70 years on, London commemorates surviving the 'blitz'
The 70th anniversary of the start of the Nazi 'Blitz' on England today was commemorated near St. Paul's Cathedral, which survived the bombing campaign as much of the city around it was reduced to rubble.
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“We think of it as a time when cheerful cockneys defied the Nazi menace; and that’s not wrong, but it is a small part of the story,” says Mr. Beckett. “People knew someone had blundered. Britain had plenty of time to prepare.”Skip to next paragraph
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A special section in the The Guardian newspaper today carries interviews with a range of ordinary blitz survivors. Dorothy Roberts remembers after the bombs fell in Manchester: “I had a brother who was too young to go in the army, so he’d joined the Local Defense Volunteers; his job was to dig people out. He was out all night, and we didn’t see him until well into the next day. He came home black…The next day there was no transport, and I remember hundreds and hundreds of people walking to work. They were walking into sheer bedlam, but no one would miss work.”
Alan Hartley, an aerospace factory worker at age 16, witnessed the bombing of Coventry in November of 1940: “The Germans bombed Coventry very systematically. They bombed in straight lines from east to west, and then they started from north to south. It was like darning a sock.”
The blitz and its spirit is perhaps most synonymous with the character of Mr. Churchill, who had replaced Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain months before. In recent years scholars have turned to Churchill’s views of ethnic minorities, his disdain of Mohandas Gandhi, and his efforts to keep alive British Empire and colonial reach. Such work is countered by a new wave of more balanced biographies that focus on Churchillian virtues.
Churchill and the war cabinet members were sometimes the main British officials that would go out and greet ordinary people after a night of bombing. Many upper-crust Londoners sought shelter outside the city.
The German paper Spiegel last week described Churchill as “the man who saved Europe.” Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker last month, reviewing a new round of Churchill biographies, argues that Churchill’s spirit of defiance just prior to the blitz set a tone for England to endure, at a time when many in his party were willing to “settle for the best deal you could get from the Germans.”
Mr. Gopnik argues of this period: “At that moment when all seemed lost, something was found, as Winston Churchill pronounced some of the most famous lines of the past century. 'We shall go on to the end … We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.' Churchill’s words did all that words can do in the world. They said what had to be done; they announced why it had to be done then; they inspired those who had to do it.”