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Two issues were of major concern to people of conscience in the early months of the war. Many were concerned about the blockade of continental Europe in view of the suffering it caused to occupied countries most especially in Greece where for a time famine threatened. A greater concern was the bombing campaign.

A Committee for the Abolition of Night Bombing was set up by Corder Catchpool, a conscientious objector from the first world war, following the experience of the Blitz and a letter by George Bell, Bishop of Chichester (a rare voice of dissent within the Anglican Church) 'If Europe is civilised at all, what can excuse the bombing of towns by night and terrorising non-combatants.' Bell called on both Germany and Britain to forswear such tactics.

In 1942 Britain’s bombing effort increased with the appointment of Arthur Harris. The committee renamed itself as the Bombing Restriction Committee and stepped up its effort. Vera Brittain, a member of the committee wrote: ‘We must decide whether we want the government to continue to carry out through Bomber Command a policy of murder and massacre in our name. Has any nation the right to make its young men the instruments of such a policy?

The committee gather information about the status of area bombing in international law and supported the International Red Cross’s efforts to designate ‘sanctuary areas’ free from bombing. It also supplied Bishop Bell with data about area bombing to support his argument in the Lords.

George Bell’s attitude to the war was not the result of other-worldly innocence. He knew better than many what was at stake in Nazi Germany and had been active in helping people of Jewish origin gain asylum in Britain. He also maintained contact with people engaged in the opposition to Hitler. In 1942 Bell met Bonhoeffer in neutral Stockholm, and was asked to convey a message to the British government, asking for its support in a plot to overthrow Hitler. The German underground wanted Britain to recognise a successor government to the Nazi regime, and agree to a truce. Bell told Anthony Eden and Stafford Cripps about the request, they in turn told Churchill. But the British government did not respond; it gave no assurances, and instead soon afterwards adopted the policy, devised in discussions with Roosevelt at the Casablanca Conference, of ‘unconditional surrender’.

Challenging untruths
The Bombing Restriction Committee published posters and leaflets and Vera Brittain, prompted by the fire bombing of Hamburg and the triumphalist reporting of the event in the press, started work on a pamphlet which became a short book with an explosive impact when unexpectedly first published in the US. | read on