One Night in November

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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