The Nightingale and Bomber Command

This is a very famous recording of a nightingale singing its little heart out, only to be interrupted by the enormous noise of a large number of Bomber Command aircraft approaching and then flying over. Undaunted, the nightingale carries on with its beautiful song as the bombers leave and the roar of their engines gradually fades away. The recording lasts quite a long time but it is well worth listening to in its entirety, particularly if you have never heard it before. It comes from spud4x:

The recording was made from a garden in Surrey, England during the evening of May 19th 1942 as 197 aircraft flew over on their way to bomb Mannheim. There were 105 Wellingtons, 31 Stirlings, 29 Halifaxes, 15 Hampdens, 13 Lancasters and 4 Manchesters:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

47 men would be killed and 23 would finish up as prisoners of war. Eleven days later would come the first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne. And in the woods of England, and indeed Germany, the war would count for very little. The bluebells would be lingering on and the nightingales would be starting to sing.

The nightingale has a very powerful, very famous, but not necessarily hyper distinctive song. On birdwatching trips, I have often seen people listen to a hidden blackcap or garden warbler and walk away happy that they have heard a nightingale. John Keats too, may have been misled. Some critics have mentioned that the bird’s behaviour as Keats describes it, is on occasion not dreadfully nightingaley. But the poetic thoughts are dreadfully, well, poetic:

“Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
         In ancient days by emperor and clown”
Perhaps John Clare, of whom I wrote long. long ago, had a better idea:
“See there! she’s sitting on the old oak bough,
Mute in her fears ; our presence doth retard
Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.
Sing on, sweet bird! may no worse hap befall
Thy visions, than the fear that now deceives.”

Anyway, there’s only one nightingale and here it is…

And here’s another version of that BBC recording:

If you’re interested, this is also to be found on Youtube. It is a recording made of a Bomber Command crew on a bombing mission over Germany:

As a fully paid up very sad person, I have two CDs  of this type of thing, bought many years ago from Amazon and I have listened to them many times.

This is the first one and this is the second one. They are particularly good for driving through rush hour traffic on your way to work. Goggles optional.




Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, Personal, Wildlife and Nature

34 responses to “The Nightingale and Bomber Command

  1. Good post John, I enjoyed it!

  2. a gray

    Sounds that people born after, say, 1955 will have never heard, massed propeller-driven aircraft. Thanks, John, for another great post.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! My older relatives used to say that with the German formations they sounded different, because their mechanics tuned the engines to go “brr-brr-brr” in an up and down kind of way, so that everybody knew that the Luftwaffe was here. As if anybody was unaware of that fact!!

      • I don’t know that the Luftwaffe mechanics tuned their engines to sound different from RAF engines, but I have heard World War II veterans that various aircraft sounded different.

  3. A very beautiful tribute, John

  4. I still have my headphones on listening to the men fly off on their mission, and the undaunted nightingale sings on.

    • Yes, it’s really wonderful. Mother Nature v Man. And there’s only one winner! We see the odd TV programme about the polluted areas around Chernobyl, and that’s the same. Mother Nature has returned and all the animals are living out their lives as if it never happened.
      The trick is that none of them live long enough to die of terminal cancer, as a human would. They get eaten by a bear, which is lots better! (And even the bears get eaten by a bear eventually.)

  5. Two incongruent sounds. I enjoyed the audio recordings. The sound of propeller aircraft–a rare sound for me!

    • It’s not something you hear any more! We get De Havilland Dash feeder airliners coming over our house, but they are turbo props so they are a lot closer to modern jets than WW2 bombers. I suppose the last proper propeller aircraft I saw and heard was the Douglas C-47 Dakota which went over the staff car park the best part of twenty years ago. At the time they used to use them for surveying work because they flew so slowly.

  6. Not the sort of recording one comes across every day. Thanks for sharing it!

    • No, it isn’t, and that sense of power is something amazing. A couple of years ago we went to see a single Lancaster at East Kirkby in Lincolnshire and were able to stand behind the revving engines. There was a rope holding back the crowd though, because during the war, mechanics were occasionally bowled over and blown away by the engines’ power, resulting in the occasional fatality.
      If you listened to the bomber crew talking, don’t worry if you couldn’t understand a lot of it. That’s an upper class accent that has largely disappeared years ago.

  7. What a fabulous sound. The melodic tune just fills the heart. A shame that blasted pigeon squeaked all over it! Seriously a great post John, how those crews stayed so calm with all that going on says a lot about their character.

  8. Chris Waller

    One could read something very profound into the nightingale’s persistence in the face of overwhelming opposition.

    • Yes, indeed. The attempts of Man to outdo Mother Nature, who has found a much better kind of immortality than Man has managed so far.
      Mind you, I’m currently working on turning myself into a phone app which is showing a great deal of promise (just joking).

  9. That brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. And a swirling mix of emotions and thoughts I cannot separate.

    • I found the little bird with the big heart very moving, as was the unity and sense of purpose displayed by those bombers, off to risk their lives eradicating evil from the world.
      I have also found the aircrews very interesting. One of the CDs I have has the pilot saying to the gunner, in their very upper class accents “Hello gunner. How did you get on with that fighter?” and the gunner replies “Don’t worry skipper. I got the b*st*rd “. And I think that was the closest we got to real emotion on the whole CD!

  10. Jan

    Within seconds of the guns falling silent you can hear birds chirping. After four years of war it is hard to believe that there would be a bird within five miles of the front.

  11. I really enjoyed this post, John. I’ve been so into birdsong lately and to hear this nightingale sing amongst the background of singing birds this morning coming in from my open door, well! you put me in bird heaven! The birds will keep on singing no matter what and I for one am very glad for it! May you have a great day today!!

    • Thank you, Amy. I feed the birds every day and on cold days they actually seem grateful for it. One species of bird has a two syllable call that it seems to say as I go back into the house after sorting out their food for the day. I know that birds can’t talk to you, but if those two syllables are not “thank you”, then I’m going crazy.

      • No, John, you are not going crazy. I talk to the birds all the time and they to me. TODAY both the Boston Orioles and Hummingbirds have arrived! Never have I seen Hummers come at the same time as Orioles. I am not however complaining. I’ve got this huge grin on my face …..

  12. Absolutely enchanting and captivating my friend, first time I have heard that recording and any poetic words can only enhance that poignant moment.
    Beautiful nostalgic post.

  13. Daniel R Drawe

    I have an original record. Any idea of it’s value?

    • I’m sorry but I’m afraid I have no idea. I googled “value my vinyl records uk” and that produced a lot of different websites to look at.
      An alternative would be to google,the exact title of the record along with its serial number or reference number. That ought to produce some results.

  14. Daniel R Drawe

    I have an original 78 record of Nightingales and Bombers for sale. If interested, please email me:

    • Thanks but no thanks. I already have the track on one of the two CDs I have of RAF aircrew. I couldn’t play a 78 anyway. It must be forty years since i listened to an LP !

Leave a Reply to The Emu Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.