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Timothy Knatchbull - Cumming 1981

Matthew Bakewell, Head of English at Gordonstoun, has reviewed 'From A Clear Blue Sky – Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb' by Timothy Knatchbull (Cumming 1981).

www.fromaclearbluesky.com

From a Clear Blue Sky by Timothy Knatchbull‘I had no idea what was going on, only that I was being spoken to by an unknown, frightened Irishman and that something was very badly wrong. Lying down I felt as if I had shrunk into an inner core and I knew I had to hold on and concentrate. It seems ridiculous but I momentarily thought about Gordonstoun and the preparation I had already received there for joining a rescue service later in my school career. I knew I had to stay calm and that I was too weak to help myself. I understood that the people around me would help if I could just tell them what was wrong but I could not work out what was wrong with me. In my reduced mental state, I did not even realise I was blind. I was desperately cold and shivering violently. I tried to say “I’m cold,” but the words did not seem to come out. Instead all I could hear was a tiny sound like a click in my throat…’

At 14 years old, Timothy Knatchbull was on his summer holidays when his world was ripped apart. He was on his grandfather’s boat when it was destroyed by a remotely detonated bomb.  From a Clear Blue Sky is Timothy Knatchbull’s story – it is a re-construction of the events surrounding the infamous ‘Lord Mountbatten bomb’ and --- Timothy’s long struggle to come to terms with the trauma of the event and the loss of Nicholas, his identical twin brother. It is fascinating, absorbing and intensely moving.

The story begins as an Enid Blyton summer idyll – long, hot summers, a big family adventure in a big house by the coast, sibling squabbles and cook offering lashings of ginger beer; but as the terrible main event approaches, the story slowly takes a more serious and sinister tone as we catch glimpses of the terrorists going about their deadly business intercut with happy snapshots of the fatal holiday. As the boat trip commences, the tension is unbearable. The sequence of the key events is brilliantly pieced together from various eyewitness accounts, which not only serves to capture the shocked confusion of the victims but makes it all too horribly real for the reader.

It reads as an honest, unvarnished account and lays bare the author’s deepest feelings. As the writer describes his family’s rescue, recovery, grief and then his own mourning, he often finds himself breaking down in tears - there is a lot of crying in the book - as a reader, being brought into such intimate proximity to the unfolding drama, I found myself crying time and again. The account of the events and consequences never feels romanticised and this honesty and openness makes this often raw and unvarnished description all the more powerful.

His grandson recognises that there is no need to glorify Lord Mountbatten – a legend in his own lifetime – he is shown as the patriarch of the family and while even the family seem rightly in awe of him, we see him as a loving and sometimes irascible grandfather with those imperfections that make him very human and loved by those who knew him. We are also afforded insider views of members of the royal family giving their support in the aftermath, revealing their compassion and kindness.

The second half of the book focuses on Knatchbull’s long recuperation, first physical then emotional. It was reassuring to read that, on returning to boarding-school, Gordonstoun gave him the care and support he needed, but returning to a place where his identity as one half of a set of twins had been destroyed was, of course, almost impossible. The healing process, painful and difficult, took many years and, the universal theme of grief and mourning makes the latter half of the book not always easy to read, but important.

The author eventually returns to the scene of the crime and, on different occasions, meets his rescuers and others affected by the bombing. He did not set out to explore the political arguments or background history behind the violence of the Troubles so while the complexities of personal loyalties and deep-seated resentment are clear, they are not pursued. This is Timothy Knatchbull’s personal story about human kindness, resilience and renewal. It is a powerful and edifying book that I urge those connected to Gordonstoun to read and one which I am already recommending to all my friends.

Nicholas Knatchbull, at home with Twiga, before the family set off for Ireland, August 1979. ©Philip Knatchbull Timothy Knatchbull in 2009 ©Francesco Guidicini

 


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