- Contributed by
- Roy Cartwright
- Location of story:
- South London
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 November 2005
The only direct hit sustained by our home was not a bomb but the nosecap of an anti-aircraft shell which crashed through my bedroom ceiling. I was not in the room at the time, but had quite a fright when I returned to it — in the dark because the blackout curtains had not been drawn. First there was the crunching of plaster underfoot, the I saw the sky through the hole. Someone came with a torch and shone it round until we saw THE THING and wondered whether it would explode; but that would not happen.
Anti-aircraft fire could be as dangerous to people on the ground as bombs, and it contributed by far most of the noise during an air raid. Nobody would go out of doors without a steel helmet as protection against falling shrapnel. When we played a football match the two teams would first form a line across one end of the pitch and walk slowly to the other end, eyes down, looking for any shrapnel which might severely damage anyone who fell on it.
As I lay awake through a heavy and continuous barrage I found myself feeling sorry for the crews of the bombers I heard flying through it, even though they were enemies. I tried to visualise them, thinking, ‘Those men want to kill people; they’ll be happy if they kill me’. Yet I did not feel hatred for them, or feel that they hated me. I was proud to consider myself patriotic, and thought of them as doing what they believed to be their patriotic duty; so we had feelings in common
Later, at the height of the V1 and V2 bombardment, I again listened to the drone of bombers overhead. It seemed incessant; it was not the sound of German bombers, but of our own going to and from their mass raids on German cities. It frightened me.
I prayed for the bomber crews, but I prayed more for the people who would suffer under their bombs. I asked myself, What this war was doing to us, that we were prepared to kill defenceless people in this way?’
There were misgivings expressed at the time and very many more since, about whether these raids were right, strategically or morally. I believed at the time and still believe, that the decision to mount them, though it amounted to using terror as a strategy was made honestly and not with thoughts of vengeance uppermost..
But I hated the war that made us do it.
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