This week marks the 72nd anniversary of the “Belfast Blitz”, which was, by most reckonings, the most deadly Luftwaffe attack in the British Isles outside London during World War II. It went almost unmarked.
It had a significant impact. In addition to hundreds killed, thousands were displaced – including my own mother, then a small child, who was forced from Fortwilliam to Doagh and ultimately to Cookstown for the rest of the War.
At the weekend some people thought it a good idea to put up flags commemorating Carson, Craig and the UVF. A few weeks ago, it was the Easter Rising. A few months before that, it was the Ulster Covenant. Some or all of these may be legitimate, but they are nevertheless innately sectarian, one-sided commemorations celebrating something which some other fellow citizens do not see as cause for celebration.
The ‘Belfast Blitz’ was different. For the thousands affected, it mattered not if they were Protestant, Catholic or dissenting. So, why no commemoration?
It could be that the ‘Belfast Blitz’ isn’t worth commemorating because it doesn’t provide an opportunity to ‘annoy the other side’. It could be that it isn’t worth commemorating because in fact it is somewhat embarrassing – emphasising the callous incompetence of much of the Unionist administration while at the same time highlighting Nationalists’ willingness, in too many instances, even to endorse fascism on the grounds of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ (neither of these exactly fits neatly with Unionists’ ideals around efficiency or Nationalists’ ideals around human rights).
Perhaps that is too cynical – perhaps it isn’t worth commemorating because it isn’t an especial anniversary. However, 2016 will be the 75th anniversary. We shall see…