Friday, February 23, 2007

All this ….. and what for?


The terrible raids on Dresden by British and American bombers took place on the nights of 13th and 14th February 1945. But the photographs here are not of Dresden, they show the damage inflicted by the German bombing of Norwich, where I live. 1432 people were killed or injured in Norwich by air raids between 1940 and 1943, and 85% of the housing stock was damaged. During April 1942 Norwich was one of the English cathedral cities heavily bombed in the "Baedeker raids" which targeted cultural centres selected from the eponymous German guide book. The photographs accompanying this article are taken from the official account of the air raids on Norwich published in 1944. This remarkable document, and remember it was written while World War 2 still raged, ends with the words below written by the novelist and war poet R H Mottram:

So the long tale of violence and attempted intimidation drags to its close, and as these words are written the seemingly endless vigil is being relaxed.Whatever we may suffer from “Revenge” weapons, we no longer anticipate organised attack. We have laid aside the steel helmet that so often oppressed our brow, and the respirator that we tested and tried on, hangs on its peg accumulating dust. We no longer look with trepidation for children who linger on their way home from school, nor do we stagger sleepily through the black shadows or the ghoulish light of flares to take up our posts of duty.

We hope soon to be replanning Norwich, and only the broken-hearted can fail to hope that a better and finer city may arise on these ashes. Perhaps a new Germany will help to patch our gaping places and re-site our streets. But no skill will bring back
those who lie under the long row of crosses that line the cemetery rail. These, who bore no malice, are a sacrifice to the evil forces still at work in the world. One may be tempted to recall the last lines of the play, appropriately entitled Strife, by John Galsworthy:

“All this …. and what for?”

It is for a new generation to provide the answer.

Now playing - Arvo Pärt’s I am the true vine, (Paul Hillier directing the Theatre of Voices, Harmonia Mundi 90407). The photograph above shows the destruction in the Cathedral Close in Norwich, with the cloisters of the Benedictine Abbey in the foreground. The photo was taken from a vantage point on the magnificent Norman cathedral. Unlike the Frauenkirche and Thomaskirche in Dresden, Norwich Cathedral survived the terrible bombing despite two direct hits from incendiary bombs, and in 1996 Arvo Pärt was commissioned to write I am the true vine to celebrate the Cathedral's 900th anniversary. The work is an English setting of St. John 15:1-14, in which Jesus likens himself to "the true vine" and commands his followers to love each other.

Arvo Pärt now lives in Berlin, another city that suffered terrible war damage, and the CD I am listening to also contains his moving Berliner Messe. Writing in 1944 R.H. Mottram expressed the hope that: “a new Germany will help to patch our gaping places and re-site our streets”, and this is precisely what happened, although the writer could not have anticipated the four decades of agonizing delay caused by the Cold War. In 1989 the collapse of Communism was triggered by events in Leipzig, just a few miles from Dresden. This allowed the creation of a new Europe which now includes many countries that were part of the USSR.


Arvo Pärt was born in Estonia, one of several countries that threw off the Soviet shackles in the early 1990s, and became part of the new Europe. Today the region around Norwich is home to a large community of migrants from these Baltic countries. On Saturday we celebrated their culture with our first Baltic States Festival, thankfully confirming that a new generation of Europeans is starting to provide the answer to the question "All this .... and what for?"

Suffering knows no side in time of war, now read about the Dresden Requiem for eleven young victims
My thanks go to Helen Yates for her grandmother’s copy of Assault Upon Norwich (published by Norwich Corporation 1944). The location of the photographs in descending order are Rampant Horse Street, Westwick Street, and Cathedral Close. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

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Konrad von Swalwagner said...
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