The Blitz


The Blitz: Plymouth – 5th September 2010, 7:45 pm
In the first of a series of programmes telling stories of the Blitz from across the UK, Angela Rippon is in her home town of Plymouth to find out how the city’s children lived through the terror of the air raids which Plymouth endured from the summer of 1940.

Angela meets people who survived the most ferocious bombing attacks in the Spring of 1941, and she explores a fascinating archive of school logs – which give an extraordinary picture of daily school life during wartime.

The scene is set by Terry Charman, the Senior Historian at The Imperial War Museum. He explains that at the start of the Second World War, Plymouth was not considered to be a likely target for aerial attacks, and so many children remained there throughout the conflict.

In today’s programme, Angela meets some of those children – most now in their eighties – and hears about how they coped with the terror of the bombing, the nights in the shelters and even the loss of members of their own families.

As part of the programme we travel to the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office where Angela is given a unique insight into how schools tried to carry on as normal during the air raids. The city has an extraordinary collection of logs – kept by schools and detailing all the events of daily life during the years when Plymouth was under attack. In these books we discover accounts of the children being sent to the shelters because of an air attack, of the strain on teachers and pupils alike caused by the bombing and records of poor attendance caused by the Blitz. But normal life goes on, with records of exams and school inspections, and the logs provide a moving account of how Plymouth’s schools did their best to provide some kind of normality for their children.

The Blitz: Liverpool – 6th September 2010, 10.45am (repeat 7:45pm)

In the second of a series of programmes telling stories of the Blitz from around the UK, Peter Sissons is in his home town of Liverpool to find out about the Blitz on Merseyside.

Peter starts by exploring the ‘secret diary’ kept by one of Liverpool’s newspaper journalists during the city’s Blitz. Arthur Johnson was the Blitz Correspondent for Liverpool’s Daily Post and Echo newspapers. Throughout the bombing he reported for the papers. But once he got home, he would also type up his own detailed accounts of the bombing and the deaths and damage caused. At a time when all newspaper reports had to be censored, this was his own personal record which told exactly what was happening during the Blitz.

Arthur Johnson died towards the end of the War, but Peter meets his son – also Arthur Johnson – who takes him through some of the diary entries and tells him more about his father and how he gathered this remarkable account.

Liverpool’s importance as a port made it an obvious target for the Luftwaffe, but it was also home to the command centre for the Battle of the Atlantic. Local historian Ken Pye takes Peter to see the underground complex where that crucial campaign was co-ordinated

During the programme, Peter also talks to some of the men and women who lived through Merseyside’s May Blitz in 1941. One of these is Sophie Griffiths – whose home was destroyed by the bombers on her 21st birthday. She gives Peter a vivid account of what it was like to face up to the German bombers and how her family survived a direct hit on their street.

The Blitz: London – 7th September 2010, 10.45am (repeat 7:45pm)

The 7th of September 1940 saw the start of the London Blitz. In an attempt to crush British morale and force a surrender from Churchill, Hitler ordered his bombers to embark upon a ferocious and sustained bombing campaign. On “Black Saturday” – as the first day of the Blitz would come to be known – 348 German bombers attacked London, forming a 20 mile wide block of aircraft filling 800 square miles of sky.

London was bombed for 76 consecutive nights. By the time the bombing ended in May 1941 more than 20,000 people had been killed, and nearly one and a half million had lost their homes.

Broadcaster and author Rosie Millard explores the technology of the Blitz, from the iconic searchlights which swept the sky hunting for German bombers, to the woefully inaccurate “Ack-Ack” anti-aircraft guns.

Rosie speaks to Londoners who were charged with operating the many technological devices that became part of the fabric of daily life in London during the Blitz. She hears the fascinating story of those who oversaw the enormous hydrogen filled barrage balloons that floated eerily above the city, with the purpose of warding off low flying enemy pilots.

Rosie also visits the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon in North London. She is shown around their extensive collection, which includes many startling examples of the machines that defended our capital during the dark days of the Blitz, 70 years ago.

