Indomitable Londoners Get Back on Buses

Though flowers marked the tragedy at King's Cross station, most Londoners went about their routines.
Though flowers marked the tragedy at King's Cross station, most Londoners went about their routines. (By Lefteris Pitarakis -- Associated Press)
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 9, 2005

LONDON, July 8 -- Caroline Chapploe, an advertising copy writer, never before linked Winston Churchill with her morning commute. But on Friday, as she and other Londoners assessed the risks, they did as they figured England's great wartime leader would have wanted: They got back on the buses.

"You always feel anxious -- it does touch you,'' Chapploe said, riding the No. 30 bus, the route targeted in Thursday's bus and subway bombings that were the deadliest attacks on London since World War II. "But life goes on."

"It's the Dunkirk spirit,'' the thin, dark-haired woman said, twisting her mouth to offset any false grandiosity of the comment, a reference to Churchill's defiant 1940 message to Adolf Hitler that the British would fight on the beaches, in the hills and on the fields, but never surrender.

It was a comparison echoed today by Britons and admiring tourists throughout the day, as Londoners returned without ceremony to their offices, schools and shops. Only a very few black ribbons, flower bouquets and a forlorn missing-person poster of a flushed, smiling man in a pink shirt marked the carnage that on Thursday had shut down much of the city of more than 7 million people. "It's shocking -- it's a big disaster, and this town is normal,'' said Marcin Prymier, 30, a native Pole who brought his camera to Buckingham Palace early Friday afternoon to record some of the aftermath of the bombings.

But Prymier found only a rain-soaked Union Jack hanging at half-staff on the palace flagpole and fur-hatted palace guards walking their posts as usual in a cold July drizzle. The extra police and uniformed Army soldiers deployed outside the queen's residence in the first hours after the bombings were nowhere in sight.

"Nothing has changed at all,'' said Prymier, blond with a crew cut, marveling as he thought how his home town in Poland would handle a similar tragedy. "I think this is the kind of town that can cope with anything.''

An unknown number of victims still lay Friday in tunnels where they died, left there for now by authorities intent on recording every detail at the crime scene. Others remained alive but unidentified in hospitals. The uncertainty was all-consuming for the families of these people Friday.

"It's extremely uncharacteristic. Even if she is 10 minutes late she will phone her parents to tell them so they don't worry,'' said Nazmul Islam, who came to Royal London Hospital on Friday hoping in vain that one of three unidentified wounded there was his niece, 20-year-old Shahara Islam.

She was last seen leaving the family's London home on Thursday morning wearing her bank uniform, a white shirt and navy jacket. "I am trying to keep an optimistic outlook,'' Nazmul Islam said. "But you can't help fearing for the worst.''

"I am trying to keep an optimistic outlook," Nazmul Islam said. "But you can't help fearing for the worst."

John Steadman came to the same hospital with three photos of his missing brother-in-law, Philip Russell. "I am hoping that somebody has made a mistake somewhere and they have put him down as Russell Philip," Steadman said. Russell was last heard from Thursday morning, when he called his colleagues at JP Morgan to say he had been evacuated from the Euston Square underground station following one of the bombings and would take a bus to work instead. His stop was in the area of Tavistock Square, site of the blast that destroyed the No. 30 bus.

"I really haven't found out anything," Steadman said after determining his brother-in-law was not at the Royal London Hospital. "But I can't just go home."

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