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Vol 38  No 1
August 11, 2005


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Harlow program finishes despite London bombings

Students were determined to complete summer semester

By Jeff Green

Despite initial fears and shock over last month’s tragic terrorist bombings in London, England, Kim Barnes was resolved not to let the events get in the way of her finishing the English Cultural Landscape program offered at Memorial University’s Harlow campus. Four suicide bombers struck central London on July 7 killing 52 people and injuring 700. Two weeks later, four attempted bombings took place but the devices did not explode.

“We were not going to let the terrorist threats ruin our lives,” said Ms. Barnes ­ a fifth-year arts student completing a major in Geography and History along with a diploma in Heritage Resources. “It was like a taxi driver told me after the bombing, the Blitz and the IRA could not bring down London, why should terrorists be able to do it.”

Ms. Barnes was part of a 31-student team who spent six weeks in England studying and touring this past semester. Two faculty members ­ Dr. Gerald Pocius, Department of Folklore, and Walter Peddle, curator emeritus at the Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador ­ taught the courses. Students finished their program earlier this month and most have returned home.

Ms. Barnes said she and fellow classmates were initially stunned by the bombings but never feared for their lives since they were not near London when the attacks occurred. The group was on a field trip in Lavenham, roughly 130 kilometres from London. In fact, Ms. Barnes said they didn’t even realize anything had happened until they got the news from Dr. Pocius who overheard a radio report while in an antique shop. Although they were far away from the bombings, Ms. Barnes said students were still shook up. “It really hit home because most of the group went to London the weekend [before the bombings],” she said. “I was in London twice that weekend including the Monday before the bombing.”

Ms. Barnes said students quickly made contact with family members back in Newfoundland and Labrador after the news sunk in. “When we returned to Harlow there were many messages from loved ones checking in to make sure we were alright,” she said.

Dr. Pocius ­ a longtime Memorial professor who has travelled to England numerous times over the past decade ­ said he was in disbelief when he heard the news and originally thought the bombings were an accident. “But when further reports pointed to some terrorist act I realized it was not unexpected,” he said. “It was not surprising that the UK would some day be targeted ­ given its strong support of the U.S. in Iraq.”

Despite the attacks, Dr. Pocius said students were determined to finish their courses. “It was more a mood of resolve to get on with the program, be cautious and know that it would be more difficult to get around London,” he said. “We did not alter our field trip plans.”

The group travelled to London via chartered buses instead of public transit. During a visit to the famed Victoria and Albert Museum in London in mid-July, they stopped for two minutes of silence out of respect for the victims. Dr. Pocius said Londoners reacted to the events completely different than Americans during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “Generally locals reacted with much less hysteria than what we saw after 9/11,” he said. “The media in the U.K. did not sensationalize the event and the climate of fear did not instantly arise. Most people knew that things had changed but went along their business as best they could.”

Ms. Barnes said she tried not to let the bombings affect her Harlow experience ­ a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most students. In fact, the day after the attempted attacks on July 21, she travelled to London to visit landmarks such as the Tower of London despite increased security by police. “When I arrived at the tower all I kept hearing were helicopters and police sirens, however I thought nothing of it,” she said. “When I left the tower I found out that there was a security threat on the pier next to it and that I was locked in the tower for half an hour. I knew nothing of this when I was inside.”

Dr. Pocius said Memorial officials have no plans to scale back or cancel its Harlow program in light of the bombings. This past semester was the 10th running of the English Cultural Landscape program and the Landscape and Literature program is scheduled to be held this fall.

“This situation is little different from the early 1990s when I started teaching here and we had to deal with IRA bombings,” said Dr. Pocius. “What the bombings might do is to convince parents, who often pay the Harlow bills, not to permit their kids from coming over here. These latest bombings may just reduce the number of students who might come here next time not cancel the program.”

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