When Britain is bombing Berlin

WA Sportsman (Perth), 9 August 1918, 3

This poem took up about an eighth of page 3 of the 9 August 1918 edition of the Perth WA Sportsman, preaching revenge on Germany for its air raids on Britain (the last of which, until the next war at least, had just taken place). It's prefaced by a claim that 'the Allies expect to soon send air fleets to bomb Berlin', likely a reference to a statement made a week earlier by Major-General Sefton Brancker that 'It is certain that the British will be able to bomb Berlin next spring'. (A week after the Armistice it was being reported that RAF bombers were 'actually in readiness to visit Berlin' when the ceasefire came through.)

Bombing Berlin was by now an old fantasy in the Australian press. Partly that was echoing reprisal debates in the British press, such as a December 1915 reprint of an article by Herbert Casson in the Weekly Dispatch arguing that bombing 'the ten nerve-centres of Prussianism in Berlin' would stop the Zeppelin raids on London (an anonymous article the following year, I think also British originally, upped this to twenty). But it was also about what Jay Winter calls 'the cultural preparation of hatred, atrocity, and genocide'. German air raids were a great Australian recruiting tool, and there were also homegrown sentiments in favour of reprisals, or even a knock-out blow in the case of the Grenville Standard in March 1916:

Now if the Huns-in-Chief, instead of remaining obsessed by military traditions, had turned Essen into an airplane factory, and sent myriads of swift machines over the Allies' positions, dropping poison-bombs in a continuous stream for days, and had repeated the performance on cities, railway stations, and other vital points, the war would now be over, and we should all be settling down to enjoy the blessings of Kultur under the Kaiser's flag. Similarly, if instead of raising an army of three or four million men Britain had trained one million picked airmen and provided half of them with the fastest and most powerful airplanes, and then sent cloud upon cloud of these messengers of death over the German lines, Wilhelm II, if he survived, would by this time be suing for peace on any terms.

As so often, there is an often unstated slippage in these desires between military objectives (AKA winning the war) and civilian ones. Casson wants to bomb the Kaiser's palaces, the Reichstag and so on, but also insists that 'If [the Prussian] talks murder to you — murder of innocent inhabitants — then, you have got to talk murder to him'. The Standard deplores the use of the phrase 'No military importance' in official reports of air raid damage, suggesting that 'A mother who sees her children blown to pieces by a Zeppelin bomb is in no mood to consider the question of military importance'; and ends by hoping that

It may soon be possible to bomb Berlin, when German mothers will know how it feels to be told that the slaughter of their babes is not of the least military significance.

Judging from their talk of 'murdered wean[s]' and the fate of 'Gomorrah of old' -- of course, 25 years later, the codename for the Allied raids which caused the Hamburg firestorm -- 'J', the W.A. Sportsman's poet, felt much the same:

We'll sing with joy when the speeding planes,
Full armed and in battle array,
Shall fare to the heart of the far domains
Of the Beast who decreed 'The Day!'
Long we have waited in anguish here
Revenge for the air-raid's toll ;
Long have we mourned o'er the death-lists drear
With many a sorrowing soul.
But 'The Day' is coming the fleets prepare
To atone for the ghastly sin;
'We will repay!' from the outraged air
When Britain is bombing Berlin!

Loud was the cry of the murdered wean
A-sleeping in London town;
Harsh was the horror of many a scene
When the bombs came thundering down.
But we have sworn on the mem'ries grand
Of millions of hero sons,
'In the brute way that they understand,
Vengeance shall reach the Huns!'
So from the clangour of iron and steel,
From the air-fleet factories' din,
Comes the death that the Beast shall feel
When Britain is bombing Berlin!

Gomorrah of old lay steeped in crime,
But Heaven her death-blow rained,
And so shall come in our travail-time
The death of this State crime-stained.
The brute e'en now o'er his wounds agape
Is mouthing a pitiful wail,
For lies and murder and lust and rape
Shall not in the end avail!
To the women and weans go our words of cheer,
For Right under God shall win,
And Peace for the Earth will be hov'ring near
When Britain is bombing Berlin!

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