Like so many my thoughts and memories turned to the tragic events of 50 years ago at Summerland on Wednesday, August 2.
I put a simple post on my Facebook page: ‘50 years ago today. Those of us on the island that night always remember where we were #neverforget.’
I was living at 52 Finch Road Douglas.
The houses no longer exist as they were subsequently demolished to make way for the Chester Street car park scheme.
Walking out on to Finch Road I saw wisps of dark smoke coming from the direction of the Queen’s Promenade area which quickly became much more menacing in outlook.
It was soon apparent where the source was.
It has been humbling to listen to survivors, family members and those involved in any way.
I believe that, just like those who faced extreme trauma in war situations, many did not want to speak about the horror they were faced with at that time and subsequently and in modern-day parlance were affected by post traumatic stress disorder, a phenomenon not recognised at that time.
Many people took the time to respond to my post and using first names, I mention some here.
Liz was at a chippy in Peel and could see the red sky from there. ‘Never to be forgotten.’
Judy was 11 but her uncle was a fireman. ‘I’ve never forgotten the effect on him.’
Sue was on her way to work at the Round Bar. ‘I’ll never forget that dreadful sight as I reached the Promenade.’
Annette had moved here with her parents and family at Easter to start a guest house business.
She will never forget standing on the prom and seeing Summerland burning.
She and her cousin had spent the day there two days before it happened. Carol will never forget standing on the steps of Greenwood House next to the Villiers watching this as it happened.
Grahame, Susan, Gary, Margaret, Sarah Anne, Sylvia, Sheila and others said simply ‘yes we will never forget this Manx tragedy’.
Anne worked at the Examiner office in Hill Street and the following day the bodies of those who had died were being brought to St George’s Hall opposite.
‘It was awful.’
Richard said: ‘My mother was working in the cafe above the roller skate area and was going to fill in for some one upstairs but at the last minute the person turned up so she went back down the stairs to the cafe.
‘She helped getting kids and adults out the back before she got out
‘There was all plastic droplets in her hair.’
Norman was up the Falcon Cliff with his then-girlfriend Christine after deciding to go there instead of Summerland.
He and Richard are brothers.
Pam was off the island on holiday with her mum and dad. She heard it via a news flash on TV and more news emerged later in the evening.
‘It was awful being so far from home and not able to do anything.’
She worked at the Tourist Board at the time and tried to phone for over 24 hours to make sure all were safe.
Mr Bond had sent the majority of the staff to St George’s Hall to help with the mound of paperwork.
She found out later that a next-door neighbour’s son who was a St John Ambulance cadet aged about 17 or 18 was at the site all night and got home at about 6am.
Dave was at his gran’s in Ash Grove.
Gerry was on the door in the Lido.
Hayden remembered enjoyable times during TT visits and it all came as a huge shock to see the news on TV.
Paulene remembers her parents were running the Empress Hotel and she was standing on a little balcony and couldn’t believe what she was seeing – just heartbreaking.
Dave said, despite not moving to the island until 1993, he was actually here that night as an 11-year-old, staying on holiday in Laxey.
Mike remembers his cousin being over from Merseyside and he wanted to go to Summerland. Mike persuaded him to go to the stock cars: ‘Probably saved our lives.’
Helen was in Summerland with her best friend from school.
She had come on holiday with her grandma. Her sister and friend had gone home that day and when her mum rang her grandma to tell her that she had arrived home. Grandma said Helen had gone to Summerland.
Mum then saw the 9pm news with reports of the fire. Luckily, Helen had the foresight to ring her grandma to tell her she got out exiting up the hill behind the building to Port Jack.
Helen and her friend then walked along the sewer pipe to the steps on the prom side of the venue as the road had been closed for fear of explosions. ‘Little did we know how lucky we had been.’
The experience has affected her for most of her life, always checking fire exits and making a plan.
Trish was staying at her sister’s in Oxfordshire but it affected her, just like any other Manx person.
‘It was absolutely devastating, no one will ever forget it.’
Eunice’s dad was a bars manager but unbelievably it was his night off. ‘Such a sad night.’
Paul said he and his pal were heading to the Victoria Pier to go fishing.
When they got to the prom they were stopped but had seen the smoke go from nothing to big black clouds as they drove, little realising where and what it was coming from.
Bill was on the prom by the Villa heading for Strand Street. ‘Won’t forget.’
Tracey was with her nanna and grandad on their way to Summerland when they got stopped, turned around and went home.
Julia was 11 and watching the news in her house in County Durham.
She remembers being utterly appalled by the disaster and had no idea then that 13 years later she would make this beautiful island her home.
Sue said they were there in the afternoon and pleaded with her mum to stay longer but she insisted we go home for tea.
‘Woke up later on in the evening to constant sirens and my grandad listening to news of the fire on Manx Radio.
‘It was a very frightening night for a seven-year-old.
Diane was standing at the bottom of her mum’s garden watching the huge plumes of smoke.
Elaine was working in the dining room of the Point Hotel in Port St Mary
‘We had finished and having supper when the shocking news came through.’
Dave recalled his late wife Barbara was supposed to be there doing gymnastics but was ill so she couldn’t go.
‘Not often being ill turns out to be a blessing.’
Barry was not on the island but saw it on TV news. ‘Feelings just like twin towers.’
Mike remembers, as a five-year-old looking out of the Windsor Hotel.
Rosy was sitting in the George in Castletown after work listening to all the fire tenders, sirens screaming as they left for Douglas.
John remembered it as if it was yesterday, with the thick black smoke and people rushing out of Strand Street and the hotels on the Loch prom as it unfolded.
All he could think of was his two cousins, Gregory and Joanna, who were working there that evening.
Lynda was the same.
She and her dad waited up for her sister to come home as she was going there that night.
She rolled in hours later and luckily she had changed her mind about going.
Finally, as this piece goes to press, Jude and Pam told me they were inside Summerland that fateful night.