Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The London fire

Seeing the news this morning made me think of my dad - I was going to write down why, but I could never explain it as well as he did in his own memoirs (written a few years before he died), so I'll just leave this here...

Chapter 6  ( That First Fire …1951 )

Then there was the day,  or was it the night ? ------ yes it was definitely the late evening,  and one I’ll never, ever forget …….
We heard the screams first of all,  loud and piercing and prolonged screams …. Awful screams …..
We thought at first,  well I thought,  that maybe someone was “carrying on“ ,,,,, some “ high jinx in the close “ ,  something like that …… then the thought that some people were fighting or ………… then finally,  the sudden realization as the screams became even louder and more pain-filled,  that someone was in real trouble …. and right outside our door,  3-stories up !!
Up each of the closes in Burgher St., three families  lived on each “ landing “, with one communal outside toilet on the half landing . That was 12 families to the close ? …..  very bloody close we all became …. we stayed in the top flat,  left as you climbed the stairs,  right of course if you looked  up from the street  !
Jean Moore and her old dad stayed directly opposite  us on the top floor. I can still see big Jean in her Rangers Scarf going to the football match on a Sat. afternoon … A big bruiser of a woman she was …. I think I even to this day still have a photograph of her just as I’ve described . But the Salt of the Earth .
Old Mrs. MacFedris stayed directly below us.  She and her sister lived together, two old Lady-Buddies … and boy,  did they suffer !  These were the two old dearies that used to have to put up with that budding football star and his coach , when dad and I played football up and down the lobby with the tanner ba’.  Thinking back we really must have made a helluva din on top of these old souls ….. dad wasn’t  exactly your light weight coach  !!!   and we would hoot and holler up and down the lobby for ages some nights …. no  tv  in those days either so we could do our own thing ,,,,, make our own entertainment … and these were also  the days of minimalist floor coverings ,,,, no wall to wall thick Axminster carpeting in this neck of the woods …… bare floorboards were more the order of the day !!
I can recall mum shouting at us to calm down some nights so I guess we must have been going at it .
Anyway to return to the story which,  quite frankly,  I’m not sure I can write,  and I know I’m trying to avoid actually putting  it  down on paper  …… some painful memories are perhaps better left dormant ?
I’ve spoken about this incident before, to people very close to me,  but I’ve never seen it written down  and I don’t know that I really want to .
The little girl was perhaps 5 or 6 , maybe as old as 7 but no more  ----  she was 2 or 3 years younger than me,  that’s all I can remember. She lived next door,  in the middle flat .
How sad,  do you know I don’t even remember her name ?  I seem to recall an older sister and a mother but I don’t recall a father in that house somehow.
I can’t focus on her name or the family name ,,,,,  I’m sure the trauma of it has made me block them out of my mind .  I started to think about her again after my dad died …….. naturally …. but that’s another painful story for much later .
She had long, long  black hair , that I remember, and she was wearing a long white nightie that fateful night.  This I know absolutely.  I can still see her .
The screams suddenly got louder as their door was thrown open and her mother started yelling for someone to help …..
“ Help ! help me , she’s burning ,”  she cried. 
Only then did we realize what was happening …… this seems to have taken an age to tell to this point but it all happened in seconds , from that first scream until we were all out on the landing .
If I live to be 100 I’ll never be able to forget that horror scene on the landing .
It simply won’t erase itself from my memory. 
The little girl was ablaze,  from head to toe ----- her long beautiful hair was on fire and her face and head were in the middle of a raging inferno and she was jumping up and down on the spot,  screaming and screaming and screaming ……. and screaming …
I couldn’t look, yet I couldn’t look away ,,,, I’d never witnessed anything so  truly awful in my life before,  nor since,  and I never, ever want to again .
My mum pulled me to her apron and hid my face …… but still I witnessed the horror ….
My dad turned into an instant hero that night.
He pulled the loose  carpet runner from our lobby  ( fortunately not fitted or nailed down ) and dragged it onto the  landing . He pulled the little girl down onto it, still screaming in terror  and burning wildly ,,, the flames were about 3feet above her head now,  and all the way up his arms , ,,, he wrapped and rolled her in the carpet until the flames went out.
However,  by the time that was done it was already too late --- the damage had been well and truly done …… her body and head burns were so severe that  my little neighbour died but not ‘til some 3 or 4 long, long painful days later . That’s another smell I can smell still ….. human flesh burning …..
I have absolutely no recollection of anything else that night,  no ambulance,  no medics,  doctor ,,,,,, all of which must have happened ,,,,,, but to this day I can still see that little figure standing there totally engulfed in flames ,,,  and I still hear her screammmmssss  ,,, oh the screammmmmmsss …………..
It could have been yesterday ……….. it WAS yesterday … and today …. and tomorrow ….
This I guess is what affected me so badly when my dad died from the effects of that dammed  fire .

I now just hate  fire so much that when I hear of anyone suffering a similar fate on the news  it destroys another little part inside my soul .   

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