Bombing and Memory: Britain and France, 1940-45

Professor Andrew Knapp (University of Reading)
14 January 2014
Hosted by the Society for the Study of French History and the Institute of Historical Research, the 2014 Douglas Johnson Memorial Lecture will take place on 15th January 2014 in the Court room at Senate House, London. Professor Andrew Knapp (University of Reading) will present a paper on Bombing and Memory: Britain and France, 1940-45. 
Between 1940 and 1945, Germany dropped some 75,000 tonnes of bombs – including V1s and V2s – on the UK, causing some 60,595 deaths. Even while it was happening, the Blitz was being woven into Britain’s national identity. It has stayed there ever since as the prime symbol of our finest hour.
Less well known is that over the same period, the Allies dropped roughly 518,000 tonnes on France, killing at least 57,000 French civilians, wounding perhaps 75,000 more, and leaving most of France’s towns and cities officially war-damaged, and some, such as Le Havre or Caen or Brest or Royan, practically flattened. This bombing campaign, lasting over four years, is known to military historians, and vividly remembered at the local level. But its place in a national narrative of France’s ‘dark years’, dominated by the heroism of the Resistance, the iniquity of Vichy, and the horror of France’s role in the Holocaust, is marginal.
Why should two experiences of bombing, so comparable in terms of human loss and material damage, occupy such different places in the memories of our two countries? What would a narrative of France’s war years that fully integrated the bombing look like? What specific moral problems does the bombing of France present, to the Allies and to the French? And, seven decades on from the year when most of the victims died, should we be remembering them more, on both sides of the Channel?
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