Friday, 30 December 2016

The Revenge Bombing of Canterbury

Cover of Canterbury Streets by Janet Cameron
Published by Tempus Publishing

It's hard to believe that the area occupied by one of England's most beautiful cities was once a swampy wasteland. That is, until our prehistoric ancestors began learning to use tools. Now Canterbury's vibrant mix of old and new, coexisting in harmony, earns it a unique place in England's history.
The "Blitz" Raids
A watershed in the history of Canterbury was the Blitz, particularly the raids of 1942 which destroyed many beautiful buildings, from private homes to fine, historical treasures. The Baedeker raids against England's town and cities were in reprisal for RAF night attacks against German cities. The raid on 1 June 1942, was meant to avenge the bombing of Cologne on 30 May. It is estimated that one fifth of Canterbury was devastated that night during an attack that lasted 2hrs 30mins.
Fortunately, the city's greatest treasures, like the Cathedral, survived, thanks to vigilant fire-watchers. This stunning, Gothic masterpiece was originally built and consecrated in 1070 and its last major alterations were in 1834. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, symbolic head of the Anglican Church.
War Heroes
The War Memorial stands in the Buttermarket. One of the names inscribed is that of Philip Thornton, who once lived with his family in Stone Street. Philip Thornton volunteered as a soldier, joining the Buffs, which is the Royal East Kent Regiment. In 1941, Philip left from Canterbury East Station for his posting in India, and then went off to fight in the Battle for Burma.  He was killed at Donbaik in 1943.
An Angel Sang that Night
Philip loved music and had often sung at carol concerts, giving performances which prompted one old man to say: "I thought I heard the angels sing last night." After his death, his parents received a letter from complete strangers in India, where he had been trained for a year. It said: "As long as Christmas has its carols, we shall remember your son."
A Spectacular View of the "Blitz"
The University of Kent at Canterbury stands on a site once occupied by Brotherhood and Beverley farms. From this site, high up, many people watched, fascinated by the spectacular flares and brilliant cascades of lights illuminating Canterbury on the night of the 1942 raid. One account records that one hundred people watched the terrible destruction including the toppling of church steeples. It seems bizarre to describe the destruction of war as anything but horrific, yet people reflecting on the sight said it was "beautiful."
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Canterbury is a fine city, buzzing with activity and is located close to many areas of outstanding natural beauty, easily accessible by bus or train. It is a blessing that its indomitable spirit during the Second World War raids helped protect its most precious treasure, the great Canterbury Cathedral - or, by its full and proper name - Cathedral and Metropolitan Church of Christ at Canterbury.
Stephen Bax
Doris Conroy

No comments:

Post a Comment