Friday, September 07, 2007

September 7

The human species descended another notch on the moral continuum on this date in 1940. On 7 September of that year, the German Luftwaffe launched an eight-month bombing campaign against the city of London, destroying a million buildings and obliterating 40,000 innocents in the process. German air forces -- which had been battling the RAF over the skies of England since July -- was retaliating, it was claimed, for Britain’s September 5 attacks on Berlin, raids that were themselves reprisals for German attacks in late August on several towns to the east and north of London. The first wave of destruction on the afternoon of 7 September was delivered by 300 bombers; later that evening, 180 bombers returned to pound the city until 4:30 the next morning. By dawn, 436 Londoners were dead and 1600 were wounded.

Margaret Hoffman, who was born three months before the air raids began, recounted her family’s experience when they rather unfortuitously took refuge in the area near the Port of London, which was the focal point of the German assault during that first night:
[T]he next thing the Germans bombed was the dock. They bombed it by day and night until even the water burned with the contents of the warehouses tumbling into the water. My grandfather had forbidden all his "children" -- all of whom were grown up with families – to go into the large warehouse down the road because he said it was a death trap. It’s funny what you do, though, to escape from noise and to get away from the scream of bombs. People crammed into the large warehouse, someone brought in a piano and local teachers and others organized singing to take people’s minds off the bombs. The warehouse received a direct hit and over 200 people were killed by blast. Others died not directly as a result of the bomb hitting them but they were crushed to death by the huge, heavy walls of the warehouse.
The American radio reporter Ernie Pyle filed dispatches from London throughout the blitz. In one of his more memorable commentaries, Pyle described the scene above ground:
I borrowed a tin hat and went out among the fires. That was exciting too; but the thing I shall always remember above all the other things in my life is the monstrous loveliness of that one single view of London on a holiday night -- London stabbed with great fires, shaken by explosions, its dark regions along the Thames sparkling with the pin points of white-hot bombs, all of it roofed over with a ceiling of pink that held bursting shells, balloons, flares and the grind of vicious engines. And in yourself the excitement and anticipation and wonder in your soul that this could be happening at all.


At least one species of animal had the good sense to become extinct on this date in 1936, four years before the atrocities commenced in London. Seventy-one years ago today, the last remaining Thylacine -- a carnivorous marsupial popularly known as the Tasmanian Tiger -- expired in her sleep at Tasmania’s Hobart Zoo. “Benjamin,” as she was known, had been captured in 1924 along with her mother and two siblings, each of whom died within a few years of confinement. Benjamin spent her final years alone and poorly tended; a famous segment of black and white film shows her pacing back and forth in her cage, morose and delirious with boredom. She eventually died of exposure, as her unsheltered enclosure provided her no protection from the extraordinarily cold temperatures that descended on the night of September 6. Zoo officials decided not to preserve the body, explaining that the skin was in such terrible condition that even the wonders of taxidermy could not save Benjamin.

In 1936, a few months before they vanished forever, Thylacines -- a species culled by distemper and slaughtered relentlessly by farmers -- earned complete legal protections under Australian law. It is not known whether Benjamin died with a full appreciation of her nation’s benevolent stewardship.

This is a re-post of last year's entry

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