Hertfordshire Mercury, November 11 2006

November 11, 2006

Brother’s book on massacre victim

IN December 2000 vibrant volunteer worker Charlotte Wilson was mown down in cold blood in the small African country of Burundi by heartless Hutu extremists.

The “Titanic Express massacre” hit the world headlines and rocked the Hoddesdon community where she had lived and gone to school.

Now her brother, Richard Wilson, has looked back over her short life in a moving new book, Titanic Express – the ill-fated name of the bus on which she was travelling from Kigali in Rwanda to Burundi when the attackers ambushed the vehicle, robbing, stripping and gunning down 21 passengers.

Among them was Charlotte’s Burundian fiancé, ex-monk Richard Ndereyimana, whose family she was on her way to meet for the first time in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura.

She was made to lie face down on the ground as rebels blasted seven bullets into her body.

She was just 27 – a brilliant young woman with a PhD in molecular biology, who had been living in Rwanda as a volunteer teacher with Voluntary Service Oversees (VSO) in the village of Shyogwe.

As Richard writes her story, he explores the underlying ethnic tensions between the Tutsis and Hutus which also caused the horrifying genocide of 800,000 in Rwanda in 1994.

He admits he even mused about getting someone with a gun to do to his sister’s murderers what they had done to her. But at the same time he tries to understand why they turned into cruel killers.

Charlotte was born in 1973 in Milan, northern Italy, where her parents, Margot and Peter, were teaching English.

They returned to England, where Richard was born, followed by their sister Catherine in 1978. But by the time they moved to Hertfordshire, their father had been diagnosed with leukaemia and died not long after at the age of 34.

Now Charlotte is buried with him in the same quiet grave at centuries-old St Margaret of Antioch Church in Barley, near Royston, where her grandparents, Tony and Ann Wilson, lived.

The children went to Haslewood Junior School – now St Catherine’s – in Haslewood Avenue, Hoddesdon, and lived in the town in Stortford Road for 17 years. Charlotte then moved on to Sheredes School in Cock Lane, Hoddesdon.

She was clever and studious, but was bullied at school and teased about her NHS glasses.

Her brother recalls: “Her response was to glower even more disdainfully from behind those NHS glasses, to read even more books, to enunciate her consonants ever more clearly.

“There was no getting away from it – Charlotte was ‘posh’. Being posh in 1980s Hoddesdon, was a crime unforgivable. The fact that we were a single-parent household, had a black and white TV and no car and bought our clothes from Oxfam didn’t stop us from being posh,” he said.

They went to church, sang in the choir, did their homework and went bird watching and listened to classical music, says Richard, who read philosophy at University College, London.

After her death, her family received an airmail envelope from Charlotte “To my family, to be opened in the event of my death” which she had written in February 2000, requesting to be buried in Barley and saying: “I am sorry for getting myself killed, but apart from that I have no regrets and I have lived life to the full”.

After the massacre her grieving family began their campaign for justice against rebel group Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL), which was responsible for the killing.

Richard read harrowing witness statements from survivors. There were suggestions that Charlotte’s fiancé may been tortured and his eyes gauged out and nose macheted off before being shot.

Richard pestered the Foreign Office and Metropolitan Police in his attempt bring the killers to justice, as well as dealing with his own deep sense of loss.

He contacted other aid bodies, foreign journalists and Richard’s family in Burundi and got close enough to the FNL leaders to get under their skin.

Speaking to the Mercury, 31-year-old Richard, who now lives in Wandsworth, south London, with his wife Heleen, said writing the book more than three-and-a-half years after she died did reopen old wounds.

The Charlotte Wilson Memorial Fund (www.cwmf.org.uk) has so far raised £20,000 to help children at the village where she taught in Rwanda.

l Titanic Express, pictured above, published by Continuum is available at Amazon, Waterstones and other bookshops, priced £16.99.

 

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