We've all heard about the Blitzes that British cities endured during World War II. Places like Coventry, Birmingham, London, Glasgow, Plymouth and Liverpool were all relentlessly pounded by the Germans; all part of Hitler's master plan to not only wipe out military targets but also bomb the spirit out of the British people.
But if I told you Bath was also bombed it'd be hard to believe. The beautiful historic city in the southwest of England was hardly a military target, but during two nights at the end of March, 1942, the German bombs and machine guns rained down in what became known as the Baedeker Blitz.
The theory was that Herman Goering and Hitler were bombing British cities that received two or more stars in the Baedeker Guide - the German, 1940s equivalent of the Lonely Planet Guides. In them you'd find street maps, ideas on places to go and places to stay. In a war full of evil, senseless acts, I just couldn't get over the fact that this almost forgotten story seemed to suggest that Hitler and his mob chose their bombing targets from the pages of a travel guide.
After I visited the city and researched the story more, I found that the Baedeker Blitz was indeed only a myth and the real reason for the Germans bombing Bath was based in the kind of tit-for-tat reality that only war can produce. At the time Britain was on its knees and in real danger of losing the struggle against the marauding Nazis. Our cities were being blitzed, and our celebrated spirit of resistance was beginning to buckle under the strain. It was decided that Britain must strike back and try to do the same to their German counterparts. Suddenly Britain was in a race with Germany to see who could break whose spirit first. The Allies targeted Lübeck, a stunningly beautiful, old wooden city and destroyed large parts of it in the process. One of my first thoughts was: isn't it bloody typical we started it in the first place!
Lübeck was not a target with any strategic value, and the attack provoked Hitler into a vengeful rage. The people of Bath could hardly have imagined what was about to hit them.
It was originally intended that Bath's historic centre, with all its beautiful Georgian architecture, was the intended target. But a split second delay on the trigger or a slight geographical miscalculation meant that the bombers got it wrong, and destroyed large parts of ordinary streets, where ordinary people lived. Over 1,500 people died in the raids.
During The Forgotten Blitz, I was lucky enough to travel to Bath and meet some of the survivors who recounted terrible stories of how they lost loved ones, how they lost friends, and how they saw their city burn. It was Russian roulette for many of them - while they were in their homes or shelters they just didn't know if or when a bomb would hit. This is the reality of war - not the glory or the spoils, but the sheer terror, pulling people out of rubble and losing entire families.
Whether you're part of the resistance or part of the aggressor force, it's the civilians that always, always make the sacrifices in the end.
War is a terrible thing, but by its nature it puts people in extreme situations where history has shown us that they display an incredible strength of human spirit. I'd like to think that I would have been as brave as the people of Bath, but I doubt I would've been.
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