The Blitz: Belfast – 8th September 2010, 10.45am (repeat 7:45pm)

Part of a series of programmes exploring how different UK cities experienced the Blitz.

Former Blue Peter presenter Zoe Salmon goes back home to Belfast in Northern Ireland to find out about how people there coped with the air raids and bombing.

At the start of the Second World War, Belfast was uniquely ill-prepared for the threat of air raids. The Government in Stormont did not expect their city to be a target, and civil defence was far less advanced than in other parts of the nation. Efforts to ensure that the city’s people were adequately prepared were made more complicated by Northern Ireland’s divide between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

Belfast’s Blitz came in April and May of 1941. In the course of four nights of bombing more than a thousand people were killed and around half of the city’s housing was damaged.

Zoe visits Clonard Monastery and finds out about one remarkable story of how the threat of the raids led to the breakdown of the some of the divisions between the city’s Protestants and Catholics. On the night of the second major attack on Belfast, the Monastery’s crypt was opened up as an air raid shelter for local women and children. Clonard’s Chronicle tells how people from the local Catholic and Protestant communities alike spent the night together there, saying prayers and singing hymns. It was a moment, as the Chronicle records, which was “very much appreciated by all”.

The Blitz: Birmingham – 9th September 2010, 10.45am (repeat 7:45pm)

Part of a series of programmes telling stories of the Blitz from around the UK. Jasper Carrott finds out what happened in Birmingham during the worst of the bombing.

Birmingham was a crucial centre for the manufacture of armaments during the Second World War – everything from anti-aircraft shells to Spitfire planes was made there.

Workers – many of them young women – were brought from across Britain to keep the factories of England’s manufacturing powerhouse going. Birmingham was justifiably known as the ‘city of a thousand trades’. By 1944, four hundred thousand people people were involved in war work there – a greater percentage of the population than anywhere else in the country.

Jasper meets some of those who undertook this gruelling work. They recall how they worked round the clock to keep the nation’s armed forces supplied and they remember the dangerous nights of the Blitz when they city’s factories were often the bombers’ targets and workers would sometimes carry on through the air raid sirens in order not to lose production.

Jasper also hears about one of the darkest episodes of the Birmingham Blitz – the bombing of the Birmingham Small Arms Company’s factory at Small Heath on the night of the 19th of November, 1940. Many of the workers were trapped inside the burning building, and tremendous heroism was shown by the rescuers, with two George Medals being won that night. Nonetheless, more than fifty workers were killed in a vivid demonstration of the bravery shown and risks taken by those who worked on the home front through the Blitz.

The Blitz: Lübeck – 10th September 2010, 10.45am (repeat 7:45pm)

In the last of our series telling stories of the Blitz from around the UK, we travel to Luebeck in Northern Germany for a rather different perspective. We hear about the experience of being bombed from the ‘other side,’ as we tell the story of the night when one German city came under attack.

The programme is presented by John F Jungclaussen, who is the UK Correspondent of Die Zeit newspaper. John’s family come from this part of Germany and his father was born in a village near Luebeck, just a few days before the air raid.

Luebeck was bombed on the night before Palm Sunday in March 1942. The raid marked a change of tactics by the British and led to the destruction by fire of many of the medieval buildings at the heart of the city. Several hundred people were killed, and many more lost their homes.

On his journey into the past, John meets some of those people who were in Luebeck at the time of the bombing. Kurt Adler – a 14 year old schoolboy in 1942 – remembers the terror of the raid and climbing to the top of his family home where he watched the flames of the burning city. He recalls the moment when the bells in one of the nearby churches suddenly stopped ringing – the fire had burnt through the bell ropes sending them crashing to the ground.

Today those molten, twisted bells are preserved where they fell in St Mary’s Church as a memorial to the bombing and those who died in it. John meets the pastor of the church who tells him about the work which has gone on in the intervening years to build up reconciliation between the two former enemies. The chapel where the bells are kept also contains a cross from Coventry – given as a sign of peace between the two cities.

A Juniper Connect production for BBC Radio 4.