Twenty years on, Lockerbie remembers night without end

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IT is a town forever linked to an atrocity. In an exclusive extract from a new book, four witnesses tell how death fell from the sky.

'We were waiting to die'

Helen Fraser, now 60, lived with her family, Neil, 11, and Helen, nine, at Sherwood Park, at the entrance to Sherwood Crescent.

WHILE I was in the bath I heard the noise, just like thunder. You could feel it, rather than hear it, and it looked to me as if the house was moving.

I was just getting out of the bath when there was this blinding light that came right round about the edges of the curtains. I thought: 'Oh my God, it's a petrol tanker on the dual carriageway.'

I just ran into the bedroom and pulled on whatever I could find. As I was going down the stairs, through the two windows which were frosted glass but had no curtains, it was white light.

The kids came running: 'Mummy, mummy what is it?' I just grabbed them and I sat in a chair in the corner of the hall and we were sitting like this, waiting for – well I suppose we were just waiting to die or something, because you didn't know what was going on.

We said the Lord's Prayer, and I couldn't remember it, and in the middle I was getting all muddled up, but wee Neil, he finished it. We got to the end of the Lord's Prayer, and we still weren't dead, and we hadn't been blown to bits.

I said, stupidly: 'Go and see if it says on the television what's happened', and we went into the sitting room.

The Christmas tree lights were all on, and the curtains were shut, and it looked lovely, and we switched the television on. Terry Wogan was just starting his talk show, but he never mentioned it. I opened the curtains in the big bay window, and it was like something from Dante's Inferno outside. All over the lawn, there were fires; big fires, wee fires. It really looked like the end of the world.

'The end of the world'

Ella Ramsden, now 80. Her home at Park Place was almost entirely destroyed.

I HAD often heard, when I was young, folk talking about the end of the world is nigh. I was thinking: 'What is happening here? Is this the end of the world?' The explosion went up. I went to the back door and it wouldn't open – it was jammed. It must have been jammed with the explosion, because I got down to see if a mat that I had at the door had got caught in it and that is when my house started coming in on top. The lights had gone out before I got to the door. I could feel it falling in on my head; the plaster and things like that. I thought everything was coming in and all I could see was my kids' three faces.

I'm thinking I cannot break that window. My pan cupboard was there and I remember going in and falling because I was looking for my stew pan that had a heavy bottom, and I fumbled till I got this stew pan and then I actually swung at the window. It went through the very first time and I kept knocking till I got a bigger hole and then I looked out. There wasn't a soul and there wasn't a sound there.

I had no front of the house. If I'd gone to the front door I'd have had it; I mean, you've seen the side of the house, I'd no bedrooms, so the whole side had gone. I'm standing there when I suddenly heard this voice shouting: 'We're coming, Ella.'

I was classed as the wee miracle in Lockerbie because of the carnage at my place. That's what I found difficult to live with. I felt so guilty, had this terrible guilt feeling that I walked out of here. All I kept saying was: 'Thank goodness my family were away because there's nothing surer, if there had been five of us in that house there was somebody going to be caught somewhere.'

'There were pools of oil burning in people's gardens, on the roofs of houses'

John Carpenter, now 64, was a superintendent with Dumfries and Galloway Police.

ONE woman came up to me and said: "Have you seen my mother, John?" And I says: 'No, we're trying to establish what the situation is.' I well knew, at that time, that the house her mother stayed in was no longer there.

There must've been the best part of 100 ambulances there. I think they only utilised one. I mean to say, there were no casualties as such, there was just bodies. You had, I can remember, a whole line of ambulances in the Main Street in Lockerbie, but nothing for them to do.

There was rubble and debris all over the place. There were pools of oil burning in people's front gardens, on the roofs of some of the houses and when you got to the junction of Sherwood with the crescent, the smoke was thicker and thicker.

I could see a fire at the back of the petrol station on Carlisle Road. We found body parts in gardens. There was a body on the grass in front of the window at the ambulance station.

You had to take a note of these things and see that they were attended to in due course. It was a nightmare and a lot of what you did was spontaneous reaction.

I reckon I must have been at the control point at Sherwood Crescent for a couple of hours. We did get a phone link, and I did manage to speak to both the chief constable and the deputy chief constable.

Within 24 hours, you had your politicians. Margaret Thatcher appeared on the scene and she arrived at the same time as the Duke of York and they couldn't meet. How do you keep them apart in Lockerbie?

I remember when Margaret Thatcher came to the police station she made a bee-line for me, but she went past me and the guy I was standing next to was Michael Burke and she obviously has individuals who she gets on with and she made a bee-line for him.

It's frightening to think if it had happened at a lower level, that plane may well have travelled from one end of Lockerbie to the other, taking everyone with it.

I quite often say, 'there but for the grace of God go I' because from the crater, my own home, as the crow flies, would've been no more than 500 yards, on the same path. So I might not have been here today either.

'Either very much alive or very dead'

Marjory McQueen is the wife of Ken McQueen, the local GP

THIS happened at three minutes past seven, and by nine o'clock Ken got back. He walked in the front door, straight through the house, out the back door, and got pea sticks and stuff from the garden and disappeared.

He was going to look for bodies – because you're not dead until the doctor says so. He had to go around marking them. The sticks were for marking. We all tuned into the nine o'clock news to see what was going on.

The hospital had started an emergency procedure and they'd called in all the blood donors and extra workers. Sadly, you were either very much alive or very much dead; there was not much in between.

I think there was an elderly couple who had burns and I know that Alan Wilson, one of my son's classmates, rushed out to see what had happened, tripped over a bit of engine and broke his leg; so there were those kind of subsequent injuries.

Ken came home about five in the morning. He had policemen with him and said 'I had to bring these guys home, they had seen too much', and I remember a bottle of brandy disappeared quite quickly. They really needed that.

I gave an Australian reporter breakfast. He had driven through the night and just knocked on the door. He looked absolutely whacked. I do remember later on in the day, or maybe the next day, he came back with a huge bunch of flowers and that was the first time I cried.

In some ways, it's turned me into a better person because if you break a cup in my house it doesn't matter. Pre-1988, I think I would have got very upset – it would be a tragedy. Now I think: 'So what?'

If you look at a map and the route the plane was taking, it was like hitting an oasis in the desert really, when you see so much land round about that isn't inhabited. You've got to weigh it up; it's part of the history of the town, but it's fading. There's more to Lockerbie than the disaster – a lot more.

&#149 Edited extracts from: An' then the world came tae oor doorstep: Lockerbie Lives and Stories by Jill S Haldane, published by the Grimsay Press, priced 16.95.