What would you have done?

The shocking news of the violence near London Bridge on Friday 29nd November in which two people were murdered by a terrorist who was himself subsequently killed by police has had me rattled for several days, and I was nowhere near the event. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for those caught up in this awful episode especially those who were wounded or lost loved ones. Condolences to all affected.

I was particularly affected by the images of the civilians who tackled the murderer on London Bridge, one with a fire extinguisher and one with a narwhal tusk he took down from the wall of Fishmonger’s Hall, where the attack began.

These men showed unbelievable courage putting themselves in positions of extreme danger to keep others from harm. The man with the tusk (who is called Lukasz and is from Poland) received five stab wounds in the course of this desperate struggle but kept going until the police arrived. `Hero’ is an overused word, but it definitely applies to Lukasz.

I always find events like this very disturbing because I can’t resist mentally putting myself in the position of those caught up in them. What would I have done? Would I have had the courage – and the speed of thought – to react the way these men did? Would you?

None of us really know the answer, of course. In the heat of the moment ordinary people can perform extraordinary deeds but, speaking for myself, I don’t think I would have been of much use in that situation. I wish I could believe I was hero material, but I doubt that is the case. Above all, though, I’m just grateful that I’ve never been tested in such a way. Had I been, I suspect I would have been found wanting. On the other hand, it seems likely to me that anyone who is a hero in their own mind is nothing of the sort in reality.

On that note I should mention that after Saturday’s Open Day I went home and had a short nap before dinner. As often seems to be the case when I have an bit of kip in the afternoon I had a rather vivid dream. On that occasion the dream found me using my walking stick to fight off a masked assailant, the stick being a more effective weapon in the dream than I think it would have been in reality!

Anyway, I won’t give the terrorist any notoriety by naming him and I won’t link to the odious comments of the (several) politicians who have sought to make capital out of these terrible events. I’ll just say that Britain needs brave Polish immigrants far more than it needs cowardly Old Etonians.

4 Responses to “What would you have done?”

  1. drewancameron Says:

    “On the other hand, it seems likely to me that anyone who is a hero in their own mind is nothing of the sort in reality.”
    This recalls for me the anecdote in The Pale King ending with the tough guy’s realisation: “What they’d then thought was the wide round world was a little boy’s preening dream.”

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    I remember talking to an elderly American scholar who had fought in Northern Europe after D-Day. He said that if he he and his men heard any firing or commotion then they were to go towards it. That is when I realised the awful demands that war places on men.

    That man, incidentally, went on to become an expert on the history and culture of the Luxembourg area, through which he had fought.

    • telescoper Says:

      I often think of what it must have been like on D-Day. Objectively it makes sense that if you’re in an opposed landing from the sea you simply have to move forward into danger, because if you don’t you’ll eventually be hit, but you still have to find the courage actually to do it.

      At least as a soldier you have a weapon with which you can attempt to defend yourself. Those guys on London Bridge didn’t even have that, really.

      Though I have to say that I’ve always thought of fire extinguishers as lethal weapons after one went off unexpectedly when I was on a fire safety course.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Certainly there was impressive improvisation with that narwhal tusk. It was a Cambridge University conference and that might have something to do with the idea of letting a fire extinguisher off at him. But I am surprised that the policeman fired at a man believed to be wearing an explosive vest. Given that this was short range, he must – if thinking correctly – have been very confident that he could hit the man while avoiding the vest.

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