We seem to almost invariably like to think, in times of conflict, that this is so. I always wondered, when I was younger, if there were any instances of German civilians being machine-gunned by Allied airplanes, as I had come across a number of instances of such attacks in England. I recall attending a meeting of the Society of Friends some years back when an elderly Quaker, now passed away, stood to 'minister' on the subject of war. He remembered a day when he and another young man, both conscientious objectors working as medical orderlies, were called to the village of Westfield in Sussex. A queue of women and children, waiting at a stop for the next bus to Hastings, had been gunned down by a lone German pilot flying by, and their job was to collect the bodies and escort them to the hospital morgue. His friend was so badly affected by this experience that he suffered a nervous breakdown, was admitted to mental hospital, and sadly never fully recovered.
Since hearing this, I have discovered some similar accounts of attacks made by Allied planes on German civilians.
There is a large body of literature, both fiction and non-fiction, about the experiences of being bombed in the Second World War. I've just read Fireweed, the children's book by Jill Paton Walsh about runaway teenagers in the London Blitz, a good companion piece for younger readers to Michelle Magorian's Goodnight Mister Tom.
Many of us will have family stories handed down from the time. My mother lived with her parents in the Midlands, and remembered the terror of hearing 'doodle-bugs' droning, and dreading the moment when the noise stopped, signalling their imminent fall from the sky.
What is so special about War Wives is the interleaving of testimonies, now British, now German. Here are a few extracts which may encourage you to invest in a copy for your bookshelf.
10 February 1944 - Morning
The early warning siren sounds, followed shortly after by the full alert. The block we are in stands right next to a boys' grammar school, which they have been using for a reserve hospital and is now full of casualties. There aren't many people at home in our block, but the few that are left are just making their way to the cellars when the bombs start whistling down and exploding. Rubble starts trickling down from above and the smell of burning gets into our noses. Our next door neighbours have been trapped in their house and are shouting for help. Our own house is ablaze around us, and we have to get out quickly. With us is an expectant mother with three children, whose husband died of leukaemia not so long ago. So here we stand looking at the ruins of our home. Soon we shall have to write on the walls that are still standing, 'Still alive. Gone to..." Sigrid Wendt, Brunswick, Lower Saxony
After the blitz on Manchester there were so many bodies they had to be put in a cinema. No one would go into that cinema after that and it was eventually demolished. I remember a friend of mine going to church one Sunday and when she got home her whole family had been wiped out. Salford Royal Hospital was bombed, with the loss of some doctors and about 25 nurses. Mrs E Emberton, Salford, Lancashire
Mannheim, 23 October 1944
There were 180,000 incendiary bombs dropped on the town, so you can imagine that the fires were burning for days on end. Anna, I'm afraid you won't see many of your old neighbours again. In the H1 district a bomb dropped down an air-shaft into an air-raid shelter and exploded. There were over 300 people down there and the only ones to get out alive were those at the entrance. The blast simply blew them outside. They've brought out over 100 bodies already and they're still digging. Hermine Jundt, Mannheim, Baden-Wurttemberg
The last words, again from War Wives, go to Dorothy Griffiths, of Guiseley, West Yorkshire:
We used to watch our bombers going out, hundreds at a time, at regular intervals... watching them made the tears come to my eyes. It was very emotional, a mixture of fear and sorrow - and hate for whoever had made this happen. As our planes left the land behind and headed out over the sea, I would say to Griff, 'They've gone over the edge of England and many won't ever come back. They are just going out there to die.' And then we thought of all the innocent people over there who were going to be destroyed by us. When was it going to end? It was all so hopeless - and for what? You felt the futility of it all and the sorrow for all the human beings involved in this hellish war, and wished with all your heart it was over.