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The Seventy Fifth Anniversary of the Coventry Blitz NOVEMBER 2015

A Story of War and Reconciliation

On this day, seventy-five years ago, the light was flawless: bright and silver, picking out every nook and cranny of Coventry Cathedral. The sky was cloudless and empty. They called it a Bomber’s Moon, because a pilot could see every speck and flicker on the green flank of the West Midlands. 
 
Coventry was a tempting target – it was packed with metalworking factories that churned out cars, airplane engines and munitions, all essential for the war effort. On 14 November 1940, five hundred and fifteen bombers soared overhead in a deadly flock. The first bombers dropped high explosives, aiming to knock out the water supply, electricity network, telephones and gas mains so that the firefighters would struggle to reach the conflagration. Later planes started to drop incendiary bombs that fell like the breath of a dragon, aimed at burning the city to ash and rubble. 
 
At eight o’clock, Coventry Cathedral caught light. Firefighters scrambled to get to where they were needed as more than two hundred fires ate through the city; the telephone network was crippled; the water supply dangerously low. The high explosives had done their job well.  
 
The reek of smoke, the roiling red of fire, the shouts and screams of the inhabitants, the wail of air-raid sirens, the hard staccato rattle of anti-aircraft guns – it must have seemed like Hell on earth to the inhabitants of Coventry. 
 
It was 6.00 the following morning when the all clear sounded.
 
Much of the cathedral was reduced to a smoldering ruin. Miraculously the Gothic tower and spire of St Michael’s had survived, spiking proud and unconquered into the dawn sky. 
 
Provost Howard immediately declared that the cathedral would rise again: a resurrection, a phoenix, a symbol of hope snatched from the teeth of war. 
 
Jock Forbes, the cathedral stonemason (and one of the firefighting crew), bound two of the blackened oak beams into a cross. Another cross was made from three of the fifteenth-century nails that littered the scene. 
 
And so, under these two symbols of endurance, Coventry Cathedral rose. The ruins of St Michael’s were preserved, and a new cathedral was built alongside the old, opening in 1962. After the war, as the world sought to reconcile, Coventry was twinned with Dresden – which had also suffered tremendous damage in bombing raids. 
 
Seventy-five years later, and Coventry Cathedral stands as a universal symbol of reconciliation and peace. A 2013 poll put it as Britain’s third favourite landmark. Scala is in the course of reprinting our guidebook to the cathedral, a perfect companion for a visit to an illustrious, remarkable cathedral. The new edition celebrates the cathedral’s unique story of resurrection, and highlights the message of reconciliation that is at the centre of Coventry’s teaching today. 
 
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