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Chris Western

Chris Western
Chris Western by the memorial plaque at King’s Cross Station. Photo by Michael Hall

 

Chris Western was born in 1948, just after the war and raised in Fulham.

His parents had both been involved in the Air force during the war, with his Father working as a Pilot and his Mother a WAFF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). Because of this Chris always felt he wanted to be a pilot.

This wasn’t to be, and after working his way through technical college he eventually landed an apprenticeship on the underground as a Signal Engineer.

Working through a series of roles — in those days training involved learning a little bit of everything, from Guard to Train Driver — he landed the role of Duty Traffic Manager in charge of the operational side of running the District and Piccadilly line. It was in this role that he found himself on duty on the night of the 1987 King’s Cross Fire.

King’s Cross Fire

Chris Western‘I received a phone call about 7.30 reporting a ‘smouldering’ under the escalator at King’s Cross’ a smouldering was code used by underground staff for a fire.

Setting off from Earls Court Station by tube to King’s Cross, the driver set Chris down just inside the platform. At this point the trains were running non-stop through King’s Cross so as to avoid the fire.

On arrival he came across a Fireman and a Senior Police Officer who had stationed themselves on the platform.

Chatting with the two men he was informed that there was a fire at the top of the escalator.

‘It was a strange looking fire with rolling, dark orange flames’

While standing on the platform with the two men, there was a low rumbling sound and a projectile made of a piece of the escalator flew between Chris and the Police Inspector narrowly missing them both.

It wasn’t until reaching the top part of the station that he realised the extent of the fire and the tragic loss of life that had occurred.

‘It was a molten mass of material. The coins in the ticket office had all been fused together’

Coming across Ron Green, Duty Officer, he was told they had thought him dead.

Fireman at the top of the fire damaged escalator. King's Cross Fire, 18 November 1987.
Wooden escalator after the fire. Photo courtesy of The London Fire Brigade

The Morgue

Around 1am Chris was called away to the morgue to identify what was thought to be one of his staff members.

‘This was the worst thing I had to do that night’

As it turned out it was not a staff member but a musician who was later identified.

Reflecting back on the day, Chris remains positive about any lasting effects from his involvement in the fire.

“There was a lot of talking between ourselves, because we’d never experienced killing that number of people really, we’d all seen fires before, but nothing like this. But it didn’t put us off doing anything”

‘When you’re in such a big thing like that, you’re just a tiny cog. Although you’re supposed to be the person in charge, you’re just a tiny cog doing what other people are telling you to do, quite weird. No control at all over the whole thing’

Chris Western

Now retired Chris Volunteers at the RAF Uxbridge — Battle of Britain Bunker, where he helps with the tours and back of house exhibition preparation.

Location

30 Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London NW1 2SA, UK