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bp-OUR LONDON LETTER. :

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bp- OUR LONDON LETTER. — — i [From Our Special Corresjiondent.'] I Probably never before has a single -detona- tion been heard by so many millions 01 people. The explosion at the munitions fac- tory in the East of London was so tremen- dous that it was heard everywhere in London, the suburbs, and beyond. The dis- turbance of the air travelled further than the actual sound, and people living far out in the quiet country were startled by a sudden rattling of the windows, the cause of • which remained a mystery till next day. In Central London the glare in the sky was seen before the sound of the explosion was heard, which is, of course, accounted for by the fact that while light travels at 189,000 miles in a second, it takes sound five seconds to travel a mile. Though the scene of the disaster was miles away, the light in the sky was so intense that in Ludgate-circus and on Blackfriars Bridge one could have read a newspaper with ease. The glare and the explosion, as may be imagined, caused tremendous excitement in Fleet-street, and in a very few minutes the descriptive re- porters were hurrying to the scene. But the Press Bureau would rot permit the descriptive accounts to be published next moraing, and the public, anxious for news, were able to read only half-a-dozen lines, which gave them very little information. The natural result was that rumour spread and grew throughout Saturday. Tales of the most awful and alarming character passed from lip to lip. The devastation was said to extend for many miles, whole dis- tricts had been swept away, and the casual- ties ran into thousands and were still grow- ing when on Saturday evening the publica- tion of a further and fuller official statement did something to allay anxiety. It would certainly have been wiser on the part of the Press Bureau to supplement the meagre in- formation given in the first bulletin by oth6r announcements during the day, instead of waiting till nearly twenty-four hours after the catastrophe before giving us further news. The withholding of official news created just the atmosphere most suitable for the growth of sensational rumour. Considering the nature and extent of the catastrophe, the number of casualties must be regarded as almost miraculously small. At the time of writing the full tale is not complete. It is certain that the figures alreadv given in the official statements must be increased when thorough search has been made among the dust and ashes that once were cottages, but it is already clear that the actual number of dead and injured bears little relation to the terrible stories which were told all over London on the day following the tragedy. It has been esti- mated that the total number of dead will not exceed three hundred. The fact that the disaster occurred on a night when overtime is not worked and after most of the em- ployees had left for home is one of the reasons for the comparatively small death roll, and the heroism and self-sacrifice of Dr. Angel, the chief chemist at the factory, is another. When the fire was se-cn to be getting the upper hand, he. better than any other man there, knew that a frightful ex- plosion was inevitable, and instead of seek- ing his own safety, he devoted the last I minutes of his life to saving others. His was a fine death. Another factor which saved many lives was the fear among resi- dents in the immediate neighbourhood of the factory that the fire would be followed by an explosion. They made all haste from their houses as soon as they knew of the outbreak, with the result that many of the h caves which were razed to the ground had at the time no human occupants. When one surveys the devastated area it seems in- credible that the number of casualties should not be far greater than it is. A new circular which has been issued to War Tribunals by Lord Rhondda will make < it very difficult for fit men to secure exemp- tion from military sorvice. The circular states that it is of urgent- importance that all men fit for general service or garrison sorviee abroad who can be spared without serious detriment to work of essential national importance, or have not other very strong grounds for exemption, should be made available for military service as soon as possible, at latest by March 31 next, in order that they may be put into training. Tribunals may consider that time should be given in particular cases, but it is pointed out that in such cases exemption should not .be granted, but arrangements me with the military representative not to call the men up before a stipulated date. Agriculture is excluded from the new arrangement. There seems to be general agreement that the attempt to enforce economy by limiting the number of courses at luncheon and dinner has not been attended with success. There may be a few people who, taking meals in restaurants or hotels, have obeyed the spirit as well as the letter of the Order, but most lunchers and diners have con- tinued to spend just as much money on their meals, and, what is perhaps more serious, to eat as much, and in some cases more, meat than they did before the Order was issued. The rc"son for this is that, while the num- ber of courses is limited, no restriction is placed on the number of helpings of each. A man may be refused pudding because he had already eaten his allotted number of courses, but there is nothing to prevent his having another cut from the joint. Which is absurd. The hotels and restaurants practi- ■ cally all tell the eame story, that the con- sumption of fish, meat, poultry, and game has increased considerably. As this is the very opposite of what was intended or de- sired, the Food Controller is considering what is best to be done about it, and no doubt something will be done. The showing of railway season tickets twice a day or oftener is rather getting on the nerves of season ticket-holders who have been put to this little bit of trouble more times this month than during the past twenty years. I wonder how those who travel on the London and South-Western will take to that company's idea for a new » form of season ticket. It is to be of the size and shape of half-a-crown, enclosed in a case, the lettering on the ticket being, of course, left visible. The case is so designed that it may be attached to a watch-chain or handbag, or worn as a badge or a wristlet. The watch-chain suggestion is not bad, but I cannot fancy myself wearing my ticket as a badge or a wristlet. A. E. M,

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AUTOMATIC TRAIN CONTROL I

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