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Indomitable Londoners Get Back on Buses

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."

Ridership on buses and subways appeared lighter than usual this morning, with some double-decker buses empty. Traffic picked up by afternoon. Commuters spoke of determinedly boarding their old buses and subway cars, but casting stealthy glances at packages and fellow travelers, searching for anything suspicious.

"Everyone looks around, and everyone looks around at each other," said Matthew Beresford, of Perth, Australia, a temporary worker in Britain.

Chapploe made a conscious decision to ride the buses again, but a calculated one to stay off the subway for now. "When it comes to it, being thrown out of a bus is better than being crushed in a tube," she reasoned.

Martin K. Foys, a visiting assistant professor of English from Hood College in Frederick said he mentally applauded Friday morning when he found London's buses running. Foys had lived in Maryland during the 2002 sniper shootings, and had been angry each morning at finding himself virtually alone each day as he walked to classes, while others stayed indoors out of fear.

"I was so happy to see they were full," Foys said of the buses Friday. "It's an esprit de corps in London."

A single missing-person poster was plastered today on light poles, trash cans and bus kiosks in the neighborhood around the blasted red double-decker bus.

The photocopied photo showed a broadly grinning, somewhat dazed man in rumpled work shirt and loosened tie. The photo was taken Wednesday night, according to the accompanying message written by colleagues. It evidently was a long night. He was wearing the same clothes to work Thursday, the message noted, on what may have been the last morning of his life.

Co-workers of the unnamed missing man asked for any information "so that we can let his family and friends know he's safe."

The area around Tavistock Square was desolate. Police tape and police officers kept out the life that had returned to the rest of London. Officers erected scaffold and screens around the mangled bus and were doing the same for the targeted subway stop nearby. Five or six women lay a heap of red and yellow roses, mauve and white lilies, bundled in black ribbons.

"Just for the lives that were lost," said Karry Busbee, who came to place flowers in front of the police barricades after the nurses caring for her cancer-afflicted young daughter did the same.

"London can take it," declared a banner hung on an iron fence near Buckingham Palace, where a group of white-haired British war buffs had placed a display of World War II-era military vehicles.

"We won't be put down by these people," said Andy Preston-Eyles, a private security guard on the far end of St. James's Park. In front of him, a choir on a massive stage rehearsed for 60th anniversary World War II commemorations Sunday to be attended by Queen Elizabeth II.

The ceremonies, expected to also draw thousands of veterans and their families, will go ahead, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Ian Blair, told reporters Friday. "If London can survive the Blitz," he said, "it can survive four miserable bombers like these."

Correspondent Glenn Frankel and special correspondent Audrey Gillan contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company