JFK assassination: Redbridge residents remember where they were on day that changed the world
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
November 22, 1963 started like any normal day, but by the end of it, the world - from Dallas to Washington, from Moscow to Redbridge too - was coming to terms with the assassination of American President John F. Kennedy. In perhaps one of the first truly global news events, ordinary people had the shocking news from the States broadcast into their homes by radio or television.
In an instant, people were united by a tragic moment when the young president was fatally shot at Dealey Plaza, Dallas, on his way to give a speech. Ahead of the 50th anniversary of his death tomorrow (Friday), Mehvish Arshad spoke to Redbridge residents to find out how they remember the fateful day.
A former Labour councillor in Redbridge, 81-year-old Ken Turner lived in Brentwood at the time of the assassination. He saw John F. Kennedy as a sign of hope and loved him for his politics as much as his youth and poise.
Mr Turner said: “At the time of the news, I had been married only three years. I was deeply shocked when I heard JFK had been assassinated.
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“I had tremendous hopes for him, we thought he was the saviour of mankind”.
He remembers in great deal hearing the news broadcasts but had no clear cut answers as to why the 35th President of the United States had been killed.
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“At the time all the information I had was that it happened in Texas”, Mr Turner said.
“There were a lot of rumours which confused everyone but I’ve learnt a lot since then.
“I was deeply concerned and my political colleagues and I were also worried at the prospect of America going back to the dark ages.”
Georgina Green, 67, a volunteer at Valentines Mansion in Emerson Road, Ilford, looked up to Kennedy and his wife Jackie. Just 17 years old at the time, Georgina was washing up with her mother when the news first came through that he had been shot.
Georgina, of Henry’s Walk, Hainault, said: “I think everybody who was old enough will remember what they were doing at the time they heard JFK was assassinated”.
She remembers the newsflash interrupting a programme on the radio and said she and her mother “couldn’t believe our ears”.
She added: “We didn’t want to do anything and I just remember standing there staring at the radio in shock.
“We had a TV and although people now have 24 hour news coverage, in those days there was only a bulletin at 6pm or 9pm.
“I had no comprehension why he was killed and still don’t because he was such a vibrant person with a young family and a beautiful wife. JFK and Jackie were like the Posh and Becks of the time, he appealed to a lot of people. It was the most unexpected thing to happen”.
On the morning of the assassination, Barbara Hills, who has helped to run the Kenneth More Theatre in Oakfield Road, Ilford, for nearly 40 years, was sitting in an office and working as a PA. Her boss suddenly received a phone call and had to relay what had happened.
Barbara said: “We couldn’t believe it, it was all a shock. In the evening we went our respective ways and I listened to the radio horrified. He was an important man and he also came across as a silly young man with a beautiful wife. The whole family seem to have a bad luck streak.”
Less than five years after that fateful day in Dallas, JFK’s brother Robert was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, after just winning the California and South Dakota primary elections for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
And perpetuating myths in the media of a “Kennedy curse”, other family members have met untimely ends, such as Kennedy’s son, John Fitzgerald Jr., who died in a plane crash in 1999.
Barbara said: “It was a tragedy for the whole family. When Kennedy died, I wondered what the mother and father must have felt.”
Gerry Sheridan, 79, of Brunswick Gardens, Hainault, CHECK, is a retired black cab driver and active volunteer, including in Redbridge’s Golden Years Dance Troupe CHECK. And he was driving his London cab at the time Kennedy was shot and was told the news by his dispatcher over the radio. He automatically had a bad feeling that Kennedy had died.
He continued to receive radio updates and soon after his fears were realised.
Mr Sheridan said: “I was really upset, Kennedy was a much respected politician worldwide and a lot of people on this side of the Atlantic loved him too”.
Back at the cab shelter, all the talk was about JFK.
Mr Sheridan added: “Everyone was upset. Kennedy was always in the headlines in the UK, he was a man of the people and that’s what you need in politics.”
Bashir Chaudhry, 74, chairman for the League of British Muslims in Eton Road, Ilford, felt Kennedy held hope for equality. As the news spread across the world, people rushed to tell friends and family. A teacher in Pakistan at the time, Mr Chaudhry found it hard breaking the news to his students, “I had to tell them but I had no idea what to say, I could only condemn it,” he said. Flashing back to his childhood, he added: “I remember my school teacher telling me of similar circumstances when Pakistan’s first Prime Minister [Liaquat Ali Khan] was shot on his way to a speech. Once the bullet is fired it’s done and it’s really unfortunate as I had always thought JFK was a wonderful president.”
Former soldier Chris Wilson, 94, the president of the Redbridge Pensioners’ Forum, has seen other US presidents die during his lifetime but he felt overwhelmed with depression when he heard JFK had been shot. The former magistrate from Chadwell Heath said: “I was astonished when I heard he had been assassinated but then again not completely shocked because there had been a couple of presidents murdered over the years and America was like a western with people carrying pistols around.
“It was always very different over here. We all still felt very sad that something like this could happen and I was weighed down and depressed to hear Kennedy had been killed so young and when he had so much left to give”.
Vera Wiseman, 82, was doing her daily household chores in St Albans Road, Seven Kings, as JFK’s motorcade passed the Texas School Book Depository. The secretary of the Seven Kings Bungalow Estate Residents’ Association, who now lives in Levett Gardens, Seven Kings, said: “I think I was sitting on the stairs at the house I lived in at the time. I was doing house work when the news came through.
“I don’t know what else to say except I was just simply shattered by it”.