Yes, it was terrifying. We were on edge and looking over our shoulders most of the time. I remember being wary of any carrier-bag in the hand of any person. Carrier-bags are such ordinary things, yet at that time they seemed to be extra-ordinary, because they could be used to carry explosive materials, which was why we were searched and frisked every time we entered a public building. We were hushed and watchful, and it was tempting to look at other people as potential terrorists, rather than as the ordinary peace-loving people most of them actually were.
I cannot begin to imagine the agony of people who lost family members in the bombings – sisters, brothers, parents, daughters, sons. I cannot begin to imagine the suffering of those injured and maimed in the bombings.
Some of us thought we might have heard one of the explosions.I was teaching German to adults in Meriden at the time and our classroom was next to a pottery class. The pottery class was always noisy, and at first we thought that the bang had come from that room – someone in our group joked, ‘The pottery class is being extra-noisy tonight!’ It was only later that we learnt the terrible news via radio and TV. I heard it on my car radio as I drove home. At that time we had two young children, and although we lived nowhere near the sites of the bombings, I was especially thankful that night to return home and find my family safe and well.
The conviction of ‘The Birmingham Six’ turned out to be an appalling miscarriage of justice, and those wrongly convicted were also victims of terrorism. Terrorism really is terrible. I don’t envy our politicians the task of deciding how best to deal with it.
In 1974, there was also an attempt to blow up Coventry post office, but the bomber accidentally blew himself up instead. My brother-in-law was in the police force at that time, and he was called to investigate the gruesome scene. One of the good outcomes of that event was the way that some members of the public responded. The bomber’s confederate ran off, but he was chased and apprehended by a group of people who were in a local pub at the time of the explosion. They were guided by a passer-by who had witnessed the explosion and who also saw the confederate running from the scene towards the nearby car park. Group rage can have its advantages!
One thing that really saddened me at that time was the fact that the Coventry bomber was Irish, and some lovely Irish people in Coventry were subjected to a nasty back-lash. Even some non-Irish people were subjected to a backlash, for instance a neighbour whose surname began with ‘O’ received hate mail and threats because some people thought she was Irish. She was actually Scottish (not that this made any difference, because she was not a terrorist anyway!) but she was so distressed by all the hate mail that she changed her surname to a name beginning with ‘Mac’.
Some ordinary, peace-loving Muslims started the Twitter hashtag #notinmyname and my heart goes out to them – Islam and ISIS are not synonyms.
May the God of all peace be with us all at this terrible and terrifying time.