Tuesday, 6 October 2009


It’s a bit of an irritation, Coventry Cathedral. Basil Spence’s stones and glass are fine, the wee Lady chapel is lovely as is the Sutherland Tapestry; the fine cut-glass windows and doors display an industrial precision well-suited to the former car town; it is a wholly fine, inspirational place, the new cathedral, in which to hear Kraftwerk and probably Handel’s Messiah, too, although I never did. It’s the old, ruined, roofless Saint Michael’s, next door, that’s a pisser.

Where the mediaeval altar stood is a cross of charred timbers from the old ceiling and some lettering, Father Forgive.

I suppose it’s fair enough, that being the central message of Christianity, it’s just seems so presumptious to assume, as the Cathedral did and does, that the entire, blitzed, city population, then and now, forgives Herman for the firestorm he dropped on their heads. Organised Christians, clergypersons and pacifist groups always assume that their umbrella of often nauseating piety shelters all, and these brain-dead motherfuckers have become the official voice of Coventry, a bunch of West Midlands Desmond Tutus, hi-jacking the feelings of real people to their mad dogma; shutting out the voices of suffering, of outrage. Homes were lost, lives, limbs, factories, ancient buildings and monuments, yet Church seeks to focus all through its own guilty lens and with the State, generally succeeds.

Blitz, The Burning of Coventry, BBC 2, tonight, took a more secular view. Talking heads, children or young adults as the bombs fell, related their experience of bombardment, emtombment, terror and bereavement, one of them explaining how it was decades after the loss of his father and the disfigurement of his mother that he let go of his hatred, another

wept astonished tears, nearly seventy years on.

It was a quiet programme, missionary in its own way, observing that Herman sure kicked up a shitstorm with his Luftwaffe’s policy of Coventration; 500 odd souls perished in the blitzing of Coventry, 35,000 in Dresden and 50,000 in Hamburg; such a perfect day, you’re gonna reap just what you sow.

There were no comic-book heroes here, save for attempts made by bumbling politicians, just ordinary people, eventually acting heroically. And not a counsellor in sight.

If it’s on again, try to watch it. In honour of a population gone down in Ruin’s flood.


mongoose said...

Mr Ishmael,

The mongoose, for the sins of his fathers, was born in Coventry. Almost two decades later it is true but I remember seeing the old bomb sites. Most were flat wasteland but a couple were still those orderly shovelled newsreel heaps of bricks, fenced, presumably unsearched for old ordnance. I know not. We now have a similar heap where the Rootes once stood and people built Talbot Horizons. Your arse through the floor by Friday.

Those road names I recognise because I have walked them, cycled them, played marbles in them. Those voices I recognise as the voices of the parents of my friends. Years later, here, I was in the boozer and a man recalled that he watched the sky red as Coventry burned. (He was only in Atherstone so that was fairly easy.) He didn't understand - a boy looking at a fiery sky. I understood and I wasn't even alive then. Mrs Kenny, the church biddy, with no husband. Our church an emergency wooden hut. My classroom a sort of early portakabin - built for a year, lasted thirty.

You must know by now that I carry no bags of religious rocks. Enough is enough but the old St Michael's is a wonderful empty space. It tells you what you need to know - if you don't give a damn about people, this is what happens. Ground Zero - Coventry. Still there. Will be there forever.

The whole, concrete, Sixties defilement of what was left of that mediaeval loveliness - little enough, I know, and some, a little only, does remain - is a metaphor for the Ruin we see around us now. It's damaged a bit, it's inefficient now, let's rip the rest down, fuck it, make a desert and call it progress.

And, yes, that poor man with his heroic dad cut in half in the garden. And that old lady terrified almost seventy years later... What is there to say that they have not just said better? The kids are doing WWII at school and so I have taped it. I can point out the buildings and take them to those places. Throw a stone from where I was born to the site of a was-flattened area the size of ten football fields at the very least. This is a history for them, horrible and wonderful too. The people defiled just like the buildings but stronger, more resilient, and, in the end, braver and of more worth.

call me ishmael said...

Thanks, mr mongoose. I lived in Coventry a while and revisited often. I know what you mean about the old building, ruined and linked to the new one - the best of the new ones, I think - standing mute witness but not just to barbarism, also to the smugness of those clergy and laiety who have assumed to rubber-stamp a city's soul for their God whilst, as with the Romans, consoling and protecting the nonce in their ranks and blessing the bombers bound for Shock and Awe; it is not for the Bishopric of Coventry to forgive,nor to forge links, twinnings, with Hiroshima and other gems in Atrocity's atlas; forgiveness or otherwise is for the victims of Goering and Enola Gay alike. The diocese and the world would be better served by the words Father, Piss On This Shit And Smite Ye The Godless Heathen Bastard Motherfuckers Responsible. Amen.

Anonymous said...

according to pariah , irving many more died in dresden, he quotes 250,000, place full of refugees, you,d think at my age i could punctuate but alas i cant

Anonymous said...

135,000 victims?

Bob Doney said...

It's on iplayer:


My mum took us to visit the new cathedral just after it was consecrated. It was the first proper modern building I had seen, and it's left vivid memories, especially the stained glass. Also the shell of the old one.

Off to watch the doc now ......

Anonymous said...

the Roote's group among many other factories were making weapons, and Coventry was (i have been informed but haven't checked) an important transport terminal for troops. so Coventry was a legitimate target - if you hold the view that anything to do with warfare is legitimate.

mongoose said...

Mr Anonymous,

The city was alive with making stuff for the war effort - aero-engines, armoured cars, machine tools. Quite - legitimate targets all. But Jerry didn't bomb the factories. He just set alight the mediaeval heart of the city and then bombed the fuck out of it.

The place was soon turning out as much stuff as it was the day before the bombing. The damage, most of it, was within a mile or two of the city centre. Look at Google Earth - it's the concrete bit inside the ring road. Hay Lane, Spon Street, St Mary's Street, Pepper Lane, Lamb Street, Ironmonger Row, Bayley Lane, Trinity Street, Greyfriars Lane... They don't look like streets with those names in other places, do they? They all just burnt down one day. The day before, Coventry city centre looked like this place.

I make no judgement; I just describe. What "we" did to Dresden and Lubeck and Hamburg was just the same. Bombed the fuck out of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. But Coventry was the first effort to destroy a whole town centre. And they managed it.

Anonymous said...

Mongoose - for bombers at that stage of the war a city was a small target. the "heart" wasn't deliberately aimed-for and there was no technical ability to do so. jerry flew along a radio beam and the bombs dropped automatically. there was no precision. the civilians, working on armaments, were part of the war-effort along with the factories, as far as the Germans were concerned.
- Mr anonymous

mongoose said...

Mr Anonymous,

In fact, they first marked the centre with a ring of flares and then they dumped everything in the middle. It was a full moon and there were precious few defences. Not one plane was lost and lots went back to France for more bombs and came back again. It was a slaughter.

As I say, I make no judgement and they reaped a thousandfold what they had sown.

Anonymous said...

i am happy to stand corrected, thanks. war is shit.

uniform mosque-merge said...

my parent's always had a john piper print in their bedroom - i suppose those images of burnt-out shells were deeply symbolic in the relationships of many from their generation. as a child, i had been under the impression that it was a painting of coventry cathedral - i now realise that it was St Mary-le-Port, Bristol 1940, but then, as a child, one ruined cathedral looked much like another.

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