It felt just like the good old, bad old days!

Yesterday, Sue and I went to Dartford in Kent. We arrived in the town centre at about 11.45am, only to discover that the car park we were going to use was blocked off by police cars and warning tape. As a result, we had to drive a little further on and park in a different car park.

What we had not realised at the time was that less that fifteen minutes before we had arrived, as suspect package had been found in the car park and it and the surrounding shops had been evacuated as a precaution. The road closures were still in place when we left to return home at 1.30pm, by which time an army bomb disposal unit had been deployed to deal with the package.

It took several hours before the scene was declared safe and the local roads reopened, and at the time of writing it would appear that the package was not an explosive device and a twenty-nine-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the suspicious package.

Both Sue and I can well remember the IRA bombing campaign that lasted from the early 1970s until the Good Friday Agreement, and both of us were close to bombs that did go off:

  • On Thursday 7th November 1974, I had been visiting Sue at her father’s home in Woolwich when a bomb was thrown through the window of a nearby pub, the ‚King’s Arms‘, by members of the Provisional IRA. The pub was about 100 yards from the main entrance of the Royal Artillery Barrack, Woolwich. An off-duty soldier (Gunner Richard Dunne) and a civilian (Alan Horsley) and 35 people (including the pub’s landlady) were injured. Sue and I actually felt the explosion before we heard it as the pub was only a few hundred yards away. The pub suffered considerable damage and was subsequently rebuilt, but it has since been demolished and a block of flats now stands on its site. 
  • Sue and I were visiting some of her relative who lived in Charlton on Thursday 18th January 1979 when a Provisional IRA bomb explodes at the East Greenwich Gas Works. No one was hurt, but the gas holders (which were the biggest in England) were extensively damaged and the flames from the fire lit up the sky. The whole site was subsequently cleared, and the area became known as the Greenwich Peninsula. After it had been decontaminated, the land became the site of the Millennium Dome (now known as the London O2 Arena) and has been used for a major housing development. The last of the gas holders was dismantled in 2020 to make way for further development of the site.
  • On Monday 23rd November 1981, two people were injured by a small explosive device that had been left outside Government House, the Headquarters (and former residence of the Commandant) of the Royal Artillery in Woolwich.
  • I was visiting Sue at her father’s house on Saturday 10th December 1983 when three people were injured by an explosive device that had been placed at the Royal Artillery Barracks, Repository Road, Woolwich. This was another case of feeling the bomb go off before we heard it.
  • I was in my office at Eltham Green School (now Harris Academy Greenwich) on Monday 14th May 1990 when I felt the pressure wave of a bomb going off. I looked out of my window and could see a plume of smoke rising from Eltham Palace, which was less than half a mile away. At the time it was the HQ of the British Army’s Education Corps, and seven people were injured by the explosion. In 1992 the Army vacated the site, and English Heritage took over its management in 1995. Major repairs and restorations of the interiors and gardens then took place, and the site was opened up to the public in 1999 and is now a tourist attraction and filming location.

Today was a reminder that our world still remains a potentially dangerous place. No doubt this ‘device’ was planted by someone who wanted to make some sort of point. Luckily, it doesn’t appear to have been a real improvised explosive device … but it could have been, and it serves to remind us that even in times of relative peace, we must all remain vigilant.

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Autor: Robert (Bob) Cordery / Wargaming Miscellany

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