The IRA bombed Harrods 35 years ago this week, targeting young children and mothers who were out Christmas shopping – one witness, who was eight at the time, has opened up about how this experience has affected her life.
On December 17 1983 at 1:21pm a car bomb destroyed one side of the store, killing six and injuring 90 others in a blast that sent broken glass raining on the pavement and thick black smoke into the air.
Political consultant Louise Rowntree, 43, was shopping for party shoes with her mum when the bomb went off and told of how during the troubles this experience didn’t seem like a big deal, but she can now see the effect it has had on her life.
Ms Rowntree said: “No one really talked about it. Everyone had a narrow escape or knew someone who had a narrow escape, so it wasn’t really considered a big deal.”
She added: “It was such a part of everyday life back then – we were always being warned about bombs, constantly terrified of leaving a bag behind or seeing a bag left behind, there were no bins, it was normal to see guards in full army kit with guns around London.”
Her brother also had a close call, walking past a post-box on Oxford Street which minutes later exploded.
“When you were growing up in London during the late 70s early 80s it was all the time, every single day there was a bomb scare, it was part of everyday life.
“You walked out of your house everyday thinking ‘this could be the day’. I was very aware, even as an 8 year old, that I could be blown up at any time.”
It was so drilled into young people to be constantly on the look out for danger that when bins were reintroduced to London streets Ms Rowntree remembers feeling uncomfortable, and can see how that upbringing has impacted her to this day.
“It’s only in the past decade, since I had children, that I’ve started thinking about it more.
“These days I never get on the tube without checking for bombs, I always make sure I know where the exits are,” she added.
Ms Rowntree compared terrorism today to during the troubles, noting that as it is not such a regular occurrence no one ever thinks it will be them who are affected.
She was travelling through Earl’s Court with her three young children when she heard ‘please evacuate the station immediately’ over the speakers.
She screamed at her children to run, grabbing her 2-year-old from the buggy and leaving it behind, while other commuters stood on the escalators and queued to tap out their oyster cards.
“When I hear ‘evacuate the station’ I don’t wait around, I run.”
She always makes sure she knows where the emergency exits are as well as testing to make sure they work, also instilling in her children the importance to be aware of these things.
Ms Rowntree said that growing up when bombs were commonplace has definitely made her more wary, but that in the end it’s better to look like a weirdo and err on the side of caution.
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