The Painter is one woman’s remembrance of the days of her youth, spent in Bielefeld under the bombs of the Allied Air Forces in the final months of the war in Europe.
After writing Until the Night, I had been looking for a way to start telling the other stories of the Bombing War in Europe. Until the Night was about the men in the bombers over Germany in the winter of 1943 to '44; The Painter is about the experience of ordinary Germans under the bombs in the last winter of the war.
The Painter is the first of a series of companion audiobooks to Until the Night in the Bomber War series. Future audiobooks will include prequels or sequels to Until the Night, but The Painter stands alone, unconnected other than in time and theme by the tragedy of that, thankfully, past age.
History is history, but for it to "live", it needs to be experienced through the eyes and ears of "people", and it was not until I heard "The Painter", a beautifully elegiac song penned by Hannah Martin and performed in a concert by the duo Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, that I discovered a way to speak to the nightmare of the closing months of the war in Europe. In her song, Hannah Martin encapsulates the stories told to her by her grandmother about her life as a young woman growing up in Bielefeld.
In the terrible "big picture" of the bombing war, Bielefeld suffered less than many places in Germany. In the UK, we recall the trial by fire of Coventry in 1940; that city has become a leitmotif of the British experience of the blitz even though other towns and cities were as badly hit by the Luftwaffe. Bielefeld, a much smaller city than Coventry, its population swollen by slave labourers, suffered at least as many civilian casualties between September 1944 and VE-Day in April 1945.
Although it was never subjected to a major "area bombing" raid by the RAF, the US Army Air Force repeatedly attacked railway and other targets in and around Bielefeld, and in the final battles of the European conflagration, both Bomber Command and the Eighth Air Force bombed and eventually knocked down the massive four-track Schildesche Railway Viaduct, most of the northern suburbs of Bielefeld, and practically all the farmsteads and small communities around it, in March 1945.
Bielefeld was not - quite - wrecked from end to end; for Hannah Martin’s grandmother, that was no consolation because everything with which she had grown up was destroyed, and her father, the painter, was lost in the fire.
Lest we forget - remember the painter.