Salvation Army worker remembers the Lockerbie Disaster

WHILE emergency workers rushed to the aid of the Lockerbie victims, the soldiers of the Salvation Army were on hand to offer much-needed support to the heroes in the village itself.

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Colonel Derek Elvin was quickly on the scene of the disaster
Colonel David Elvin was quickly on the scene of the disaster

Lockerbie was an unusual emergency situation in that there were few people in need of medical help because of injuries.

The brutal truth is that most of those in the path of falling debris from Pan Am flight 103 were beyond medical help.

But there were still many people in the area who needed assistance.

The people of Lockerbie, the families of those who were killed and the emergency workers who worked hard to find survivors - those are the people that more than 200 members of the Salvation Army were there to help.

Colonel Derek Elvin, 75, was the Salvation Army's Divisional Commander for South West Scotland at the time of the disaster.

He recalls scrambling a team to head to the stricken town and remembers their uniforms leading police officers at the scene to wave them through without delay.

He said: "At the police station, Salvation Army Major John Flett was asked to report to police Inspector George Stobbs at the assembly hall of the local high school which was the new central control base.

"I was asked to go to Sherwood Crescent where the fire service was dealing with the conflagration and police and ambulance services were dealing with the victims.

"We set up the mobile canteen there using the food and drink we had brought with us."

The Salvation Army is an association of Christians with the object of developing their faith, sharing it with others and acting to alleviate social problems and advocate social justice.

Its quasi-military structure allows it to respond quickly and effectively to emergency situations and it has become involved in helping in disasters around the world.

Col Elvin went on: "During the night, Inspector Stobbs came to ask if we could assist in a sensitive way.

"He wanted us to give support at first light to the area in Park Place where debris and bodies had fallen.

"He was concerned that the residents would awake to sights that would be disturbing and believed that if Salvationists called on every house it would give them some assurance.

"He reasoned that the sight of Salvation Army uniforms would not only be a calming influence but that our people would be able to identify support needs."

Amid the chaos, the Salvation Army was a calming influence on the devastated town. So important was their presence to the relief efforts, that they were given free reign in what was an otherwise tightly-controlled area.

"The authorities brought in teams to photograph all personnel and issue special ID cards for access to areas of the town and control centres," Col Elvin said.

"When John went to ask how we could co-operate in this security process, especially for our revolving teams of personnel, we were told that the only personnel who did not require official passes were the Salvation Army.

"We were told 'Your uniform is your authority to go where you want, at any time'.

"That was a tremendous privilege and a humbling responsibility."

In the hours and days after the explosion, the Salvation Army called in reinforcements from across the UK and a string of volunteers offered to help.

Col Elvin said: "We made specific requests for numbers of people with particular skills and indicated the length of time that each would be on duty. As our reinforcements arrived at Lockerbie they reported to the control desk before being assigned to where they could serve most effectively.

Even as they struggled to cope with the devastation around them, the people of Lockerbie approached the Army's mobile canteens to make donations of food and drink for the emergency workers. A restaurant was set up in the school kitchen by the Women's Royal Voluntary Service.

Col Elvin said: "This allowed us to concentrate on serving the people who were out in the town and the surrounding countryside. This included the large number of servicemen, mainly new recruits, who were tasked with finding and identifying the debris from the crash which had been scattered over hundreds of square miles.

"When they found what might have been a part of the plane or a piece of luggage or human remains they were to stay with the debris until it could be logged and removed.

"This meant that many of them were waiting for hours in the bitter climate.

"We were asked to provide refreshment for them and dispatched mobile canteens as requested by the military authorities."

Their efforts did not go unnoticed. One touching moment on Christmas Day will stay with Col Elvin forever. He said: "On Christmas day, an elderly lady emerged from one of the houses carrying a large Christmas cake.

"She handed it over at the mobile canteen and returned to her house unable to speak to us. Later in the day we called at the house to thank her for the gift. She said that amid all the carnage and confusion, she wanted to remember that it was Christmas."

stef.lach@heraldandtimes.co.uk

Charity

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