The Islamist attack in Manchester on the evening of 22nd May 2017 was not the first bombing that the city has had to endure. As well as the 3,300lb truck bomb which was detonated in its centre by the IRA in 1996 this area, which was an important industrial port during the Second World War, suffered what became known as the ‘Christmas Blitz’.
But, of course, at that time Britain was at war with Nazi Germany.
An hour-by-hour account of those terrible nights appeared in the Manchester Evening News.
6.36 pm – Air Raid Warning Red!
6.48 pm – First bomb lands in Albert Square.
Bombing continues throughout the night.
6.00 a m – Manchester Cathedral suffers a direct hit.
6.28 am – Air raid sirens declare ‘Raiders Passed’.
Bombing starts again that evening:
7.07 pm – Sirens sound again heralding a second night of bombing.
7.18 pm – Fire bombs rain down on Manchester.
Bombing continues until last hit for the night:
11.00 pm – Woman rescued from collapsed Gorton house.
24th December (Christmas Eve, 1940):
12.15 am – The sirens sound the all-clear.
Over the night of the 22nd/23rd December 1940, more than 270 German aircraft dropped 272 tons of high explosive and 1,032 incendiary bombs on the city and surrounding areas; the next night, 171 Nazi aircraft dropped another 195 tons of high explosives and 893 incendiaries. The final death toll was said to be 770 dead and 2,365 wounded. Sixteen of these were babies under one and there were eight over the age of 80.
There were many tales of heroism and after the second night of bombing; the Manchester Emergency Committee reported that the citizens of the city had ‘Suffered the effects of the raids with fortitude… and at no time had there been any suggestion of panic’.
Both King George VI and the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, came to Manchester to offer their support but now it has been the turn of Queen Elizabeth to visit Manchester and offer her sympathy after yet another bombing.
At 22.33 BST on Monday 23rd May 2017, the BBC News programme reported that 22 concert-goers, including an eight-year-old girl were killed and 59 injured (later raised to 119) when a suicide bomber set off a bomb in the foyer of the Manchester arena. This came at the end of a concert given by Ariana Grande, a favourite singer with many young people, and several of the families who had come to collect the fans were also caught up in the blast.
Once more, there were many tales of heroism and kindness following this appalling act. Two homeless men, who had been outside the arena, hurried to give what help they could; taxi drivers gave free lifts home; people opened their homes to the victims; a woman visiting the city swept 50 youngsters into a nearby hotel for safety and contacted their parents; off-duty doctors and nurses rushed to the city’s hospitals while hundreds of police, fire and ambulance staff worked through the night.
The next day the suicide bomber, who also died at the arena, was named as 22-year old British-born Salman Abedi, a college drop-out, whose parents had been refugees from the Ghaddafi regime in Libya. He was a devout Muslim but was eventually banned from his mosque for extremism and later that day ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, calling the bomber a ‘soldier of the caliphate’.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster expressed his ‘shock and dismay’ at the horrific attack, while Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded people that ‘hope overcomes despair’.
The Greater Manchester Muslim community said it was saddened and horrified by reports of yet another terror attack, this time in their very city, and hundreds of Muslims have come out to condemn what happened on the 22nd May although some have refused to do so. According to LBC, Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester said: “This man was a terrorist, not a Muslim…he does not represent the Muslim community,” and he urged people not to turn on the Muslim community in the aftermath of the terror attack. And in the past few days it seems that the fear of being thought Islamophobic, especially in social media, has been greater than the fear of further bombing.
However, the government and the intelligence services are well aware of the continuing threat of terrorism. According to the Daily Telegraph, the day after the attack, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the terror threat had been raised to critical, the highest possible level, meaning an attack could be ‘expected imminently’. She also ordered up to 5,000 soldiers to be deployed on the streets amid fears that the Manchester suicide bomber had accomplices preparing further attacks. As it turned out, Salman Abedi, although originally not judged to be a ‘threat’ by the security services, was indeed, part of a network of terrorists many of whom have now been arrested.
Since 1940, Manchester and Britain have changed. While heroism still exists, the enemy is not an army ‘out there’ but individuals ‘within the gates’. The churches, once part of our strength, are weak. In many ways, we are afraid to give offence. Our free speech has been curtailed. Our police – unarmed even during the Second World War – now routinely carry guns. Armed soldiers patrol our streets, guard our Parliament and our monarchy.
And our tributes to the fallen are not monuments but flowers and balloons.