14th November 2000
There are things we believe we cannot bear, but we can bear them. We do bear them.
You hear of horrible things happening all around the world; war, famine, disease, death and destruction, but mostly they're happening to other people. You feel sad, you feel sorry, you might even cry, especially when babbies are starving or hurt.
I'm Pat and it's my birthday today and I'm very old. Too old probably to be still enjoying yoga after all these years but it gives me time to think. I remember another birthday many years ago on 14th November 1940. I can bear the pain now but it took a long time. I was a young woman living in Coventry.
To celebrate my birthday I'd asked mum if it was ok if I went to the cinema with my best friend as a treat. We'd saved for weeks to see Gone With The Wind. Mary and I work in a hospital in Coventry, but I wasn't paid, in fact I paid them £52 a year for my training. I worked really hard. Lots of women did. They worked in munitions factories, with chemicals, drove ambulances and buses, became tailors, flew planes, all sorts of things. Not that the unions liked it much.
We were in the thick of World War 2. I had two younger step sisters who were a bit poorly with whooping cough that day, and they weren't allowed to use the street shelter because of it, but I'd seen mum put them in their siren suits and tuck them into a corner of the Anderson Shelter with some blankets. It was 7.30 and I was about to set off for the cinema, when we heard the steady drone of planes and some loud thuds of bombs dropping. Within minutes, the ground shook and the sky was lit up with incendiaries. For a brief moment they looked like fairy lights, but they soon took and fire began to sweep through the city. Five hundred bombers dropped 500 tonnes of high explosives and over 900 incendiary bombs on the city that night. It took them ten hours.
You'd be amazed at how many people can cram into a small air raid shelter. There were no toilets, no water, nothing, except the relentless noise of land mines and bombs, the ack ack guns, lots of crying, sneezing, smells, dust and dark. My friend Mary didn't make it to the shelter. She was with her boyfriend sheltering in a shop doorway when the arch collapsed and a wall fell on them both. There were so many people to bury that night that it couldn't be done properly and Mary and her boyfriend were put into a communal grave with 1560 other people. At least, if you believe in God, I suppose they're still together.
Of course, mother had wanted to stay with the children, rather than go to the shelter, and had gone back into the house to check the blackout curtains in the front room, and bolt the door. She opened the door quickly to look at the flames engulfing the city. She never knew what happened to her, it was very quick, but she was hit by shrapnel from the ack ack guns. Shrapnel can cut through soft flesh like a scythe. I found her after the all clear had sounded, and the image of her lying there almost cut in half will stay with me until I die. I wanted to think it was a mistake, and for someone to tell me it wasn't true. But it was.
We all lost so much that night. The city was destroyed and people died. It wasn't just us though. Between 50 and 80 million people were killed on all sides in World War 2 and wars keep happening don't they? Perhaps we shouldn't bear it.