Nightingales and bombers

Beatrice Harrison (above) played the cello in her garden in Foyle Riding, Surrey, regularly accompanied by nightingales. The BBC transmitted the music of Beatrice and the birds live on May 19th, 1924 - the first ever live outdoor broadcast.

Each May 19th, the BBC returned to the garden to broadcast the nightingales, even after Beatrice moved house in 1936. On May 19th, 1942, as BBC engineers were recording the bird-song prior to transmission, a faint hum gradually became audible, slowly increasing in volume, as 197 bombers flew overhead on their way to raids in Mannheim. Realising the security risk, the broadcast was halted.

But not the recording…

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Thank you to Iestyn Davies, Music and Nature, and Simon Mallindine.

16 comments to Nightingales and bombers

  • Stuart Bannerman

    Wonder how many of those bombers came back?

  • Hi Stuart - 11 of the bombers did not return.

  • barbara

    Haunting. Something of this recording reminded me of the theme in the Bruegel painting of the Fall of Icarus.

  • savvysavingbytes

    An amazing contrast…I can’t even imagine seeing 197 bombers flying overhead. But I must say that lady had one lovely musical garden.

  • VonsterVon

    rather haunting…a really unnerving piece of history, the quietness of it seems unreal.

  • Stevyn Colgan

    That really is the most amazing thing. What a contrast; the beauty of nature superimposed with the horror of war. Thank you for posting this.

  • Simon Fielding

    From The Bomber Command War Diaries by Middlebrook and Everitt (1985)p.267

    “197 aircraft - 105 Wellingtons, 31 Stirling’s, 29 Halifax is, 15 Hampdens, 13 Lancasters, 4 Manchesters. 11 aircraft- 4 Halifaxes, 4 Stirlings, 3 Wellingtons - lost.

    155 aircraft reported hitting Mannerheim but most of their bombing photographs showed forest or open country. The Mannerheim report describes the long delay before the attack developed, with aircraft greater height than in previous raids passing to and fro searching for the target. When the raid did begin, bombs approximately equivalent to no more than 10 aircraft loads fell in the city. Concentrated group of about 600 incendiaries in the harbour area on the Rhine burnt out 4 small industrial concerns-a blanket factory, mineral-water factory, chemical wholesalers and a timber merchants. Only light damage was caused elsewhere in the city. The only fatal casualties were 2 firemen.”

  • Gerard

    That was astonishing! No other word for it.

  • Ray Martin

    Wonderful. There’s something about sound that evokes a raw emotion like no picture can.

  • Malcolm

    My mother’s cousin, Frank Flint was a gunner in a Halifax on thet mission. Unfortunately he was one of those not to make it back.

    Halifax W1101 was one of two 35 Sqdn Halifaxes lost on this operation. See: W7658. Airborne 2230 19May42 from Linton-on-Ouse. Cause of loss not established. Crashed near Mannheim, where the crew was initially buried. They have been subsequently re-interred in the Durnbach War Cemetery. Sgt Morris was a regular RAF NCO whose Service Number indicates he joined the Service in the 1920′s. at 41 he was well above the average age for operational aircrew. F/S D.H.Reed RNZAF KIA Sgt E.J.Morris KIA Sgt F.D’O Hunter RAAF KIA Sgt F.E.Flint KIA Sgt R.L.Prosser KIA F/S L.P.Russell RNZAF KIA

  • Nick Bannister

    Incredible…other readers may be able to help me with a related query. I half remember something about a 1940 BBC nature recording including the sound of German bombers passing overhead en route to an attack on London. Am I misremembering’

  • John Bailes

    Hauntingly beautiful. It conjures up so many images. Does the BBC still make a yearly recording on 19th May, I wonder? If not, why not?

  • Dave Smith

    Lie in the dark and listen
    It’s clear tonight so they’re flying high
    Hundreds of them, thousands perhaps
    Riding the icy, moonlit sky
    Men, machinery, bombs and maps
    Altimeters and guns and charts
    Coffee, sandwiches, fleece-lined boots
    Bones and muscles and minds and hearts
    English saplings with English roots
    Deep in the earth they’ve left below
    Lie in the dark and let them go
    Lie in the dark and listen

    Lie in the dark and listen
    They’re going over in waves and waves
    High above villages, hills and streams
    Country churches and little graves
    And little citizens’ worried dreams
    Very soon they’ll have reached the sea
    And far below them will lie the bays
    And cliffs and sands where they used to be
    Taken for summer holidays
    Lie in the dark and let them go
    Lie in the dark and listen

    Lie in the dark and listen
    City magnates and steel contractors
    Factory workers and politicians
    Soft, hysterical little actors
    Ballet dancers, ‘Reserved’ musicians
    Safe in your warm, civilian beds
    Count your profits and count your sheep
    Life is flying above your heads
    Just turn over and try to sleep.
    Lie in the dark and let them go
    Theirs is a world you’ll never know
    Lie in the dark and listen.

    Noel Coward, 1944

  • Brian Mikulencak

    Amazing recording is there a way to copy this?

  • Anna

    Wow…. gives me goosebumps!

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