The following quote is from Winston Churchill's famous "their finest hour" speech, delivered in the House of Commons on 18 June 1940 (and repeated for radio that evening). It's four days after the occupation of Paris: 'the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin'. After assuring the House that the strength of Fighter Command has not been dissipated over France, he turns to the threat of the knock-out blow (emphasis added):
There remains, of course, the danger of bombing attacks, which will certainly be made very soon upon us by the bomber forces of the enemy. It is true that the German bomber force is superior in numbers to ours; but we have a very large bomber force also, which we shall use to strike at military targets in Germany without intermission. I do not at all underrate the severity of the ordeal which lies before us; but I believe our countrymen will show themselves capable of standing up to it, like the brave men of Barcelona, and will be able to stand up to it, and carry on in spite of it, at least as well as any other people in the world. Much will depend upon this; every man and every woman will have the chance to show the finest qualities of their race, and render the highest service to their cause. For all of us, at this time, whatever our sphere, our station, our occupation or our duties, it will be a help to remember the famous lines: He nothing common did or mean, Upon that memorable scene.
I did a double-take when I read the bolded bit. Brave men of Barcelona? Where did that come from? Unless I'm showing my philistinism again and missing some literary reference (always possible with Churchill: there's already an Andrew Marvell quote in the last line there), he must be talking about the aerial bombardment of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, and exhorting the British to be like the inhabitants of that city in their resistance to the terrors of bombing. Barcelona was bombed many times over a period of more than two years, most intensely between 16 and 18 March 1938 when more than 3000 people were killed (which I've discussed before). My own surprise at seeing Barcelona there is probably a reflection of the way in which Guernica has overshadowed other city bombardments of the 1930s.
But still, plenty of other cities had been bombed by the date of Churchill's speech, so why pick Barcelona? I suspect the main reason is simply that many of the other victims of bombing were hard to represent as positive role models, simply because the cities had soon fallen to the enemy. No matter how brave they were, the inhabitants of Warsaw and Rotterdam did not have to endure their ordeals for very long, because German tanks soon rolled into their cities. Churchill was preparing the inhabitants of London et al. to hold on for weeks, months, years if necessary -- to weather the knock-out blow and allow time for Britain to build up its forces and win (somehow). It's true that Barcelona eventually fell too, but it did hold out for more than two years: its citizens did not panic but adjusted to the constant air raids and went on with life under the bombs. There were few other cities which could claim a similar record at this time: Madrid would be another, and there must have been others in China -- Chungking (Chongqing), for example. Why Barcelona and not Madrid or Chungking, then? Well, perhaps the name just rolled off Churchill's tongue better.