David Bruce: War Anecdotes

• During the evening of November 14, 1940, the Germans bombed the city of Coventry as part of its blitz against England. Alan Hartlet was only 16 when the bombs fell. The attack was concentrated, and it was devastating. In fact, the German Luftwaft was so pleased with the destruction that it invented a new word: to coventrate, which meant to reduce a city practically to rubble. By day Alan worked in an aerospace factory, and by night he was an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) messenger. He did such things as reporting the locations of fires, helping put the fires out, and helping wounded citizens. At 6:30 p.m. he heard the air-raid sirens and reported to work at the ARP post. He remembers hearing the bombs explode: “They were coming straight for us; it’s the most terrifying experience to stand there, hearing these bombs from a distance and them getting louder and louder and louder, wondering how many have they got left and are you going to be the next one?” He also remembers, “The Germans bombed Coventry very systematically. They bombed in straight lines from east to west, and then they started from south to north. It was like darning a sock. They picked out the whole centre of Coventry; it was the most accurate bombing seen in the war [to that point].” Many people died: 554, to be exact. An incendiary bomb exploded in the face of a warden at the ARP post and severely burned him. To get medical help for the warden, Alan rode his bicycle 2½ miles to the city centre. He remembers, “Shrapnel was falling—big, red-hot shards of shrapnel hitting the road; the searchlights were swinging; and I could see the glow in the sky as Coventry burned. Marks & Spencer was burning on one side, Woolworths on the other, the cathedral was in flames, and the air was full of brick dust, smoke and sparks.” He managed to reach the city centre, although he had to carry his bicycle across a huge bomb crater. He went to city hall and got medical help for the warden, who survived. Of course, the Germans hoped to sap the will of the English by bombing them. Of course, the blitz did not succeed in doing that. When the all-clear sounded after the bombing raid, the destruction was terrible, with shops burning, cars burning, lamp-posts leaning over, windows broken. But Alan remembers a surprising detail that shows the resilience of the English during the blitz: “To my great surprise, at six in the morning, a tea wagon arrived within minutes of the all-clear sounding, and the rescue squads were queueing up and having tea.”

• War sometimes has unexpected results. For example, Michael Foreman, the author of illustrator of many books for children, was a child in England during World War II, and he lived in a town that housed POWs. The POWs worked on the farms near the village, and they would participate in games of soccer. Some of the POWs married English women. For example, a German POW married Michael’s cousin Gwen. When the Germans bombed the town, many gardens were destroyed along with many buildings, resulting in the scattering of seeds. Growing among heaps of rubble could be found flowers such as marigolds and irises. Also growing among the heaps of rubble was something very valuable during wartime: potatoes. During the blackouts to prevent bombs from being dropped on buildings, a danger arose from accidents because people were driving vehicles without using the lights. Therefore, men were encouraged to leave their shirttails out while walking at night because the light color of the shirt would show up better at night than the men’s usually dark jackets. A farmer even painted white stripes on his cows just in case they wandered onto a road. In addition, the cards that came inside packs of cigarettes became a source of valuable information as the cards explained such things as how to wear a gas mask properly and how to dispose of incendiary bombs. By the way, a sailor once let a very young Michael take a puff on a cigarette, and Michael has never smoked since.

• The United States certainly gets into a lot of wars. Journalist and cartoonist Ted Rall once spoke with a British reporter who came up with an amusing idea for keeping the U.S. out of wars. The British reporter said, “If the average American cannot identify three cities in a country, the U.S. should not invade it.” According to Mr. Rall, “Given that the average American doesn’t know their state capital, much less three cities in, say, Canada, this would transform us into a pacifist society overnight.” Of course, ignorance abounds, and not just among common American citizens. D-Day took place at Normandy, and the Allied forces brought tons of food for civilians because the Allied forces thought that food would be scarce in Normandy. Actually, Normandy had plenty of food, although other places in France had food shortages—Allied bombs had destroyed train lines that normally would have transported food out of Normandy to the rest of France. Military officials telegraphed Eisenhower: PLENTY OF FOOD. SEND SHOES.”

• A student in the old Orient was learning about tricks that are used in war. For example, the student learned of an army that was in a weak position. To keep from being attacked at night, the general ordered many more fires to be built than were actually needed. This made his army appear to be stronger than it really was. Another example: A general had a strong army, but he wished to keep the number of soldiers secret from the enemy. Therefore, he ordered many fewer fires to be built than usual. This made his army appear to be weaker than it really was. The student disliked this trickery and told his teacher, “I am an honorable man, and when I am a general, I won’t use tricks.” The teacher told the student that a special place existed for generals like him: the graveyard.

• “When you’re seen one nuclear war, you’ve seen all you’ll ever see.”—David Bruce

• “I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, ‘Mother, what was war?’”—Eve Merriam

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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