Harborne & Edgbaston

Story of a bomb victim

I met him in a pub. It was November 1975, exactly a year after the Birmingham bombing. They had bombed two fully occupied pubs simultaneously. I'd heard about this monstrous act while I was back home in Trinidad. It had taken the toll of 21 people. 220 people had been afflicted with life threatening injury.

I had felt the after effect of that cowardly act even after a year when I came to Birmingham. Even though the properties had been cordoned off you could still feel the ghost of those dead and injured people and smoldered properties. You could still sense the smell of charred remains of human bodies and the raw blood and the body parts lying here and there, unrecognisable! One could not but sense the unimaginable, deafening, shrieking and yelling sounds of the injured, lying in the pool of blood, unable to move, and the ones trying to get away from this barbarous act. Even after all those days and weeks you wouldn't be able to pass by without a shiver.

This new comer that evening was on a stick, limping heavily. The pub was fully packed. I presumed it was the jubilation that the perpetrators had been sentenced to life imprisonment, albeit mistakenly. Besides, Christmas was near enough. The public had the right to forget the past and move on.

I felt sorry for this newcomer and gave up my stool. He was extremely apologetic and was shying away to take my seat. We had mini tug of war for the stool which I won eventually. And that was the beginning of our friendship. His name was George O'Neill. When he sat down rather awkwardly I extended my hand, "Jack De Souja".

I was fortunate enough to get a job as a clinical psychologist soon after my arrival. The next time I saw him was when he walked in to my consulting room. "What a nice surprise", I exclaimed. He looked lost as if it was the very first time he'd seen me.

"Don't you remember me? We met in the White Swan, the pub, some six months ago. I was the one who offered you a stool if you jog our memory". Pondering for a few seconds, he too seemed astounded when he said "Oh yes! I remember you now! So you are a doctor then? Good grief, what a pleasant surprise!"

He had been one of the victims on that fateful day when he was enjoying his evening with his mates. They had noticed an extremely bright, blinding, flashing light. Within a fraction of a second there was a deafening thunder. Before they realised what was going on everything was tumbling down on them. He felt no pain, just the darkness. And all was quiet. He had passed out under the rubble. When he came round he found himself in a white washed room with pipes and wires all around him. There was a nurse in attendance. He was in an intensive care room at the hospital.

For the first time he felt shearing pain down both legs. He tried to move around but the nurse would not allow him. Hiding his both arms under the blanket he tried to touch his legs. To his bewilderment there were no legs. It was devastating. He had been robbed off his legs for the rest of his life!

He was trying to cope with prosthesis on both legs. Despite such a physical problem he was brave enough to move along as much as possible. He would never disclose his disability to any one else for the fear of being patronised. I saluted him for his courage. However he was unable to come out of Post Traumatic Stress(PTSD). That's is where I came as handy to try to heal his psychological trauma.

Quite a few times I wondered whether I was "treating " him or just providing him a false belief. His quandary was not only to be able to come out of the situational nightmare but also the Phantom Limb pain. The suffering used to be severe enough to make him awake all through the night. He used to put his hands on the "leg" only to find dangling piece of clothing. In desperation he used to wail with tears running down his cheeks. I had my doubt whether I would be able to help him at all.

Three years on he showed the first sign of improvement when he queried, out of the blue, "Doc, what do you think me trying mountaineering?. Do you think it will be possible with my artificial legs?" I was flabbergasted.Rather than answering him he heard me questioning back, "why mountaineering George?"

He seemed sincere enough when he remarked, "Well that's what I've dreamed all my life. These murderers have robbed me of my dream, made me old, quit prematurely. But I've decided, come what may, I am going to fulfill my ambition."

I wasn't qualified to suggest either way. It was his life, his enjoyment. To me he appeared to be recovering from PTSD. It was the physical bit I wasn't sure of. I advised him to talk to the prosthesis people and expert Mountaineers.
He didn't appear for several weeks following this conversation but when he did he was beaming all the way in. He had been advised a strenuous work out before considering this mammoth adventure. They had given him a time frame to complete his work up so as to prove his determination.

A year after, he came to see me, once again with the good news that he had been accepted by the team to climb Mt Everest. However there was a warning that he should not venture beyond the base camp. I wished him good luck.

I saw an article on The Sunday Times that a massive avalanche had taken the toll of several climbers. Further on, the the names of the British climbers. Out of the five there was an unmistakable name which read, "George O'Neill" followed by his brief life history!

© Bhaskar Sharma 2020