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Did you see the frightened ones?
Did you hear the falling bombs?
Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter
When the promise of a brave new world
Unfurled beneath the clear blue sky?
Did you see the frightened ones?
Did you hear the falling bombs?
The flames are all long gone
But the pain lingers on

Goodbye blue sky
Goodbye blue sky
Goodbye
Goodbye

The song begins with the drone of an airplane in the distance, followed by young Harry Waters saying “Look Mummy- there’s an airplane up in the sky!” We then hear a nylon-string guitar enter with an eighth note D-major pattern (D-F#-D-G-F#-D-F#) repeated, leading into an A minor chord with a scalar melody that transitions the introduction into the verses.

Lyrically, each verse is a series of three questions, each asking about memories of the Battle of Britain. There’s no formal rhyme structure, though examples of thyme are present (wonder/shelter, world/unfurled, pain/flames). Rhythmically, each line is a series of trochees- three each for the first two lines, then a longer series for the final question.

The song deals with with the memory of the Battle of Britain, the air attacks by the Luftwaffe in July-October 1940, meant to achieve air superiority over Britain in anticipation of invasion. The Luftwaffe failed, and the invasion never happened. Here in the United States Edward R. Murrow’s rooftop reports from London provided memorably frightening accounts of the fighting:

Among their tactics the Luftwaffe used terror bombing, dropping bombs on population centers. (It’s said that John Lennon was born under a German air raid).

The song doesn’t make clear who is asking the questions and who is being asked, though it’s conceivable that Pink could be either. It seems more likely to me that it is Pink asking the question, breaking the fourth wall and directly asking the audience. Clearly being a young child facing the Blitz would be a terrifying experience and would contribute to a sensed need for a wall of protection.

It should be noted, however, that Waters, being born in 1943, couldn’t have a living memory of the Blitz. It is possible he has tapped into a communal memory, hearing stories from those around him. (I have memories of a killer tornado that struck my hometown in 1967, even though I was not yet born. I have seen so many pictures and heard so many stories it’s as if I was there.)

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