A description based on a post-blitz scene from Coventry (photographed 1940-41)
The first thing you noticed was the jagged outline of the shattered brick house on the skyline. Some chimney stacks still remained, monuments to stubborn British grit, towering high above the street. The naked shell of what had once been a home lay in soft repose next to the remains of a block of flats, then a factory, now a pub, once a shop. Weird, unearthly shapes broke up the rest of the horizon. Iron poles and steel beams lay exposed for the first time since the buildings had been erected, but now they were often twisted, bent out of shape by fire or by explosive force.
The power of the bombs was clear to see. And so the hushed group of civilians who trod carefully down the middle of the street were awe struck; simultaneously mourning the loss of home, perhaps where they’d lived for years, and also stunned by the raw power of bombs and flames – how they could re-work, and remould a landscape into a twisted mess.
The glass-works stood out for me: The empty windows, tall, Victorian and church-like; the dark shadowy outline of two of the outer walls, but then an unnatural gulf of empty space between them; only dust and rubble where walls and roof had been less than 12 hours before that moment.
The woman to the left of the glass-works stood almost reverently on the edge of the crowd looking back, like Lot’s wife, at the doom behind her; fascinated, filled with memories. You could tell that number 22 had been her home; that the umbrella she held had recently stood in a basket in the hallway; that just yesterday there had been a bottle of cold milk with a silver top on her doorstep. Her shawl and long shirt bore patches of dust.
There was dust everywhere. It seemed to hang in the air like a smoke. The smell was over-powering; a combination of gas, brick dust, petrol and the unmistakable bonfire-like scent of burning wood.
It was an earie scene. Disaster had struck Birch Tree Road, and nobody really knew what to do next.