It is one of those days when you remember where you were. I was sitting at my desk at the Buckinghamshire Advertiser office in Chalfont St Peter. We had just put the latest edition to bed, and were planning the next one, when the editor walked out of his office. I’ll never forget his words:
My wife’s just phoned and said a plane has crashed into one of the World Trade Centre buildings.
It was such a different time. We had no television, no radio and just a dial-up internet connection on one machine in the office. It was jealously guarded by the deputy editor, but he fired it up.
When the editor came out of his office a few minutes later and told us his wife had called to say another plane had flown into the second tower. we knew it was an attack. I grabbed the phone and called Heathrow and kept hitting redial as the deputy editor asked for someone to call. “Already on it,” I said.
Once we established there was no immediate local link we knew we didn’t have to ‘hold the front page’. The one radio we had didn’t work without earphones, so I listened as we worked on. Then the horror hit.
I’ll never forget the terror in the voice of the correspondent, I think we were listening to Radio 4, as they started to describe the first tower falling. I relayed her words and I remember seeing the shocked looks on my colleagues faces. A few minutes later the editor returned, we hadn’t noticed he’d gone. He had a small TV and indoor aerial.
We gathered around the TV when it was set up and saw the second tower go. Again I’ll never forget the editor’s words:
We have just watched thousands of people die, and we’re going to know some of them.
Six months later I went to Oli Bennett‘s memorial service. I had interviewed his mother Joy Bennett before it and a few times afterwards. She was against the Iraq war and featured in Roger Graef’s film September Mourning.
It was a moving memorial. One of Oli’s colleagues spoke about the many friends he had lost that day, his voice breaking with the emotion.
I don’t think they’ve found any trace of Oli. The Bennetts buried an urn of ash from Ground Zero in the churchyard at Penn Street, near their home. Even though I didn’t know Oli, I always think of him and particularly the loving parents he left behind every September 11 and whenever I hear the ELO song Mr Blue Sky which was played at his memorial.