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The Blitz: Britain on Fire

When this three part series on the Luftwaffe’s devastating May 1941 raids on Liverpool began with veteran BBC presenter Michael Buerk flanked by a much younger Angellica Bell and unshaven Rob Bell my heart dropped.

Was this going to be yet another war time story put though the blender of youth and diversity?

I was wrong as the series unearthed some nonogenarians and grandchildren of the key personalities who enlivened the actual records of the events.

In May 1941 Hitler ordered his Luftwaffe to wreak havoc on British ports and Liverpool over a week had to bear the brunt. The aim was two fold: to cause destruction to the ports and reduce civilian morale. Liverpool was specially hard hit as its residential areas are close to its dockyards.

The series focused on certain individuals. One mother of six was in a Anderson shelter with 3 of her children including a babe in arms when it sustained a direct hit: Dr Leonard Findlay somehow kept his Millward Hospital functioning until it was hit and then incapacitated by injury – as was his chief matron – supervised the saving of many casualties in the wards: Merchantman captain James Hadley had to decide what to do when his SS Malakand, carrying a whole cargo of high explosives, was hit: actress Mary Lawson and her husband Buster came to Liverpool to enjoy a few days of privacy together but ended up in a public shelter.

Perhaps the most moving of all was the story told by her grand niece of how her aunt aged nineteen roved around Liverpool’s destruction for any news of her missing nephews hit in the Anderson shelter. Both survived but died of injuries shortly after though their mother lived to 83.

I felt many emotions. There was an admiration not just for the fortitude of the people whose morale did not collapse but also of revenge or, to quote Winston Churchill on being told by one woman in the London Blitz that “We can take it, but you give it back,” Oh we will”, he replied ” …With interest. Compound interest”.

Those who condemn Bomber Harris for the bombing of Dresden should be made to watch this programme.

About Bernadette Angell

After cutting her journalistic teeth in Boston USA, Bernadette met and married an Englishman, whom she followed back to London. Two decades and three children later, they divorced. She now occupies herself as a freelance writer (credits include television soaps and radio plays) and occasional amateur gardener. More Posts