VE Day Reflection:
Text of VE Day Podcast by Revd. Suzanne Pattle
When I arrived in Colehill as Vicar nearly six years ago I was struck by how many people from the community gathered at the War Memorial for the Remembrance Day ceremonies – and that has not diminished even though much is now fading from living memory, at least as far as WW1 is concerned. Today is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, an occasion which in different times would have been marked by lots of community events for young and old, including here in Colehill. Coming together as a community is hugely important, and it is one of the things that we miss in this time of social isolation.
Of course circumstances are now very different, and though the day will be marked, and this short service of reflection is part of the church’s contribution to today, it will be marked very differently. How many of us could have anticipated when this event was in the planning, that we would find ourselves in the 7th week of lockdown amidst a global pandemic?
Of course the focus of today and the events of the weekend is to remember and give thanks for those who gave of themselves during the worst global conflict ever witnessed. Many never spoke of their experiences when they returned from combat, desperate to get back to normal, to put the trauma behind them, but still marked by it in many different ways. We salute the war time generation for their resilience and courage, their perseverance and self-sacrifice, both on the field of combat and on the home front. Captain, now Colonel, Tom Moore, who has raised a staggering £33million for the NHS is a powerful symbol of that generation, and he acts as a bridge between then and now. He exemplifies for us the best of that wartime spirit, and inspired the whole nation in this crisis. Interviewed on the day he completed his challenge he said this, as we face lives turned upside down by the invisible global threat that is the coronavirus: "To all those people who are finding it difficult at the moment," he said, "The sun will shine on you again, and the clouds will go away."
These words remind me of a line in the popular hymn ‘Abide with me’, a hymn which trusts that God offers us his continuing presence and help even in the darkest hours of our lives: ‘through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me’. Many people then as now drew comfort from the Christian belief that God journeys with us, whatever times we may be facing, and offers us hope.
We can learn from the example of Colonel Tom and others of his generation. After the euphoria of VE day there was a huge amount of work to be done, and challenges to be faced by a nation that had been brought to its knees by six long years of war. Troops had to be got home, families reunited; the injured in both body and mind needed to be cared for; housing needed to be provided for those who had been bombed out; and the economy placed on a war footing with years of rationing still ahead needed to recover. They were huge challenges, and it was a big unknown. But out of these years of war and suffering came the emergence of the welfare state, the health service, so precious to us today, improvements in housing and advances in medical science. It was a long and difficult recovery, but much of what we continue to value today emerged out of that. Galvanised by the suffering and privations they had endured, the wartime generation rose to new challenges to build a better world – and so must we. There is always light and hope; people are wonderfully creative and resilient as we have witnessed; communities do come together; there have been benefits to the climate; there has been a rediscovery of things to value and to celebrate; people have discovered new skills or reconnected with old ones that were in danger of being lost. Where there is life there is always hope.
Along with the entire world we do not know what our new normal will look like, but I hope and pray that out of our own challenges of global pandemic we will recognise and hold on to the things that we hold as precious, and work together across national boundaries to build a better, kinder and more just and inclusive society. We recognise and value those who have given so much of themselves, along with others across the world, to ensure the well being of us all. Now, as then, once the worst is over, the whole of humanity will need to continue to make sacrifices, to rebuild, to construct a new kind of future. What will be the legacy of this pandemic generation to those who come after us? And will people say of us as they did of the wartime generation, ‘this was their finest hour’?
May God bless us all, as we remember and give thanks for the wartime generation, and give us the strength and imagination we all need in the days, weeks and months ahead.