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Bombing in Wartime

From when war was declared in 1939, bombing of civilian areas were prepared for by governments across Europe. Civil Defence education programmes were launched, gas masks were issued, children were evacuated from urban areas to the countryside. Such precautions proved to have been wise in Britain when, in the summer of 1940, the German air force began an intensive bombing campaign of mainland cities which would become known as the ‘Blitz’. From the Phoney War, France had prepared its citizens for aerial bombing through civil defence campaigns and civilians were well-drilled in what to do when the air raid sirens sounded. However, by the Spring of 1940, many Parisians had yet to experience a bombing raid, although false alarms were routine and, at times, virtually a nightly inconvenience. When conflict finally did break out on May 1940, the military capitulation of the French army was so rapid that the Germans had had no need to undertake intensive, prolonged bombing of military and strategic targets in and around civilian areas. Bombing attacks had been largely carried out in support of the German military offensive in the spring of 1940. However, France was bombed regularly during the Occupation by the Allies, for whom the occupied country was now an enemy power. Britain and the United States targeted factories and transport infrastructure in bombing raids and killed thousands of civilians in so doing. During the run-up to the Normandy landings in the Spring of 1944 these attacks intensified across the country and civilian casualties multiplied. Testimonies gathered from French civilians who were children or young adults during the war serve as grisly reminders of the terrible destruction caused by mass bombing. Piles of dead and dismembered people and animals left to rot in the sun because there were so many corpses and no one left to move and to bury them.

Madeleine’s Experience of Bombing

When Madeleine wrote of war, it was the war she saw from her bedroom window on the 8th floor of the 320 rue St Jacques which she witnessed as bombing raids on the suburbs; pyrotechnic displays of anti-aircraft fire, tracer bullets, distant explosions and fiercely burning fires.  By 1944, allied bombing raids on the Paris suburbs became much more frequent. After the D Day landings, refugees from Normandy brought with them gruesome stories of death and destruction dealt the civilian population from mostly allied bombing.  Parisians were largely bystanders but Madeleine had direct experience of being bombed, when, visiting her cousin in the suburbs of Paris at Montreuil, she was caught in one of the deadliest allied raids of the war in April 1944. Madeleine describes the horror of the bombing and its aftermath in detail in one of the longest single passages in her diary. It is an account which evokes the sights and sounds and the emotions of the experience. It also describes the spontaneous bravery of a young woman who joined in with the rescue and recovery efforts at great personal risk. This school pack provides a rich resource comprising a film, a podcast and diary extracts which will teach children about the experience of bombing in wartime. The material is applicable and relevant to a broad range of subject areas including, but not limited to, History, English and Modern Foreign Languages.  We have created some lesson suggestions for each area across several key stages and because teachers have access to diary extracts about bombing in addition to the podcast and the film, there are opportunities to design bespoke materials suited to the needs of a particular group of students and which recognise timetable constraints.