It was unfortunate that the day our son Robert went to Harrods to buy a Christmas present for his father, the IRA should choose the same day to try and blow up Harrods. Robert had bought the gift and left the store into Hans Crescent (a narrow street with high sided buildings). He admired a lovely luxurious white Rolls Royce parked there and was somewhat surprised to see a rather scruffy blue car behind the Rolls. He found the contrast striking! He crossed the road to look in the window of a Gents clothing shop as a police car came up the street. Instantly, the blue car exploded, the police car was badly damaged and a policeman killed. Robert, who was thrown into the air, landed heavily and was injured. In the high street, the explosion was upwards not outwards, I understand. Robert told me that his first reaction was, “If there is one bomb, there is sure to be another. I must move…if I still have legs!” He did stagger to his feet and hobbled to a small hotel just round the corner from Hans Crescent to ask them to ring for an ambulance.
One of the hotel staff cleaned him up a bit whilst he waited for help. He was taken to Westminster Hospital where he was cleaned and x-rayed. He had flash burns to his face, a badly broken right elbow, a nasty cut to his forehead and multiple shrapnel wounds to his neck, hip and legs. (A year or so later it was discovered that he had a hiatus hernia due to having been blown upwards and dropped heavily). The small bones in his ears were moved and these could not be righted so some deafness followed.
His father and I went to London to stay there until we could bring him home. We took a taxi from the place where we were staying to the hospital. The taxi driver said, “Are you going to one of them?” As we said yes, he absolutely and resolutely refused payment!!
I did not recognise Robert at first. His front hair was burnt off, his face scarred and his right arm encased in plaster from shoulder to palm and it hung from a high rod. But he spoke and was surprised that we had arrived so quickly and intended to stay.
The shrapnel in his neck, hip and legs was mostly removed in the hospital theatre, but tiny fragments came through his skin in tiny blisters which burst and released the shrapnel. Robert had four operations in five days to clean his wounds and he then needed skin grafts to a leg and his right elbow. The latter being done through a large diamond shaped hole cut in the plaster. Twenty three pieces of shrapnel were removed from his elbow which healed remarkably considering the damage done by the shrapnel!
Then skin was removed from his inner thigh for grafts to his elbow, and a leg wound. They took twice the amount i.e. half for the first graft attempts and the other half in case the first attempt failed. Robert said this procedure caused him more pain than anything else!
Prince Charles and Princess Diana came to visit. I was so impressed by Prince Charles’ genuine concern for all the injured. He held my hand between his for many minutes whilst he told me about flash burns. I had not known what that was until he told me. He said that only the surface skin was affected, not the flesh and scarring did not always follow. This was so in Robert’s case. His only scar was on his forehead and into his hair. Robert said he thought he looked piratical and interesting.
On Christmas morning, Robert rang to say he had walked round his bed. The first of the injured to do so! I have never before or since received so fine a gift. As we walked into the ward later, we heard other “bomb patients” telling their visitors, “One of us walked today.” He had lifted the atmosphere and given hope to them all.
Robert came to us after about a month and he set about making his limbs work, and getting rid of the car fear which all of the injured seemed to suffer from after returning home. His first walk with his father was about 25 yards long. He went a little further every day and then he insisted on being taken round car parks to remove fear. All this time he was in a lot of pain from the skin removal site though the grafts themselves healed well. It was to be another month before the donor site healed.
We went to the memorial service in Westminster Abbey after the rather bad news from Westminster Hospital that a piece of bone in his elbow had not joined up properly and so Robert might need another operation. Help came from an unusual corner. A friend of ours had worked for many years in Leslie Weathheads healing ministry. She offered to help Robert; he accepted and saw her for several weeks. She simply put one of her hands above Rob’s arm and one below; she did NOT touch him at all. When we went back to Westminster Hospital, the doctors told Robert that they had never seen such a healing. Our friend told us that this healing was called Radiosthesis; it was not faith healing, but it was rather like the electric charge healing given to some broken bone conditions.
Robert went back to his work in London and prospered. He made a very happy marriage with a lovely wife and eventually three lovely and intelligent children. But at fifty four years he sadly developed pancreatic cancer and died within three months.
I can never describe our feelings over this awful end. Instead we remember,
1) Robert’s bravery, his concern for his Irish friends and their situation and for the families of those who died on the day he was injured.
2) His joy in his children and sharing life with them.
And all of us involved were grateful to the police from Chelsea who lost colleagues and still came to see the injured in hospital to cheer them up at Christmas. And the staff at Westminster Hospital who having just recovered from dealing with the soldiers-in-the-park bombing, suddenly had to cope with us.
Marion Brown lives in Cambourne, Cambridge, UK
Given the nature of the narrative, I have refrained from adding any notes. Editor