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Flixborough 1974 Memories – Liduina Beckers

Personal memories from the daughter of the General Manager at Nypro (UK) ltd.

It was 1 June. Later that month I would turn 15. Exams were coming up for all of us. We were all watching football on TV, my four brothers and me. Suddenly, there was a huge, thunderous bang, which made the windows rattle horribly.

Mum rushed in and looked out of the window. She was very worried. ‘I hope that’s not Nypro’ she said. We laughed at her. Flixborough was 10 miles away from us! We had no idea. But then we saw the mushroom cloud, dark and ominous in the sky.

Dad was not at home. He had left earlier and was on his way or was already at the plant.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, and I cannot remember much about it. Nor do I remember dad coming home. But he did.

Monday at school I walked into the classroom, and everything went quiet. Everyone turned to look at me. Then someone said with a smirk: “is your dad on the dole then?” I hadn’t thought about that – but in that moment I realised that that might be a possibility. I was also vaguely aware that it might also be the case for a lot of other people. It was too horrible a thought and I couldn’t bear it. Luckily a teacher came in and our attention was drawn to the lesson.

My father, if and when we saw him, was unusually quiet and lost in thought. Eventually we got used to it and it became the norm. But there was tension in the house and nerves were raw.

The news on TV became more important than ever, and dad would get very upset at how the media twisted, turned and changed facts to give false impressions and raise ideas which were unjust. He explained where the media were mistaken. But, to be honest, at 14, such professional engineering terminology and chemical terms went way above my head.

Occasionally he would tell us a heart wrenching story of what had befallen someone personally and how it happened. From the way he spoke, I understood that there was deep, heartfelt sympathy for everyone who had suffered.

I was also shocked to be confronted with fate and how it played a part in who was saved and who was lost. Shifts that were swapped, for example. Taking the life of one and saving the life of the other. Or the fact that my father was on his way out the door to go to Nypro that afternoon, but he was delayed.

There was a small technical problem at home. He was always meticulous with keeping things in good working order and he fixed the glitch within minutes. He left 10 minutes later than he had planned. He missed the blast by 5 minutes. Fixing that small problem immediately there and then saved his life.

A year or so later, I was at John Leggott Sixth Form College, I walked into the common room and sat down. Opposite me was a guy. He was dressed in a T-shirt. One of his arms was extremely scarred, from his hands right up to, and probably beyond his T-shirt sleeve. It looked liked something awful had happened to him. I

asked him: “What happened to your arm?” He replied: “your dad’s factory did that.” I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say. A lot went through me. The horror of That Day in 1974. The suffering I had heard about, the pain and grief and the many scars, literal and otherwise that people would have to carry for the rest of their lives. I was facing one of them then. Also in my mind’s eye, I saw the worry and stress on my father’s face since that day. But most of all, at that moment, I felt blamed. ‘Your dad’s factory…’ Those words I will never forget. I couldn’t really understand or cope with what I felt. It wasn’t my fault… my only connection was that it was the place where my dad worked. But deep inside my heart bled.

And the awful thing was that I could do nothing to change any of it or make it better. Everything possible was done by management to ease the devastating grief to of the next of kin who had lost a dear one and to help them pick up and continue their lives. The grief felt was genuine. It rubbed off on me and to this day I, myself, still carry that inside me.

Mr and Mrs J.H. Beckers and Truus Senden (secretary) on the Nypro site, after the explosion.

For several years running, Nypro had won the National Safety Award for chemical industry. After the disaster, The Personnel Manager, R. Matthews and his family, moved from Broughton to Flixborough to show that this was a freak accident and that Nypro, as a chemical plant, once rebuilt, would again be one of the safest plants in the country.

A memorial was designed to commemorate those who had lost their lives. Mallard ducks coming to rest in a pond. It was made of copper and was erected in front of the new office building with a garden around it. A place of rest.

When Nypro closed down, the plant was dismantled. The memorial was moved to the village, to the parish church, in Flixborough. Shortly afterwards it disappeared, never to be seen again.

However, Mrs. Joyce Matthews, spouse of Personnel Manager R. Matthews, had painted it. This painting was presented to my father and he cherished it. He gave it a place of honour in his home, even after his retirement when he moved back to the Netherlands.

About the Inquest from Liduina’s Brother

I was worried for dad at the time but had no idea of the mental pressure he must have been under during the enquiry and the toll it took. And, of course, the tragedy of the deaths of 28 people.

I remember dad telling me that they grilled him specifically to see if all procedures and protocols were followed. He kept a diary with meticulous notes of every meeting and every phone call he had about Nypro including those related to the bypass. The judge (or whoever) said he had never seen any record keeping as meticulous as Dad’s. It was deemed sufficient to show that Dad, and presumably any other senior management involved, followed protocols as they were known and mandated at the time – and as a result were not found to be personally liable.

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