19th May 1942. Bombers and Nightingales.

The tradition of recording nightingales goes back to the early days of John Reith at the BBC, when the first outside broadcast came from the Surrey garden of Cellist, Beatrice Harrison in 1924.(1)

download (2)

Each May 19th since then a similar broadcast was made from the same garden, despite Beatrice having moved in 1936.

The remarkable point is that on this May night in 1942, the BBC were about to transmit an outside broadcast to again record the nightingales, when a loud humming made it apparent bombers were overhead, later to be revealed, as on their way to Mannheim.


The Engineer with quick reaction pulled the plug, for security reasons, but the line to the BBC was still open, so the full recording took place.(2)

This double sided recording of the 197 bombers’ departure, as well as that of their melancholy return, with eleven fewer aircraft, constitutes the most heart wrenching sounds one can be privileged to hear.[See in References for recording.]

In the raid, which departed at 23:16hrs, from Marham in Norfolk and elsewhere, were: 105 Wellingtons, 31 Stirlings, 29 Halifaxes, 15 Hampdens, 13 Lancasters and 4 Manchesters. Of the 11 which didn’t return, 4 were Halifaxes, 4 Stirlings and 3 Wellingtons.

Main Force.

Main Force.

‘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.

(1) On May 19th 1924.

(2a) Peter Eckersley was the engineer.

(2b) Vikram Seth, the novelist, selected this record for Desert Island Disks on 22.1.2012.

Ref: publicaddress.net/nightingales-bombers. For recording.

Ref:  29th Jan 2012 Mail on Sunday article.

Ref: elimprflorence.com/ Pic of bombers.

Ref: pprune.org/archives.

Ref: businessofemotions.org.Pic.Ref.of nightingale.

Ref: famous.flyer.co.uk.

Ref: wikipedia.org/stirling-bomber.[Designed by Arthur Gouge.]


On the same night a minor raid of 65 ‘Freshmen’ went to St. Nazaire dropping leaflets and mines, with 1 Wellington lost.

The night of 19th/20th May saw 284 sorties with 12 lost altogether a 4.3% loss.




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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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