder pushed me forward in my seat with such pressure that it shattered a tooth and briefly knocked unconscious a girl sitting several seats away. Concussed, I found myself in the aircraft crash position. I buried my face in my newspaper against the glass that cut into my scalp and shot down my back inside my clothes.

The train rolled to a stop and there was silence. Soot and smoke filled the carriage making it impossible to breathe. It might be easier if I got on the floor, but a pit of machinery had opened up at my feet and I couldn’t see to avoid it. I looked for something to hold over my mouth to use as a filter but my clothes were covered in thick grime. My mouth and nostrils were full of it. The driver’s intercom was working, and he said something about a power surge. Everything sounded muffled. Someone was trying to open the connecting door to the driver’s cab, but there was debris in the way. The screams coming from the next carriage drove me from my seat. I found a pole and clutched it, rested my head against it and concentrated on the breathing problem, which was urgent. A voice in my ear said ‘Are you alright?’ I opened my eyes but couldn’t see anyone in the thick dark. ‘I’m so scared.’ His outline became visible. He was tall, wearing an expensive suit. Through the smoke I saw blood streaming down his face and into his shirt. ‘You’re injured,’ I said. I couldn’t think. ‘It’s nothing. A scalp wound.’

The screams had stopped. Somehow, that was worse. We could now see to the end of the carriage but the smoke was so thick on the other side of the door it looked impassable. They got the connecting door into the driver’s compartment open. The tension eased slightly. If fire was coming towards us, there was a way out. They opened the emergency exit door that led directly onto the tracks. The driver called that we were to make our way back along the tunnel, down the side of the train. I glanced around the carriage to see if anyone was likely to be left and saw others doing the same. Hands directed me forward. Someone supported my elbow and I focussed on the driver’s face as he reached out to help me down the steps onto the track. They must know that something has happened. Someone will come. We moved on and came to a halt. Now we were alongside the second carriage. The doors had blown clear and inside the carriage it was all black, twisted metal. And worse. There was no mistaking it. A bomb.

A man put his arms around me and held tight. ‘Don’t look, don’t look. It’s alright, it’s alright. Don’t look.’ I cried into his bloody clothes. We stumbled forward again. Don’t look into the train where the unspeakable lays. Don’t look under it at the unidentifiable. We stumbled on past the rest of the train and into daylight, up the stairs and into the station entrance where my legs folded. I sank down against the wall. We were moved to Marks and Spencer where I saw the young autistic lad had survived and then, because of an unattended briefcase, on to the Hotel Metropole. The triage nurse escorted me to a police riot van (‘You’re going to hospital’).

And now, like the other survivors, there is a group of people who are always in my thoughts and accompany me through my days. I never knew them before, and will never get to meet them, but their names are on the memorial plaques at Edgware Road, King’s Cross, Aldgate and Tavistock Square

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*CCT thanks Jacqueline for her personal and precious account. THANK you, Jacqui.

Elena Mazzoni Wagner