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Coventry grandson of survivor marks Dresden anniversary

13 February 2015


After the bombings: visitors look at the "Dresden 1945" panorama, by Yadegar Asisi, at the Panometer, Dresden

After the bombings: visitors look at the "Dresden 1945" panorama, by Yadegar Asisi, at the Panometer, Dresden

THE Revd Andy March, whose grandmother was in Dresden when the city was bombed in 1945, was one of a group of 12 Friends of Coventry Cathedral who travelled to Dresden yesterday to mark the 70th anniversary of the air raids on 13-15 February 1945. Mr March's grandmother, Friedericke Clayton (née Büttner-Wöbst), aged 19, was working just outside the city at the time of the bombing.

On Monday, Mr March, who is Vicar of St Christopher's, Allesley Park, said that he expected an "emotional experience", and an opportunity to "carry on something that she began - breaking down barriers, and bringing her story to life again".

In an interview with the BBC in 2005, Mrs Clayton recalled hearing the sounds of the aeroplanes, and, when she arrived home, "the smell of burning flesh. I still have it in my nostrils. . . I didn't see anybody, there was no life. It was a dead town, just rubble. It was just devastation, and it was a hell of a shock to your system."

The raids left 25,000 people dead. Her brother had already been killed, in 1939, and her parents died shortly afterwards. When the Russians arrived in Dresden, she was held at gunpoint and narrowly escaped being raped.

Later, she heard from Fred Clayton, an Englishman who had visited her family before the war. After exchanging letters, they married, and set up home in Britain, where she spent the rest of her life. They had four children, including Mr March's mother.

"She had to be very strong to be a German woman in post-war England," he said. "It was quite remarkable, because she did adjust, and was always very outgoing."

Her marriage to Mr Clayton was "something quite radical", he says. "They did something through their marriage that said: 'You do not have to have this tribalism.'"

Asked whether she would have liked an apology for the air raids, Mr March said: "She would have acknowledged that there was a war going on, and Dresden was not the only city bombed. I think she would have acknowledged that, in some ways, with Coventry bombed, you could argue that you reap what you sow; but there was a sense of hurt that her city that she loved was destroyed."

The Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, has suggested that the 70th anniversary might be "an appropriate occasion for our Government to acknowledge the suffering of the city then, and to express sympathy with those who still bear its scars now. . . A word of kindness to the city of Dresden in this century would display to the world both that friendship is better than enmity and that healing the past requires generous gestures in the present."

He has tabled a Question for Short Debate in the House of Lords, likely to take place next month, which raises the matter.

In a sermon due to be delivered at the Kreuzkirche today, he will present to the congregation a painting by the artist Terry Duffy, The Coventry Dresden Cope, which has two halves, representing the two cities. "Only by bringing both sides together can The Coventry Dresden Cope be made whole and used as an iconic metaphor to achieve greater unity, co-operation, and action in a world shaken by conflict and extremism," Mr Duffy has explained.

There will also be speeches by the German President, Joachim Gauck, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Duke of Kent will receive the Dresden Peace Prize for his contribution to the reconciliation of the two countries. He has been patron of the British Dresden Trust since 1994.

After the bombing of Coventry, in which the cathedral was destroyed, the Provost, the Very Revd Dick Howard, said that, when the war was over, people must "reach out to our enemies and build together a kinder, more Christ-child-like world". He used soot that was still warm to write on the wall behind a cross made from two charred beams "Father Forgive". 

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