With Saturday being Firework Night and seeing and hearing all the fireworks in the local neighbourhood gardens this week, it’s really made me think of the fateful time in 1963 when I was 7 and a family Guy Fawkes Night celebration in our garden in Plumstead went horribly wrong.
Obviously, I was very young, but I can remember parts of that fateful evening vividly. My Mum was bathing my 3 year old sister Christine and I was in the garden – more of a back yard really – with my Dad. We had a bonfire and my Dad controlled the box of fireworks he put in our outside toilet away from the bonfire. For some reason – I cannot remember why – I found myself on my own briefly in the garden and in that short time I recall throwing a rocket with a broken stick into the bonfire. Seconds later I remember that there was a huge flash and then feeling the impact of the rocket exploding from the bonfire straight into my face, hitting me just under my left eye.
We lived a few streets from St Nicholas Hospital, in Tewson Road Plumstead; now sadly no longer there. What happened next is quite hazy, but I do remember being carried by my Dad and Harry our next-door neighbour – we didn’t have a car in those days – who both rushed me to the hospital, taking turns to carry me on their backs.
The left side of my face was blackened by the firework blast and I vaguely remember a doctor checking what I could see. At some point my face was covered in some sort of purple paste and I was admitted to a ward.
I was very, very lucky. The doctor told my parents that I must have instinctively closed my eyes as the rocket exploded which meant that my sight wasn’t affected and whatever treatment that purple paste was part of, ensured that my face wasn’t permanently scarred. To this day though, whenever the weather is bitterly cold a small red mark appears on my left eye socket exactly where the rocket hit me.
After that traumatic night on 5th November 1963, we never held garden firework parties in my family again.
If you are organising a firework party in your garden this Bonfire Night, I hope you have a great time; but please take great care and stay safe.