Peter Field

Contribution from Peter Field, former Risk Waters Group chief executive

Peter Field article ground zero image
Photo: Alex Towle

I’ll never forget their names: Amy Lamonsoff, Celeste Victoria, David Rivers, Dinah Webster, Elisa Ferraina, Joanna Vidal, Karlie Rogers, Laura Rockefeller, Melanie de Vere, Michelle du Berry, Neil Cudmore, Oli Bennett, Paul Bristow, Sarah Ali Escarcega, Sarah Prothero and Simon Turner.

These were my colleagues, murdered 20 years ago on that nightmare day of 11 September. They included Britons, Americans and one Australian. Some I’d known for years; a few had only recently joined the company in New York. They were mostly in their 20s and 30s, lively, sociable and ambitious people who deserved to continue enjoying their lives for many more decades.

Memories of them continue to come back to me frequently, sometimes triggered by a face in the street that resembles one of them, or, less pleasantly, by another terrorist incident or disaster.

On 11 September, I arrived at the subway station beneath the north tower of the World Trade Center minutes after the hijacked plane had rammed into the upper floors. I still had time to run out into the street, and then run again from falling debris from the second plane smashing into the south tower. My 16 colleagues and the 71 delegates and exhibitors at the Waters conference on the 106th floor of the north tower did not have any such options.

The worst moment of the attacks that day was watching in disbelief as the north tower, with the Waters conference at the top, crumbled to the ground. The Risk Waters office in SoHo afforded a horribly clear view of this. All of us were devastated by what we witnessed.

But I also recall how soon after the shock everybody began reassuring each other. We consoled ourselves with the thought that our people must have had time to find a way out, given that it was more than one and a half hours since the plane had first hit the tower. This camaraderie sustained us through the difficult days that followed.

During those days we, like countless other people in and around New York, waited anxiously for news, believing, or willing ourselves to believe, that survivors – the walking wounded – would emerge somewhere or somehow. Waters’ staff tramped around the city, checking hospitals and medical centres, posting “missing” pictures on walls, desperately seeking any clue to our colleagues’ whereabouts. Sadly, those efforts were to be in vain.

In the London office, there was a similar collegiate spirit. Everyone knew the members of staff who had travelled from London for the conference. There were close friendships and a few relationships among these colleagues. All were suffering varying degrees of loss.

The London office phones were manned day and night to maintain contact with loved ones of the missing staff and to offer help of any sort. Lack of firm information from the US authorities about the fate of those who didn’t escape from the towers caused a lot of frustration. The reason for this, sadly, became clear only later.

Bittersweet memories were evoked by the memorial services for individual victims around the UK and in New York. Parents and children alike were mourned.

September 11 memorial plaque
Inscriptions of Risk Waters Group staff at the 9/11 memorial site in New York

At the company’s own London service, in the beautiful Wren church of St Bride’s, Fleet Street, there was an especially moving tribute to each of the Risk Waters people who died. One by one, as the victims’ names were read out, current members of staff came forward into the aisle to represent them until there were 16 gathered in a group, a physical representation of the impact of the loss.

I also recall how Risk Waters’ losses appeared to affect Tony Blair, the then UK prime minister, when he paid a private visit to our London office soon after the attacks. His shock at the company’s losses was visible to all. He shook hands with and spoke to every member of staff. He kept remarking how young everyone in the company was.

US politicians reacted with remarkable swiftness to ensure that victims’ families would not suffer economic hardship, as well as to obviate the likely legal fallout from the attacks. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) was created only a week and half later, on September 22. This paved the way for the work of the special master of the fund, Kenneth Feinberg, who over the next few months had the terrible task of answering, thousands of times, the awful question – replicated in the title of his later book – what is life worth?

Our own Risk Waters WTC Foundation was set up to offer more immediate help to bereft families. With donations from Risk Waters and banks, brokers and individuals, funding totalled nearly $500,000 – enough to give some support to family members of Risk Waters and delegates to our conference who were able to prove financial dependence on a victim. The foundation was wound up in 2006, donating the remaining $36,000 to the London Bombings Relief Charity Fund.

The people who deserve the most recognition are ones who were most affected: the relatives of the victims. They formed the September 11 UK Families Support Group in May 2002, at an inaugural meeting supported by Risk Waters. They’ve done sterling work over the past 20 years, working closely with government and helping families of the 67 British victims deal with the trauma of the attacks of 2001.

The group set up the September 11 memorial garden in Grosvenor Square in 2003, and organised the very moving memorial service there on the 10th anniversary of the attacks in 2011, attended by Prince Charles and prime minister David Cameron. Family members laid white roses at the memorial as the names of their loved ones were read out.

For the 20th anniversary on Saturday 11 September 2021, a similar act of remembrance will be observed in a private service in the memorial garden in Grosvenor Square. White roses will again be laid on the inscription stone within the garden as the names of the victims are read out by family members. There will also be one minute’s silence during the service.

If you would like to view all the articles in our 9/11 commemoration, click here

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