Tuesday, 7 September 2010


70 years ago tonight, The Blitz started over London, the horrifying bombing raid carried out by Germany's Luftwaffe that went on from September 1940 to May 1941.Hitler's aim, apart from destroying Britain's docks, shipbuilding potential, munitions factories and more, was to destroy morale, to defeat us psychologically as well as physically. Somehow, despite almost 1000 planes being spotted in the sky on the first night of it all, we didn't let him. We still talk about The Spirit of the Blitz. And still, somehow, in 2010, we know what it means.

It started over London, and in thinking of The Blitz, London is often the background image that comes to mind....sirens sounding through the dark, fire belching from blown-out windows, lines of people sheltering in underground stations, pictures of the King and Queen picking their way across heaps of rubble that had once been a street of houses. But the bombing raids took place right across Britain. In Scotland there were raids over Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and smaller places...but the worst, in terms of loss of life, was over Clydebank where 528 people were killed in one night, Scotland's biggest loss of life. Whole families were wiped out, communities physically destroyed, and 35,000 people were made homeless.

By the end of the Blitz over 43,000 civilians had been killed, half of them in London, and well over a million homes had been destroyed. But throughout it all, throughout Britain, the trains kept running, the traffic kept moving, people went Christmas shopping, held parties, sang songs, and children kept playing.

Norway's experience of World War 11 was of course very different from that of Britain. I have written about it already, back in April on the 70th anniversary of the Occupation of Norway. Although 70 years may seem like a long, long time, it is clear that the War and the Occupation have had a lasting influence on Norway. Older generations worry that the younger ones will not know enough about Norway's experience of the War, and not be able to understand it. But I have often been told that the War influenced the culture and the structure of the nation more than anything else, so I cannot believe that younger generations are wholly ignorant of the events of the 1940s. To have lived under Occupation for 5 years must have been shattering, a 'slow-burn' sort of wound that inevitably left a lasting impression.

Like Norway, people in the UK often think the young know nothing of the War and do not care to hear about, as though it is irrelevant to their 21st century lives. But I would argue with that. Apart from the fact that I have always found young people to be very interested in WW11, our children are taught about it all in school. However, outside the history classroom, the War has left a mark that runs deep within our psyche. For most of us, Remembrance Day in November is still significant, whichever war we are remembering....every city, town and village has a War Memorial, we've all seen the films and the documentaries, and we all have families who have stories from those times to pass on.

It is still known as Britain's Darkest Hour, and it was seven decades ago, but if someone talks about The Spirit of the Blitz, we still have a fairly decent grasp of just what the phrase might mean.

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