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Children on a bombed out building in the blitz

A bomb and a lesson from my Grandparents

Posted on 23 May 2017

Just over 70 years ago, probably on a cold November night in 1940, a German bomber crew identified their target. We don't know who they were or what they believed. Maybe they thought of themselves as reluctant conscripts, professional soldiers protecting the fatherland or perhaps they were committed Nazis. Whichever it was, they had been carried there by a policy of hate, division and war crafted by their leaders.

With their target located they released their payload onto my city, with both of my grandmothers sheltering somewhere below.

Most of the bombs dropped by this aircrew detonated, smashing factories, homes and lives.

One did not.

This last bomb buried itself deep into the ground in Aston, Birmingham. There it waited, silent and forgotten as the city rebuilt over it. Until last week.

Unearthed by a surprisingly calm builder called Phil, it shut down the M6, the nearby railway and a major road into the city centre.

At that point something odd happened. Hundreds of commuters, stranded by road closures and train cancellations all started to walk home together. Released from the polite silence of the train carriage and isolation of our cars we began to chat, to help each other out and get to know each other.

Solicitors, stay at home moms, builders, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, atheists of every ethnicity – maybe even bluenoses and villains - working together towards a shared goal. Discovering that were more alike than not.

It reminded me of the mythical "blitz spirit" my grandparents talked about had also been transported from the 1940's to remind us, at a time when we sometimes seem so divided, what community means. For that means facing and overcoming adversity together. It’s something I’ve seen frequently when I visit community projects at Groundwork. Whether the challenges are local issues about employment prospects, poor quality local environments or global problems like climate change; groups of neighbours coming together to fix problems are a powerful force.

The unexploded bomb certainly proved the value of getting out of our comfort zones, meeting new people and out of our cars. And perhaps, also showed the falseness of the divisive ideologies that brought that plane over my city 70 years ago and which seem to be on the rise again.

My grandparents rebuilt their lives after the war and then, years later, reached out to their old adversaries. They shared their home with German friends and built strong bonds with Frankfurt, Birmingham's twin city.

I hope that those of us that had our lives temporarily disrupted by that bomb can also learn from our experience to listen to other groups, to help one another and build bridges across divides like my grandparents did.

As politics seems to get increasingly angry and divisive it’s never been more important to remember what community means and that it may start at our front door, but it can also cross borders and oceans. 

 Post by Ben Leach, Groundwork UK