When you look at the iconic picture taken of the German city of Dresden in 1945, it is as though the statue of the Rathausturm, known as ‘Die Gute’ (the Goodness – a personification of kindness), is pointing in disbelief at the utter devastation wrought by the British, where an estimated 25,000 people (many of them civilians) were killed. Almost five years previously in November 1940, my home town of Coventry, was heavily bombed by the Germans because of its industry and munitions factory. Although the death toll (estimated c560+) was far less than in Dresden, it was still massively devastating in terms of the damage done to the city, which took years to rebuild.
The greatest symbol of that destruction is the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral. I still go up its tower, St Michael’s, and two things stay with me when I look at the view; the first is imagining being up there on the night of the bombings, seeing planes overhead encircling the city. The second is, if you look south across the city, to the west you see the green of the more affluent parts of Coventry, including the War Memorial Park, whereas to the east you see the grey concrete-dominated developments of the less wealthy.
Dresden and Coventry are now twinned. In fact, Coventry was the first to twin with another city (Stalingrad in 1944) and has become foremost in symbolising peace and reconciliation through wars; its theatre is called The Belgrade Theatre, after the then Yugoslav city donated timber for its rebuilding. Antony Owen’s two poems here, Postman in the Smoke and Inferno, poignantly reflect the impact bombing had on the people of the two cities. In Coventry, “A postman stands in the flame grey postcode/staring at doorways with chimneys around them,/moaning as they open to charred occupants.” Then in Dresden: “These pails of dead firemen filled/with initialled rings weigh heavy.” But it is the men of power, (more…)