My memories of the visit to the Ljubljana Air Disaster Memorial and the Museum of Contemporary History – September 25/26/27th, 2017
By Teri Aldous, 5th March 2018
Eric (my husband) and I, together with my cousin Bill and his wife Anne visited the Memorial together on a very dull and drizzly September day. The weather was as unhappy as the circumstances of our visit, although we didn’t really notice the rain at the time. Jure – one of the airport managers – kindly took us from the airport to the site, and told us more about what had happened on the night of 1st September 1966. The atmosphere at the site was peaceful – it is amongst trees and on the edge of a field – so different from how it must have been that night. The horror of what happened to our family, as well as all the others, completely overwhelmed me at the time and still does now, as I write this nearly six months later. I could have stood there and howled like a Banshee, but retained my composure. I think we all felt the same really. The sadness at the loss of life and the bravery of Aunty Marjorie in rescuing Mike and trying to rescue the other members of her family continues to amaze me. Jure told us that the residents of the nearby village came out with tractors and trailers to reach the wreckage and to help the injured, bringing blankets and giving first aid where they could until the ambulances and fire engine (I think there was only one at the time) arrived.
The runway has been extended now and the airport has changed greatly (with a new extension opening in 2018) since 1966, but the kindness of the Slovakian people then and now does not seem to have changed at all. We were treated with the utmost respect and understanding by Jure and the following day by Marko on our visit to the Museum. Marko (the archivist) took us to his very crowded office and surprisingly we all fitted somehow amongst all the books and papers scattered everywhere. He showed us all the photographs the Museum had, most of which we hadn’t seen before (and some of which I wish I hadn’t seen). We all found them particularly upsetting and can imagine how distressing they must have been for you, Mike and Audrey, to see. Marko also showed us newspaper articles and some newsreel clips. The photograph of all the coffins lined up in the Sports Hall in Ljubljana and covered with Union Flags was particularly moving, as Marko also confirmed something I remember being told by our Aunt Gladys that all the flags had been made by local ladies – there were not any Union Flags for sale in the former Yugoslavia, of course.
We decided that we would not visit the Sports Hall, both Bill and I have the memory of the three coffins, still covered with their Union Flags, in the Crematorium at Watford. We did, however, visit the Cathedral and (in my case anyway) prayed and lit candles for Uncle Walter, Sheila and Janette. Although the visit was so sad for us all we are pleased that we made the trip and were able to visit the Memorial and lay our own flowers (bought from the same florist as Mike and Audrey’s). The flowers will have gone now, but the memories of that day and of our family who lost their lives will never leave me.