"War started at nine o’clock promptly [on 30 November]. The people of Helsinki stood in the streets and listened to the painful rising and falling and always louder wail of the sirens. For the first time in history they heard the sound of bombs falling on their city. This is the modern way of declaring war. The people moved unhurriedly to bomb shelters or took cover in doorways and waited.
That morning Helsinki was a frozen city inhabited by sleepwalkers. The war had come too fast and all the faces and all the eyes looked stunned and unbelieving. The sky had been slate-coloured all day, with a low blanket of cloud folding over the city. The second air raid came at three o’clock. No siren gave the alarm; there was only the swift breathtaking roar of the bombs. The Russian planes flew high and unseen and dived to within 200 metres of the ground to dump their bombs in heavy loads. The raid lasted one minute. It was the longest minute anyone in Helsinki had ever lived through.
There were five great explosions and afterward the stillness itself was dreadful. Then a rumour flew through the quiet, broken streets: poison gas. Anything was believable now. Guided by the tremendous sound of the bombs, we could see in that direction a high, round, grey cloud of smoke blowing slowly between the buildings. We had no gas masks. They shut the doors of the hotel, but as the hall skylight had already been broken by concussion this seemed feeble protection. From a fifth-floor window I saw the light of fire, pink around the sky. “Not gas yet,” we said to one another, greatly cheered. “Just incendiary bombs.”
We shuffled through broken glass in the streets. The grey afternoon was darker with smoke. The bombed houses on this block were so shrouded in flames that you could not see through into the ruins. Turning left, we ran toward the light of another fire. The technical school, a vast granite square of buildings, had been hit. The houses around it and on the next street were gutted clean, with flames leaping out of all the empty windows. Firemen worked fast and silently but there was nothing much to do except try to put out the fire. Later they could dig for the bodies.”
From Bombs On Helsinki, published as part of the collection The Face of War (Granta). © The Estate of Martha Gellhorn
source: The Guardian, UK