CHARLES GRAHAM: Salute to our brave war generation

Its sad that we can't fully recreate parties such as this one in Scholes in 1945Its sad that we can't fully recreate parties such as this one in Scholes in 1945
Its sad that we can't fully recreate parties such as this one in Scholes in 1945
It says a lot about the scope and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that you need to compare it with World War Two in order to say “things could be worse.”

That’s no consolation to loved ones of those thousands of British people who have died with the disease in the space of a few weeks.

But as we mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day - in a far more restrained fashion than planned - it is worth reflecting on just what hell millions of people went through over a six-year period to arrive at that day of victory in Europe.

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Like the one playing out at present, it is another episode of history with tragic human tales so numerous that they can get lost in the statistics.

Not only the six million Jews exterminated by Hitler in his death camps, but the losses suffered by the French navy when Churchill ordered the torpedoing of the fleet so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands; or the fact that more than 3,000 Londoners perished in one night of the Blitz; and other battlefield tragedies on an epic scale too numerous to mention.

Then there was the dread of sitting in an Anderson shelter hearing the “doodlebugs” flying overhead and hoping that the drone wouldn’t stop overhead because that would mean they were falling.

Think of our armed service personnel in the thick of it, whether it be in the race for safety at Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the history-changing D-Day landings, desert warfare in North Africa or (like my late dad) sea battles protecting convoys to the USSR in the North Atlantic.

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And those left behind had plenty of suffering of their own, fretting from one day to the next that they might get the dreaded telegram informing them that their loved one had been killed or lost in action.

In some ways domestically, there were more freedoms than prevail under the current lockdown restrictions. Indeed public gatherings, trips to the cinema, theatre and so forth were actively encouraged as acts of togetherness.

But there was far more difficulty getting a square meal together between 1939 and 1945 (and after in fact) than in 2020.

Only senseless panic buying has caused any retail scarcities for a few foods today, whereas folk during the war had to make do with very little, especially as the conflict wore on and rationing was introduced.

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As the years have gone by and I reflect on the number of wars this country has got caught up in, I have consdered myself very lucky to be in a generation which hasn’t en masse been required to join up.

Perhaps this battle with coronavirus will be the nearest thing I experience to war (I hope so).

We have rightly been saluting our key workers - especially those on the NHS frontline - and I’ll be out again this evening to applaud with my neighbours.

And perhaps distubringly close comparisons will one day be made between the impact on people’s mental health from this crisis (whether it be medical staff dealing with mass fatalities or those people struggling to cope with self-isolation or financial ruin) with the war and its aftermath.

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But today is specifically a time for us to honour another generation of heroes who must also never be forgotten, and many of whom again made the ultimate sacrifice.

Were it not for our brave forbears we might now be living under a Nazi dictatorship all these years later. So things could be worse.

It’s a huge shame that this special anniversary cannot be marked as spectacularly as it should be because of the pandemic.

But the emotions will be just as high and we can still hail those who saved us 75 years ago.

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Even the direst of predictions for this virus don’t stretch as far ahead as the length of World War Two and, while we might have to learn a “new kind of normal” in terms of self-distancing for a good while, it will be a smaller price to pay compared to that for those who lived through 1939-45.

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