Friday, 9 November 2007

As Remembrance Sunday approaches, a reminder of how war has touched the life of the Cathedral. Above, three chaplains from the Cathedral who left in 1915 to serve with troops on the Western Front. From left: Fr G. Lionel Smith, Fr George Craven and Fr Joseph Reardon.

For London itself, and the Cathedral specifically, there was the threat of air raids. The Cathedral Chronicle 1917 reports a raid in July of that year:
"The air raid on Saturday July 7th was plainly seen from our roof. The Taubes (early bombers) appeared like a flock of swallows flying at what seemed to be a comparatively low altitude. There were two groups. In one of them we counted twenty seven; in the other, which was more to the north west, there were about twelve. They came in regular formation from the north east, in rows of five or six, and at first seemeed to be heading towards us, but swerved off in a south-easterly direction. The noise of bursting bombs and anti-aircaraft guns was very loud for some fifteen minutes, until the enemy disappeared in the haze. At one time they appeared so close as to be within rifle range."

The Cathedral crypt and store room room was opened as an air-raid shelter - a role it was to reprise in 1939 during the Second World War. The threat of air raids was much more serious; between September 1940 and May 1941, there was sustained German bombing, and much damage around the Cathedral. The Anglican church of St Andrew, just in front of the Cathedral, suffered a direct hit, while the mansion flats around the Cathedral also suffered. The Cathedral chaplains paced the roof as fire watchers - below Fr Moriarty and Fr Coughlan share a cigarette on the Cathedral roof after the 'all clear' has sounded'. The nearby Sisters at the Convent in Carlisle Place also did their bit, carrying a statue of the Virgin up onto their roof terrace where it would face the Cathedral, and guarantee the benefit of Our Lady's intercession.

However, even though a bomb landed in the school playground next to the Cathedral, the building itself suffered no serious damage. Bombs falling in nearby streets blew out the windows of the sanctuary, but the Cathedral suffered no direct hit. The shockwaves did, however, cause some cracks in the roof, so that rainwater seeped into the Cathedral - the water stains seen in the interior of the nave to this day date from this period. Clergy House was not so fortunate, and an unexploded anti-aircarft shell ended up in a priest's bedroom.

The story of the Cathedral at war is fascinating - but we must also remember the immense suffering of those caught up in the conflict, as we pray this month for the repose of the souls of the dead.

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