September 7, 2010 marked the 70-year anniversary of beginning of the Blitz during World War II. Soon Americans and people all over the world be commemorating the 9th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. Therefore, it’s important to remember that many similar tragedies have been suffered by people around the world.
When The Blitz began, London (as well as many other towns and cities across the country) was bombed every night for ten weeks, and the Blitz lasted ten months. The reasons for, and the conditions of, large-scale air attacks on cities may be different. Yet, it’s critical to remember the suffering and the courage that results.
Today, the effects of the Blitz can still be seen in most major British cities. Intermittent city blocks stand out, the post-war architecture which reveals neighbourhoods and inhabitants were ravaged by bombing. Over a million homes were destroyed, just in London. During and after the bombing, millions were left homeless. There was large-scale migration as people slept in the subways, in factories, in forests and in the countryside for shelter or to escape.
Now, in an age where flight is an inescapable part of modern life, cities and countries all over the world have suffered from air attacks. From Britain and America, to Iraq, Korea and Serbia.
However, one of the most important lessons we can learn from the Blitz is that of attitude. The general feelings or the “Blitz Spirit” were characterized by endurance and defiance (BBC). People went about their daily lives. There was more than just a constant fear of attack: there was constant attack. There were no incremental warning colours that warned about the potential of an attack on a particular day, because chances were, thousands of tons of explosives would be dropped on the city that day. So, everyone just cracked on.
I’ll repeat one of the most poignant and revealing stories my grandmother told me about the Blitz, from when she was in her early teens, living in London. Everyone was given gas masks, and told to have them with them at all times. This was because it was thought likely the Germans would, sooner or later, drop poisonous gas on British cities. Laughing, she said that she and all her friends loved these. They took the bags the gas masks were in, hid the masks and just used the bags. She said that they were just the right size to fit a toothbrush, and change of underwear and a few other supplies to make an overnight bag. Therefore, you could have a covert handbag or overnight bag (in a time where any supplies, especially luxuries were scarce), never look like you were out late and still look like a responsible, upstanding citizen carrying your gas mask around!
I love the mental image this creates. So many sombre, serious young girls out on the streets that were under constant threat of bombing. Many carrying around gas masks bags, which were the must have accessory of the time. Of course, it belies the fact that it also meant that if you were out late, you might come home and your house (and possibly family) could be gone. However, you would still have a toothbrush and change of underwear if you had to sleep in the subway or in a doorway.
When commemorating historical tragedies, there are two critical things to remember:
- People all over the world have shared in a similar tragedies
- Keep calm and carry on
Docklands at War – The Blitz
Museum of London
Spirit of the Blitz
The Blitz – Bombing Raids During World War II
Century of Flight
Did the Bliz really unify Britain?