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Exhibition examines attacks on cathedrals during Second World War

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Part of the exhibition looks at different ways cathedrals in Coventry and Dresden were restored after destruction in the Second World War.

Crowds attend the foundation stone laying ceremony for the new cathedral, Coventry, 1956 (Historic England Archive, John Laing Collection/PA)

The restoration of cathedrals in Coventry and Dresden after the Second World War is being explored as part of an exhibition on culture and heritage in war.

The What Remains exhibition at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London looks at why cultural heritage is attacked during war and the ways people save, protect and restore what has been targeted.

The exhibition includes more than 50 photographs, oral histories, documents, objects and artworks.

One photograph from the exhibition shows the effects of the Baedeker raids on the cathedral city of Exeter in 1942 (Historic England/PA)
One photograph from the exhibition shows the effects of the Baedeker raids on the cathedral city of Exeter in 1942 (Historic England/PA)

Part of the display, curated in partnership with Historic England, looks at the different ways in which Coventry Cathedral and Dresden Frauenkirche were rebuilt and restored following the conflict in which they were both ruined.

In Coventry, to remember the loss of life and heritage, the cathedral was left in ruins and a new building constructed, while in Dresden the church was left in ruins for more than 50 years and opened after restoration in 2004.

For one veteran, 97-year-old Frank Tooley, who lives in Manchester, the damage done to Coventry Cathedral and city had a significant impact on him, prompting him to join the fight in the air.

Visitors will be able to see stonework from Frauenkirche Dresden and fragments of glass from the ruined Coventry Cathedral (IWM/PA)
Visitors will be able to see stonework from Frauenkirche Dresden and fragments of glass from the ruined Coventry Cathedral (IWM/PA)

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He witnessed the aftermath of the bombing as he hitchhiked home from leave, saying: “I went through Coventry and saw what had happened, and thought ‘hell’s bells, this is going to be an air war’.”

Of the ruined cathedral, he said: “I saw how that was, it just knocked me for six.”

On his return from leave, he applied for air gunner training, but was instead transferred on to pilot navigation bombing (PNB) training.

He flew 22 missions, including in the third wave of the bombing of Dresden, which destroyed the historic city and killed thousands.

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“It was just a mass of fire,” he remembers, but said he did not think about the death and destruction “until much later” when he became a father.

British Army poster from 1943, created to educate and inform its soldiers of the importance of respecting property, including cultural heritage (IWM/PA)
British Army poster from 1943, created to educate and inform its soldiers of the importance of respecting property, including cultural heritage (IWM/PA)

He added: “I was no hero, I was scared on many occasions, we were flakked almost every time we went over, every day or night.

But he said: “We knew what we were doing, we were all volunteers.”

Now he talks about his experiences with schoolchildren at IWM Manchester.

What Remains is a free exhibition at IWM London, curated in partnership with Historic England, and forms part of IWM’s Culture Under Attack season. It runs from July 5 2019 to January 5 2020.

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