Rebecca Slattery-Kavanagh, writer, animal lover and I HAVE CAT reader shares the perspective of someone working in London England ten years ago today. Outside of the US, the UK suffered more losses on 9/11/2001 than any other country.
I don’t remember anything special happening on the morning of 11th September 2001. My parents were on holiday, it was an overcast, but not cold, day and I was preparing for a holiday to Australia in a few weeks time. I went to lunch at my normal time to try and find some shoes to take on holiday.
As I wandered down the office at the end of my lunch hour I could see a crowd of people gathered round the television by the desk I occupied in my job as an equity, currency and unit trust dealer. I just thought there was golf on – the television was supposed to be used for watching news and market trading – but normally it only got turned on when Tim Henman was playing at Wimbledon or there was a big golf competition.
But, I could tell, from the atmosphere as I walked down our huge office, that something wasn’t right. I had to fight to get through to my desk and as I did, flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Even now, ten years on, I genuinely get goosebumps every time I see it on TV, read an article about it or even think back to that day. I remember the silent shock as we saw what was happening. I couldn’t sit and watch it though, in front of us screens lit up as the stock market went into a frenzy, the screens flashing red as almost every stock on the FTSE100 had millions of pounds wiped from its value.
In a sense of being British and just getting on with it, we had no option but to do what we were paid to do – trade and execute orders for our clients. The markets were in free fall as people started to grasp the enormity of what was happening. I remember having to shout at those around us to be quiet because we were trying to do our jobs. It was getting harder and harder to get our calls answered – the huge corporations such as Merrill Lynch and Citibank that we dealt with a hundred times a day couldn’t answer the phones quick enough.
Slowly I became more and more uncomfortable that we were profiting out of this tragedy of previously unseen proportions. As news of a plane crashing into the Pentagon broke, the trading systems were rapidly shutting down. The big American institutions which dominate “The City” – the financial centre of London which includes St Paul’s Cathedral, Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of London started in 1666 and the Bank of England – were refusing to trade any longer.
The atmosphere was like nothing I have ever experienced. Rumours were escalating – a plane was heading towards the Credit Suisse Tower in the London docklands, there was a bomb at the Bank of England, ten more planes had been hijacked in the US – and in a situation of heightened anxiety, normally rational and logical people who would have scoffed at such rumours, would fall silent and press their lips together in a forced grimace.
The towers fell. Many people had already gone home early but I felt compelled to stay and watch as the situation unfolded. I found I couldn’t leave my seat. I remember thinking “where’s George Bush?” I felt suddenly alone. I was single, my parents were in a foreign country and my “little” sister was a long way away.
Parts of London’s ancient underground train system were shut – a day never passed when a dozen stations weren’t shut in security alerts – but this was different. Nobody could get home and people took to the streets – although not on the same scale as we were seeing in New York. Dennis, our Head of Security would come round and yell at us all to go home then, minutes later tell us that the Police were telling us we all had to stay in our buildings.
There was no place in the world that we had stronger links with than New York. The London Stock Exchange could be trading well, with big gains, but come 2.30pm when Wall Street opened, the screen could turn red and we could end the day with massive losses. On our TV screens we could see the anguish of people of so many different races and cultures and we really felt it as if it was our own country.
Eventually I went home. I still remember walking down the middle of the road to my house in a state of total shock. I walked into my house, sat down and put the television on and didn’t move for the rest of the evening. They were saying that more than 5,000 people were dead – a number that was later significantly reduced. Already people were whispering the name of an organisation that we can no longer remember not knowing – al Qaeda.
Over the next few days we would seem the images of George Bush sitting in that school room, hear voicemail messages of those unable to escape the WTC, knowing they were going to die and see the photos of the missing pinned up on street corners n New York. It felt personal, these were people going about their daily lives, it could just as easily have been London.
To me, this was not about religion or capitalism – it was about the unnecessary loss of so many innocent lives and how the lives of those they left behind would never be the same. I cried so many tears. I read every newspaper I could find, watched nothing but news for days.
Many of us in the City lost colleagues, acquaintances and loved ones. I was blessed not to be one of those people but I do believe that my life changed that day. With all my heart I pray that we never see a day like 11th September 2001 again.