This week we think of the people or Arizona and the heavy loss of 19 Brave Young Men who gave their lives defending their community. The loss of life, for whatever reason, is never easy to bear, but to lose so many young men so quickly, is davastating. As a caring community our hearts go out to the family, friends and loved ones of these young men. But we should also remember that there were 20 in the crew, and the 20th man had only just moved away to shift the truck and in that short space of time, his 19 friends and colleagues were killed. His wounds will be deep and he will feel the lost keenly. This man will need to be carefully monitored and helped to come to terms with his loss, and his sense of guilt as he tries desperately to answer the question that will be in his mind, Why Me?
Like many who spent their childhood in the City of Glasgow, 19 is more than just an arbitrary number. In a single night 19 firefighters were killed at the Cheapside Street, Bonded Warehouse fire, when over one million gallons of Whisky and thirty thousand gallons of Rum erupted in an inferno that took a week to finally extinguish. It was the worse fire since World War Two and is still the highest peacetime loss of firefighters lives in British History.
People don’t understand why so much inflammable spirit was housed within almost the heart of the city and the answer is really very simple – Glasgow was once a very busy port as well as a shipbuilding centre and Cheapside Street Bonded Warehouse was at Anderson Quay and the Bonded Warehouse was an export Warehouse. I do not know what the law is today but in these days only certain Ports were allowed by Customs And Excise Law to be registered for the importation of Tobacco and Glasgow was one of those – it was the largest and the oldest. Right next door to the Bonded Warehouse was the Glasgow Tobacco Warehouse and next door to that was a large Ice Cream Factory. So there it is – a major disaster waiting to happen – over one million gallons of inflammable spirit, tons of tobacco, gas and and chemicals – and on March 1960 it happened.
I can imagine that there will be people in Glasgow who will read the reports from Arizona with deep sadness and the number 19 will be etched in their minds. True, things are different today and in 1960 we did not understand much, and the support services were not what they are today -if they existed at all – other than family and friends. I do know from my mother that many of the wives never came to terms with their loss and I hope and pray that Arizona can and will do so much better.