The Waterloo Massacre
I had just stepped off the 3.47 from Ramsgate when all hell broke loose.
One moment I was presenting my ticket for inspection and preparing to step onto the concourse at Waterloo Station. The next, there was an almighty detonation that reminded me of nothing so much as a salvo of artillery fire, a great percussive roar that seemed to tear the very fabric of the air asunder.
I was knocked clean off my feet, and briefly lost consciousness. When I came to, I was aware of a profound ringing in my ears and a sharp smell of burning in my nostrils.
Before me lay a ghastly sight. The orderly, everyday scene of a few minutes before had been utterly transformed. Where there had been people milling about, railway travellers exhibiting the usual mix of urgency and nonchalance, there was now carnage. The injured tottered to and fro, pressing a hand to some wound or other in order to stem the flow of blood. Cries of distress pierced the air, although in my half-deafened state I could only just hear them. I glimpsed a sailor-suited child gripping a toy bear, peering about himself forlornly for an accompanying adult who was either lost or worse. A bookstall owner sat, stunned, his wares cast all around him in shreds like so much confetti.
Everything was wreathed in smoke. Débris lay scattered on the board flooring of the concourse – chunks of masonry, shards of glass. Bodies lay scattered, too. Some bore no greater sign of harm than a few tattered edges on their clothing, yet their stillness spoke of nothing but death. Others were so mutilated that they scarcely resembled human beings any longer, looking more like something one might find in a butcher’s shop.
I could scarcely comprehend what had happened. In a small, distant part of my mind, a voice was telling me: bomb. Uppermost in my thoughts, however, was the imperative that I must help people. Was I not a doctor, once a surgeon with the Army Medical Department? Had I not come to the aid of countless wounded soldiers at Ahmed Kel, Arzu, Charasiab, and at Maiwand too, until that jezail bullet put me on the casualty list myself?
My army medical training asserted itself. Even as my head cleared and the ringing in my ears began to abate, I sprang into action.
Of the hour or so that followed, I have little clear recollection. It passed in a haze of frantic activity. I attended to whomever was in distress, making an assessment of the extent of their injuries and spending as much or as little time with them as I felt was required – the process of triage so familiar to me from the battlefield hospital. I tore up strips of clothing to press into service as makeshift bandages. I ascertained which fragments of ejecta from the explosion could be safely extricated from the flesh they penetrated and which were so large or lodged so deep that they were better left in place until such time as a trained surgeon could deal with them under operating theatre conditions. I offered reassurance to those not too badly hurt and gave what scant consolation I could to those who, alas, were slipping into that state which lies beyond the power of any mortal to assist them. I also, I am pleased to say, managed to reunite the sobbing child with his nanny, to the great joy of them both.
I remember one doughty old widow who pestered me time and again to examine her, despite my protestations that she had suffered no worse than a few superficial scratches. I also remember – and it will haunt me to my dying day – a mother cradling an infant in her arms, insistent that the babe was alive and well when all the evidence was to the contrary.
It was a terrible experience, one which even a veteran of the Second Afghan War such as myself found harrowing and nightmarish. All these people had been quietly, innocently going about their business, heading home from work, waiting to greet a newly arrived friend or relative, preparing to embark on a journey, none of them having the least inkling that, in a split second, their lives would be reduced to chaos and horror. Whatever feelings of hope, trepidation or expectation they might have had, had been obliterated in an instant by an act of wanton, unconscionable destruction.
I did not pause to wonder, at the time, who had committed the atrocity. I had no doubt that it was a deliberate act of terrorism, for there had been two similar incidents in London during the previous fortnight, neither bomb blast as devastating as this one but both intended to cause considerable damage and sow fear and discord among the populace. I did not let that concern me. I simply focused on the matter at hand: easing pain and saving as many lives as I could.
When the police arrived on the scene, I directed them towards the victims in direst need of proper medical attention, and soon enough, hackney cabs, private carriages, and even a grocer’s wagon, had been commandeered to ferry the injured to hospital.
Once the situation seemed to be under control and the concourse was free of all but corpses, I was able to halt and take stock. The surge of adrenaline that had borne me through the past couple of hours receded, and I found myself starting to tremble. Nausea nearly overwhelmed me. My hands, coated in the blood of others, shook uncontrollably. I had not been in such close proximity to so much slaughter in years and, unsurprisingly, I had not become inured to it in the interim. It was as horrific to me now as it had been a decade ago on the subcontinent.
Two thoughts brought me some slight comfort. One was that my Mary had not been there to witness this appalling massacre or, worse, be a casualty of it. She was some seventy miles east, in the town I had just travelled up from.
My wife was, as it happened, recovering from a miscarriage, her third since we were wed two years earlier. I have not referred to our childbearing misfortunes anywhere in my published writings, as I deem it too private a subject for public consumption and anyway of no real interest to my readers. Here, though, in this account which is likely to be seen by no eyes but mine, I can at least mention how Mary and I, in spite of our best efforts, failed to produce offspring. It is a source of great regret to me, even now, that I have no heirs, no children and grandchildren to lighten the burden of old age. My only hope for posterity, such as it is, lies in the written works that I leave behind.
Mary had taken this third setback particularly hard, so I had prescribed a stay with a cousin of hers who owned a cottage on theKentcoast. There she might find calm and relaxation and recover her mental equilibrium. Her condition had undoubtedly improved, and it had been mooted that she would accompany me on my return to London that very day, but I had seen how wan her features still were and how her eyes continued to lack their usual lustre, and had pronounced her not yet ready to resume city life with all its demands and vicissitudes. I thanked providence that I had made the decision I had.
The other comforting thought was that the perpetrators of this outrage would face the full might of the law.
I knew this for a fact, because I happened to have a dear friend who had dedicated his life and his vast intellect to the pursuit of justice and who would, if charged with the task, stop at naught to see the malefactors apprehended and arraigned.
Thinking of Sherlock Holmes, I resolved to pay a call on him there and then. Outside the station I hailed a cab and presently was on my way to 221B Baker Street.
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• Filed under Extracts • 04/04/2014 •