David Crabtree on Assignment

70 years later, English town still remembers deadly German bombs

Posted December 8, 2012

Many in the United Kingdom Friday were focused on the Royal pregnancy. Many of those became saddened by the terrible news of the death of the nurse who forwarded the prank call. On this blustery, sometimes snowy AND sunny Fridays in England, the news of the suicide spread quickly.

The news I learned today was far different. In the middle of England, Coventry, I spent the morning with Bob Chainey.

Bob is 93, in excellent health. He told me his secret to a long life has been his good wife of 70 years. Bob now walks with a cane as age has gingerly slowed his pace, yet his love of life has not faded.

"I've had a remarkable life. Very lucky," he told me.

Lucky to have lived so long. Lucky to have lived past the age of 21.

The night of Nov. 14, 1940 German planes bombed his hometown of Coventry. For almost 14 consecutive hours, the bombs fell like rain, reigning destruction and death.

"My city was glowing. everywhere you looked there was fire," he said.

The twinkle in the eyes I saw just moments before was replaced with growing tears.

"There are no words to explain what it was like. You had to be here. To hear the incendiaries explode. Over and over and over. They just kept coming," he said.

Bob was in the Royal Air Force. He wanted to pilot the planes he worked on. His eyesight limited his knowledge of the cockpit to that of an engineer making sure the planes were always ready to fly.

"Looking back on it, maybe it was best, you see," he said. "I never fired a gun that killed anyone and I never dropped explosives on a living soul."

In 1940, that wasn't necessarily the case.

"Like most people, I wanted to fight after the city was destroyed. Six hundred people here died," he said.

Two of them, close friends.

"We were at the theater together. When the sirens blared I left. They stayed," Chainey said. "They never lived to see the light of day."

I had the pleasure of meeting this veteran Friday at a service known as the Litany of Reconciliation, held in what was the original sanctuary of Coventry Cathedral. This holy home to Coventry's Anglicans was bombed.

The Germans mistook it for a munitions factory. The beautiful medieval Cathedral was destroyed. Amid the carnage and terror, it burned.

Germany would later claim they "mistook the cathedral for the factory. Both had black roofs."

Folks here found that hard to believe as the Cathedral was shaped like a cross, the factory like a box.

"I lived two yards away and was here every week," Chainey said.

He still is here, for this special service.

"I come because the morning after the bombing Dick Howard, the Provost of Coventry stood in the smoldering ruins and prayed, 'Father forgive,'" Chainey said. "He was praying that for all of us because all of us, in some way, are guilty of causing destruction to one another."

That moment, in the years that followed after World War II, a movement of reconciliation grew, first between wartime enemies and then spreading throughout the world. Bob Chainey is a part of that movement.

"I wouldn't call myself an out and out pacifist, but I do know we have to talk with one another, around a table. Talk not harm. Talk not hate. Talk and not kill one another," he said.

Forgiveness is paramount for Chainey, who is stout in his stiff upper lip English heritage and soft in the heritage of his heart.

"The make-up of man is greed. I want that and if you won't give it to me I'll just take it. We have to stop living that way and I'll do whatever I can with whatever time I have to help that process of understanding grow," he said.

During the service, the Rev. Peter Watkins told the small shivering crowd, "To forgive we have to change our way of thinking. We have to do our best to love one another, particularly those who ave harmed us. It is only through the forgiveness will we find peace within ourselves."

As I watched Bob Chainey walk away, the smile had retuned to his face.


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  • The Deadhead Dec 11, 2012

    If there is any comfort, the US 600th Bombardment Squadron repaid Germany for these and other offenses.

  • Bellar1 Dec 8, 2012

    Great story, thanks

About this Blog:

WRAL anchor David Crabtree reports from around the world.