Blitz survivors share their stories in this article from the 2013 One Night in November programme
Post-Blitz Coventry, July 1945 RAF War Film
In his book, Air Raid, The Bombing of Coventry 1940, Norman Longmate explains why the city was unique in its industrial development:
Thanks to [Coventry’s] long history and the refusal for many years of the corporation to authorise building on the common land surrounding the city, sizable factories, small workshops, flats and houses of all kinds were mixed up together around the ancient centre…within a minute or two’s walk of the Cathedral…one could find not merely small manufacturing businesses but large concerns which almost anywhere else would have been confined to a non-residential district…
By the beginning of November 1940, Coventry had already suffered from air raids and, of around 250 warnings, about 10% had turned into actual raids on the city. The population of nearly a quarter of a million people were already unhappy about what they saw as inadequate defence systems for their city, especially air defence. These worries were a major factor in what became a nightly exodus – people would use any means they could to take themselves and their families out of the city to sleep, even if it meant sleeping under hedges.
On the night of Thursday 14 November, a bright moonlit night (the operation was codenamed ‘Moonlight Sonata’), the city of Coventry was pounded into ruins over a sustained eleven-hour period. Incredibly, many historic buildings survived, but much of the city’s industry was destroyed. The intensity, ferocity and ‘success’ of the attack was such that Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels coined a new verb, ‘to Coventrate’.
This is what some of the people of Coventry saw and experienced that night:
“Everywhere was tumbling about. Broadgate was ablaze. The sparks were coming down and a little kitten was running about trying to catch them. A gas main was blazing in Smithford Street…
Everything that was burnable was burning…”
George Day, designer at Armstrong Siddeley at Parkside
“We were somewhere near Burtons when a massive bomb went off and I believe we were blown in and out of that shop! The blast was so great that it split my trousers all up the middle. I was tempted to help myself to a pair from Burtons. I was in dire necessity but thought better of it. There were harsh penalties for looting.”
Les Hammond, machine operator at Alvis Mechanisation
“In the days of the November Blitz whenever one met a friend the first question was, ‘How are you?’ One man I will always remember. He was Fred Brigden. He had been in the British Army of Occupation after the First World War. He asked nothing more of life than to dig his garden, watch the Bantams play and listen to the wireless. I saw Fred the Sunday after the Blitz and naturally ‘How are you?’ was the question. Fred told me: ‘I have been down the factory. We haven’t much of a roof but we are starting work tomorrow. We’ll beat these buggers yet’. Those words personified the spirit of England.”
Bill Wilson, former Labour MP for Coventry South and South-East
“This raid destroyed our city. All through the night we sat huddled hearing the boom of guns blasting off, listening for and to the sickening whistling of cascading bombs followed by the shudder and earth tremor or, most frightening of all, the tearing noise of the land torpedoes as they sliced through the ground. You could hear them whizzing by with power and speed.
“One passed so close to our Anderson that the concrete sides shook and earth spattered down on the tin roof in great clods with falling stones and I knew that what they had all been saying was true…this was the end of the world. I felt quite cold and very calm as I gave myself up to this inevitability.”
Mary Davies, aged 13 who lived in Ansty Road, Wyken
“Mum, Dad, my sister and myself went under the stairs. It was pitch black. I could hear the bombs dropping, then Dad said to Mum, ‘This one’s for us, Jess’, and he was right. I heard this whistling sound and it was a direct hit on the house. Dust and plaster came down on us, the wall cracked open, Dad got cramp in his leg. My mother got out of the door, she sank to her knees and started to pray.”
Raymond Hall, a young boy living in Highfield Road
“As we got within a few miles of the city we found all traffic was being diverted from attempting to enter the city centre. Somehow my ‘chauffeur’ managed to dodge the diversion. Holocaust. Unbelievable desecration. A pall of smoke and dust hung over the devastated buildings and piles of rubble.
“We reached the factory eventually. No heating, no lighting, no water even to make a cup of tea. Somehow things went on. I remember sitting at my desk, hair blowing in the breeze from the shattered windows, attempting to type in woolly gloves. Of course not everyone turned up. Some never did again.”
Katharine White, a typist at SS Cars (later Jaguar)
“The sounding of the air raid siren brought the blacked out, deserted streets into a hive of activity. From the surrounding streets would come hordes of rushing people; women with babies in their arms, toddlers, and others, in their dressing gowns and siren suits…
“The night was suddenly transformed to day when the darkened streets became alight as the Coventry sky was encircled by German dropped flares. It looked as if a large Christmas tree was lit over the city…”
ARP Warden Gwyn Jones
“We could see the planes clearly. We stood outside the shelter calling them everything and they must have seen us as, when they came down low, we could see them in the cockpit.
“We didn’t bother to go into the shelter again, as all fear had left us and we did not care any more. Lots of people that night got past bothering about themselves. They just did everything for the dying and the injured.”
“The scene from the roof of the church was amazing. The Germans afterwards claimed they had poured down 500 tons of high explosive and more than 30,000 incendiaries on this city of some 240,000 inhabitants. Their airmen could see the glow of fires from the coast. From the battlements of Trinity Church the panorama might have been an illustration from Dante’s Inferno.
“I could not believe then that anything had a chance of surviving. The whole of Coventry looked as if it would be enveloped in the fires before the dawn came. I wondered how the dead would be buried.”
Reverend G W Clitheroe, vicar of Holy Trinity Church
Moonlight Sonata: the Coventry Blitz, compiled and edited by Tim Lewis
Coventry’s Blitz, published by Coventry Evening Telegraph on 50th anniversary in 1990
Air Raid: the Bombing of Coventry, 1940, Norman Longmate