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Navy Women 100

*** This post is an account of an event which occurred at sea, at the start of the Iraq war. ***

‘It was quite early in the morning and alarms started going off.
I got to the sick bay, which is where we mustered. And the first thing that the Chief MA [Medic] said to me was to go to this compartment, which I’ve never even been to or heard of and get some body bags.

And I was like, what? What on earth is this? Maybe it was something that had happened elsewhere because we were an aircraft carrier, they were going to bring casualties onto the ship. We just had no idea. So we get back to the sick bay, then go up to one of the boat bays on the side of the ship. It was daylight by then and there’s just people everywhere. And we don’t really get a clear picture of what’s going on. But everyone’s in panic mode. And there’s seamen getting in the little boats and going out and coming back. So at this point, we’re all like, what has happened?

They told us that there’d been an accident. Two of the helicopters from our ship had gone out on a training exercise and for some bizarre reason, they just collided. And we can’t, we can’t find anyone. So the boats are out searching for bodies, people. But unfortunately, every single member of the crew died.

Slowly, they began to recover them. We all lifted them carefully from the boats into the boat bay. I vaguely remember feeling scared but reminding myself that I needed to focus and not show that fear to the others.
It was obvious that they could not be saved, but the medical team of course made sure that there was nothing else that they could do.
While this was happening I was looking down at this person, I knew him well. In fact, I had commented about him being rude to me a few days prior. I felt shame for having that negative thought about him. After that moment, I remember hearing very little noise and not really being aware of what was happening around me. Feeling nothing other than shock and numbness.

Dead people at my feet and there was nothing I could do other than look and stare. I felt useless.

The boat bay was full of people giving commands and responding to orders but it was almost robotic. No real emotion at this point, just people doing their job, the one we were all trained to do and we did it well.

This continued for some time with everyone seeming to be on auto pilot, not able to acknowledge the reality of what we were seeing. Helping to place people, real people, into body bags as if I had no clue who they were or what had happened, when in reality I knew every single one of them.

I had heard them talk about their families whilst looking at photos in their cabins, while I made their beds or cleaned their sinks and chatted away to them.
They were all really popular. And one of them was so funny, a really funny guy. Really well liked. And only a week or so before we’d had a big mess dinner. And they were all jolly and fun and cracking jokes and we, I knew them…well, I’d say so.

So it was tough. But I’d never experienced grief, so I didn’t really understand. And I didn’t think I was entitled to grieve. They weren’t my family or they weren’t people that I shared a mess with, so I didn’t feel like I was allowed to mourn them.’

Kirsty Hill
Royal Navy
2000 – 2009