It seems hard to imagine that today as I complete a fantastic motorhome holiday in continental Europe embracing Austria, Germany Italy and France, it is the tenth anniversary of the horrific events which are now known simply as 9/11.
I was attending a board meeting at the Frankfurt motor show of the ODETTE logistics standards company when I started to get messages on my laptop computer that all was not well. I slipped out of the meeting and my PA advised me of what was happening – initially it was thought a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre but soon a far more horrific picture emerged. Returning to the meeting a number of my colleagues who have English as a second or third language at first thought this was some weird English sense of humour in very bad taste but within minutes the mobile phones were alight and the board representatives from around all of Europe soon knew exactly what had happened and we just stared at each other in stunned silence.
The Frankfurt show organisers wondered whether they should shut the show and most of the senior USA executives were told to return home or to the USA soonest. One of my sons in law was on a flight to the USA at the time and subsequently spent five days marooned in Canada at an air force base in safe but extremely uncomfortable conditions. I had flown in to Frankfurt Hahn airport with Ryanair and spent that night in a local hotel waiting for my flight out the next day and like the rest of the world I just watched the TV coverage in a sort of outraged silence for most of the night.
A subsequent and abiding memory for me was the often repeated clip of George W watching some children at a school concert and his main man, Andrew Card, going up to him and whispering in his ear what we now know to be the first plane being flown into the WTC. It is not the expression on the President’s face that I particularly remember but the fact that prior to joining the Bush administration Andrew Card was the North American car manufacturers association boss and lobbyist whom I worked with. It remains an unwanted but famous moment in my memory.
So today we can remember where we were but we should – and do – also remember the hundreds of lives which were lost in that atrocity.
I read yesterday that there are three other events where most of use can remember where we were at the time.
My wife Amanda – sadly now my late wife – brought me a cup of tea in bed one Sunday and said that she had been listening to Radio 4 while the kettle boiled and it seemed Diana had been involved in a car crash in Paris and was thought not to have survived. That awful news had us reaching for the television and trying to grasp what seemed to be unbelievable. This young mother, a global icon by then, surely could not be dead?
I worked for British Leyland as a young man and was based in Toronto for a while and was attending a birthday party in Mississauga which had the central feature of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. We all came in from the garden and sat transfixed around the TV. My friend Louise said she had a nice birthday but frankly we had rather lost interest in her!! Of course the conspiracy theorists all say it took place on a sound stage in Seattle and there was a very tense moment when the studio cat nearly made an unscheduled appearance which certainly would have spoilt things.
And finally, as a teenager at school in Wiltshire – Marlborough has more recently become quite famous! – we were stunned and devastated by the JFK assassination. To us youngsters at the time he looked as if he was making a difference and was someone we could look up to. A role model with a beautiful wife and President of the USA. Such a combination. You should never speak ill of the dead so I will merely remark that time has shown he was perhaps not destined for the greatness we saw through our juvenile eyes and, subsequently, I have developed a healthy disregard for politicians but, as an impressionable teenager, JFK’s assassination was devastating.
So, 9/11; Diana; Neil Armstrong and JFK are the four definites we can remember time and place; certainly I can.
But today it is the scale of the loss of life that I remember and it puts today’s anniversary in a horrible league of its own.