Peter Reid f or the first time tonight reveals what went on inside the British Embassy in Washington when planes hit the Pentagon and the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001
Brit Peter Reid has never spoken before about 9/11.
He was working with British ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer inside the British Embassy in Washington when planes hit the Pentagon and the Twin Towers.
Reid, from Belfast, smelt the kerosene and smoke from the flight that hit Washington and watched tens of thousands of people stream out of the city to safety.
Here for the first time he reveals what went on inside the Embassy with former Prime Minister John Major at the residence on a visit.
“The stench of the smoke from the plane which crashed into the Pentagon drifted across the Potomac River to the British Embassy.
A smell you don’t forget.
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Just two hours earlier Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was one of those beautiful late summer mornings, so common on the east coast of the United States, that make you want to get out of bed.
The skies were sunny, clear and blue, the temperatures comfortable.
Little did we know those pristine skies would rain upon us a terror so awful that it would continue to affect our lives 20 years later.
I expected a normal working day at the British Embassy, Washington – planning for a visit later that week by John Prescott, then First Secretary of State, meetings on the Balkans and the global economy, soon to become the first full-blown recession in years.
My office in the Embassy overlooked Massachusetts Avenue, DC’s longest and grandest avenue, known variously as “Millionaire’s Row” or “Embassy Row”.
Home to the major embassies, and the largest mosque in the US capitol, Mass Avenue is leafy and grand but as a major traffic artery out of the city is usually devoid of people other than the odd tourist gawping at the grand buildings, and in our case, the statue of Churchill outside the embassy, one foot on American, the other on British soil to mark his US and UK parentage.
Even now it is incredibly difficult, and seems almost wrong, to try to distill that day, and what followed it, into a few words, but two memories stand out 20 years on.
AFP via Getty Images)
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The utter disbelief, shock and immense sadness – mixed with a fear that is hard to explain, even by someone who grew up in Belfast during the Troubles, of the unknown, of what could happen next.
Our sense of safety at home, forever breached.
The other, how all of us united behind the victims – American, British and those from 49 other nations.
Americans still tell me how touched they were when, several days later, the Coldstream Guards played the Star Spangled Banner at Buckingham Palace.
To this day when I look at American coins and see the original US motto, “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, one”), I remember that day and the months that followed with a lingering deep sadness but also pride and gratitude for how people rallied then to support the victims and their families of that day, and unite against evil.
A unity that I wish wasn’t so rare today.”