“We could see screaming and shouting and running. We could hear gunfire. I turned to you and said ‘that’s it, we are going to die.’”
As Shirley Church and husband Joseph descended in the lift at their hotel near Sousse in Tunisia on June 26 2015, they knew their lives would be changed forever.
After starting the day relaxing on a picture perfect beach, they ended it with Shirley being critically injured and covered in blood in a hotel corridor, with Joseph having made the heartbreaking decision to phone home to tell their sons they might never see them again.
The couple, from Thorney had travelled to Tunisia for a well earned break and two weeks in the sun, and after 12 days in the African country, they were preparing for their return home when terrorist Seifeddine Rezgui started his ‘evil’ attack, slaughtering 38 tourists.
Shirley said: “We were there for 14 nights, and had been there for 12 days. It had been fantastic. The hotel was fantastic, the food was nice, it was clean.
“We had been on the beach in the morning, and left our things there to go to a departure meeting in the hotel.
“We went with another couple, whose names I don’t know.
“As only four of us turned up, the meeting was over in seconds. The other couple asked if we wanted to see their room, as they had been many times, and had been upgraded.
“After we had done that, we said we were going to the beach, while they were going shopping. We went into the lift, which was all glass fronted. When it went down to the ground floor, we could see screaming and shouting and running. We could hear gunfire. I turned to you (Joseph) and said ‘that’s it, we are going to die.’
“We came out of the lift and went through the door opposite, which was a fire exit, We thought we were going to get out.”
However, after climbing stairs, the couple – who were holding hands as they fled – realised they had no-where left to run.
Shirley said: “We got to a dead end. There were several rooms off the corridor. We got parted – I don’t know how – and you (Joseph) got into a room.
“I couldn’t get anywhere, and then he threw a hand grenade and knocked me off my feet. When I opened my eyes, I was facing the opposite way to the way I was running, and my head was against a wall. I was in a bath of blood.
“You could not see what colour hair I had, what colour my clothes were. I managed to shout. I knew I couldn’t move my legs.”
Joseph, who was in the room for less than two minutes, said: “I came out of the room, and there was blood everywhere. It was squirting out of her arms and legs.
“There were dead bodies in the corridor, a dead body in the room where I had been.
“I was screaming for help. The room was full of smoke, and the smell of gunpowder.
“I thought my wife was going to die. I had to make calls in the corridor to my sons to say ‘I’m sorry mate, we might not see you again.’”
Shirley said they waited about half an hour for help, and she was sure she was going to die in the corridor.
She said: “There was a hazy, horrible smell. I could feel myself going. I thought that’s it, I’m gone.
“Some men and women came in white coats, and walked away, they didn’t give any treatment. Eventually some workmen came. There were no stretchers, so they had to use sunbeds to carry us downstairs. We were plonked outside and waited for an ambulance.”
Shirley was taken to hospital in Tunisia overnight, before being airlifted to Luton airport the next day, and then taken to Peterborough City Hospital.
She said she never saw the attacker as they fled – and hated seeing images of him in the media. She said: “I never saw his face. He came up behind us.
“We were some of the last to be injured. He was on a rampage for 40 minutes.
“We didn’t want to see the news or the papers. We wanted to get on with our lives the best way we could.
“I can never imagine why there is such evil. We shall never know. You are on holiday having a lovely break because you have both worked your socks off to save up to go away and then this idiot comes along.
“You cant help but think why did he chose that hotel? Why?
“I presume because it was full of English people.
“That’s the only thing I can say.
“I can’t bear to see his face plastered in the papers, or on the television. Horrible.”