Opinion: Reflections on VE Day

Peter Balding

Yesterday I joined in the local street party described as a ‘celebration’ of V.E. Day. Trying to be a good neighbour I went. I left the safety of my lockdown bubble, but thought that entering to the ‘spirit’ of the occasion was going to be a challenge.


Why?


Firstly, the word 'celebration' was being used. I can understand that 75 years ago we may have felt such a relief that the European war was ending with all that meant to the UK’s people. If there, (I missed it by 17 months) I may well have felt like singing and dancing and getting very merry - a very natural response.


How should we see it 75 years later? We now know that the end of the war marked the end of much suffering particularly in the UK and western Europe but for many others it continued and marked the beginning of additional deprivation and death. I am thinking of the annexation of Eastern Europe, the systematic rape of women in Germany by - many of the Red Army, (the spoils of war), the murder of returning Russian soldiers etc. And then Nagasaki and Hiroshima.


Victory? Yes we won the war but every victor has a vanquished; the Germans suffered more than us in the final analysis. Although we must recall that in many ways Germany ‘won the peace’. Of the other victors, the Soviet Union became our enemy and suffered losses that make ours seem almost marginal. We may have ‘won’, but we were exhausted, bankrupt, and in other ways defeated.


Yes, it is worth commemorating that we beat one form of tyranny but impotently watched whilst another grew in strength and opposed us.


I wanted to commemorate this very important event - but not celebrate. I would want people to pause and reflect what was really going on - not get tight and sing Vera Lynn songs.


Remembering 'Heroes'; I always struggle with this one. No doubt there were great acts of heroism, and countless examples of all sorts of people, not just those conscripted, who had no choice, who sacrificed themselves for others. I think of fire fighters, medical and nursing, and many countless anonymous civil heroes. But should we just celebrate those who wore a uniform and made the ultimate sacrifice? Maybe the intention is to think of all those who gave - I hope so, but as ever, in these celebrations/commemorations the emphasis seems to be on ‘our boys’, (and sometimes girls). To be fair, some of the morning’s TV did gather in all those who contributed to the war effort in the tribute.


But at the street party it was almost like Fawlty Towers’ ‘don’t mention the war’. One or two put up photos of family members who had served – fair enough. But I had no sense of a war ending being celebrated. What was so uplifting was that I think we were simply celebrating our neighbourliness at another time of national crisis and consequent coming together. But for me the high spot was the effort by the staff of the care home in our street to ensure some of the residents could also join in. They laid decorated tables in the forecourt and served tea and cakes and they all had a sing-song. For a few minutes I could put my doubts aside.

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