Friday, November 13, 2015

A memory of the Coventry Blitz

It is so long since I have blogged that I had forgotten this was still active at all.

Anyway this is not a post from me, it is a post from my dad, 75 years ago tonight, as tonight is not an ordinary night, it is the 75th Anniversary of the Coventry Blitz.

Then came the night of November 14th 1940. It was a cold but moonlit night, the full moon was so bright that it was almost possible to read a newspaper outside. The sirens sounded their warning about 7 pm and almost immediately we could hear bombs whistling down in the distance, and the sound of distant explosions. Anti aircraft guns added to the general din, the noise they made when they fired was a hollow bang like someone hitting an empty oil drum with hammer , and the sound of shells going off thousands of feet  in the air was a lazy crump, almost like a car door being shut. After about half and hour we realised it was going to be a big raid so we huddled under the stairs. There was my mother, my elder brother Fred who was 11 years older than me, and myself. I thin there was also one of  my elder sisters, but I am not sure. To be quite honest I was never sure where various members of the family lived at various times. My brother Fred armed himself with an axe and went out into the night. After a while he came back to tell us that fires were burning everywhere and the Germans were dropping a new type of incendiary bomb which exploded when it had been alight for a minute, scattering white hot burning magnesium for yards in every direction. They were very dangerous and much more deadly than the older type. By about 8 0 clock the raid was well under way, there was an almost continual noise, the sound of bombs screaming in the distance, the sudden whoosh of a bomb dropping neared followed by the blast of the explosion and that followed by the almost musical tinkle of shattered glass falling in the street. Then the bang and crump of anti aircraft guns, The noise of falling shrapnel from these was like hail,  occasionally a large piece would fall with a hiss and a plop as it went through a roof tile or bounced off the pavement. Sometimes a brick or chunk of masonry would crash to the ground outsider, flung hundreds of yards by some distant bomb and in between the sounds of the various crashes and bangs could be heard the very deep  pulsating roar of the German bombers as they flew at will over the city. We huddled in our cramped shelter under the stairs with only a hurricane lamp for light. Quite early on the electricity, gas and water was put out of action. I do not thing we had a drink of any kind, we were caught unprepared for such a long raid. The air became thick with the smell of smoke mixed with the acrid smell of burnt explosives and the peculiar smell of old houses that have been blown apart, a mixture of old plaster and soot. Although Crabmill lane was a couple of miles from the city centre, we were not very far from various factories. Around us, within ten minutes walking distance in every direction lay the factories of Morris Motor Works, Courtauld's, the rayon spinning firm, a little further on, Daimler and so on, and many smaller manufacturing companies. All these were potential targets for the Germans so bombs rained down all around us. I was only thirteen years old, and I was not really aware of the danger of the situation, but the fear was there. Time seemed to stand still and minutes became hours and gradually my senses were dulled by continual noise. I didn't know what time it was, it may have been about 11 or 12 o clock but suddenly the house shook with a terrific explosion. The rooms were full of dust and glass, the windows and doors were blown in, there was no sound, just the choking smell of plaster, hot air, and burnt gasses. Later on we discovered that a very large bomb had blown a crater in Stoney Stanton road only 70 or 80 yards away. Time stood still. I don't know if I dozed  off or not, but I remember a voice shouting "is there anyone in here" it was a warden. When we answered he told us that we must move out. There was a land mine sitting near the bomb crater just up the road. We moved quickly and gathered up a few clothes. I had two cats, one of which had disappeared. I was more concerned with them than anything else. The air raid warden guided us out and told us to make our way to the shelters in the Morris  Motor Works on the Bell Green Rd about half a mile to the north. We hurried out past burning buildings, perhaps relieved to be getting away. Eventually we found the comparative safety of the Morris underground shelter. The rest of the raid was spent there. I do not remember the "all clear" being sounded on the factory sirens, but by six o clock there was no more sound of German Aircraft. The only place we could go was to my married sister’s house at 284 Bell Green road. We stumbled out into the dark morning passing the wreckage of bombed buildings. The air stank, smoke hung everywhere, and here and there we passed a burning house, left to burn itself out, for there was no water to fight the fires, WE reach my sisters house which was full of refugees like ourselves. Most of them were women and some of hem had babies in their arms. I remember that one or two were feeding their babies from their breasts which I felt was a little embarrassing. I was just old enough to feel the awakening of sexual differences. No one really bothered, I guess we were all glad to be alive. I am very vague about the next few days. I remember my brother coming in, he had been into the city, he said it was a ruin.