Tuesday September 11 2001 – I was a Warrant Officer in the Royal Navy serving at HM Naval Base Clyde at Faslane in Scotland. At the time I had less than 6 months left of my naval career and was looking forward to beginning the next phase of my life as a civilian. At 3:30pm I was sitting in the office reading through some nuclear safety documentation when a colleague walked in and said “Someone’s flown a plane into the Twin Towers in New York.” At first I thought he was talking about a light aircraft; then I saw the TV footage…
I can still recall the feelings of shock and disbelief at the carnage being played out on the screen and then the lumbering collapse of both buildings.
The world had changed.
That night I was on duty as manager of the jetties. An American Los Angeles Class nuclear submarine had arrived a few days earlier and was due to stay for another week. Unsurprisingly, orders chafed and it sailed later that night and as Duty Manager I was responsible for organising the jetty staff as we helped the submarine load the stores (and later on cruise missiles) that arrived by the truckload in preparation for her immediate sailing.
I remember the mood on the jetty was sombre but there was a definite sense of purpose as everyone pitched in. I spoke to an American submariner and I remember the look on his face when he told me that a couple of his shipmates came from New York and hadn’t been able to get in touch with anyone at home.
This was real. Events in New York City had reached across the Atlantic (as they would reach across the world) and affected all of us there that night in Faslane.
I wished him luck as he walked onboard, then the gangway was lifted, ropes were slipped and tugs eased the submarine away from the jetty and escorted her down the Gare Loch. As I watched her disappear into the darkness my thoughts were with the crewmen and I wondered where the submarine would go, what part she would play and most of all, what would happen next.
I knew for certain that nothing would be the same again;
In the days following, a media maelstrom blew up as the footage was played and analysed and replayed and analysed and replayed again. That weekend I was flying home and as I arrived at Glasgow Airport I saw the first signs of how air travel was to change forever.
I left the Royal Navy the following May, found a job and began my transition back into civilian life. The time has flown by and I’m a different person now; working for myself and trying to make my way in the world.
In that time there has been a second Gulf War, a prolonged, intense and bloody campaign in Afghanistan and an increase in terrorism across the globe, including the bombings in the heart of London in 2007 – all of which, in some way are linked back to that night in September 2001.
Every year at this time I pause to reflect on my own tiny connection with history; and as I relive the thoughts and emotions that I felt standing there in the darkness on that rain-lashed jetty on the west coast of Scotland, I wonder what became of the people on that submarine.
Thirteen years ago today the world changed; and I remember it like it happened yesterday.