One Night in November

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by Elrik Merlin on Saturday, 13 November, 2010

On the full-moon night of Thursday, November the 14th, 1940 – 70 years ago tomorrow – the city of Coventry in the heart of Britain suffered one of the most intensely concentrated air raids of the Second World War, code-named “Operation Moonlight Sonata”, after which 568 people were confirmed killed, 863 seriously wounded and 393 injured.

The ancient city of Coventry was unusual in that industries had grown up within the town rather than in suburban industrial areas, making the relatively small city centre a target. It’s also suggested that Hitler was angry about the recent bombing of Munich.

In any event, an estimated 449 bombers reached Coventry that night. The bombing continued for 11 hours, from the first incendiaries falling at 7:10pm until the “All Clear” sounded at 6:16am the next morning. The night was one of terror, repeated over and over.

The great St Michael’s Church, only relatively recently (in 1918) made a cathedral, was destroyed, leaving only a shell (right) and its towering spire. The image shown at the top of this article is typical of the devastation: it shows Earl Street looking towards the Town Hall (which was relatively undamaged), whose clock tower is visible in the distance.

It has been suggested that Coventry was not as well defended as it could have been: that the code-breakers at Bletchley Park had discovered that Coventry was going to be the target that night, but that Churchill decided no additional action could be taken to protect the city in case it signalled that Britain had cracked the German coded messages. This idea is hinted at in Coventry-born Alan Pollock’s powerful and moving play One Night in November (from which we take the name of today’s programme), which premiered in 2008 and has been staged each November since at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry – it ends its current run tonight. However, this suggestion is in fact incorrect, as is evidenced by this article from Bletchley Park and this piece from the Churchill Centre.

After the war, the city of Coventry was rebuilt – virtually from scratch – and since then it has been at the heart of movements of international reconciliation, particularly centred around the Cathedral, which has reached across the world to others touched by the destruction of war.

Today we are remembering the city and people of Coventry, and the victims of war. We’ll be playing music of the Second World War years plus some additional material, including Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and Clive Richardson’s London Fantasia – originally titled The Coventry Concerto, which tells the story of a day in wartime Coventry in music, with the piano played by the composer, along with the famous Warsaw Concerto by Richard Addinsell, whose success inspired the former work. We will also be playing two songs written about that night in November, Greg Harper’s November Sky and Nigel Cuff singing Mike Cooper’s Moonlight Sonata. We’ll also be playing Symphony No. 3: Sorrowful Songs, by the Polish composer Henryk Górecki, who passed away yesterday, and Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto, which appears in the incidental music for the play One Night in November.

You can read more about the Coventry Blitz – and about many other aspects of this great city’s history –on the Historic Coventry web site.

Today’s programme is presented by Elrik Merlin and produced by Radio Riel in conjunction with our friends at the Alexandrian Free Library Consortium of Second Life. You can listen to the programme in-world now at, or simply click here to start your player, if your browser is configured to do so. Listeners in the United States are encouraged to tune in using this link:

For more information on the Alexandrian Free Library, current exhibits and the work of Consortium members in general, please visit the Alexandrian Free Library website, or one of their branches in-world.


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