Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Last week we spoke of memories. This week we have another, rather earlier and from a much darker time.
I was at school when Winston Churchill made his announcement on the radio at 3pm on Tuesday May 8th 1945 that the war with Germany was over with effect from midnight that night. That day would be known as VE Day. I was safely tucked up in bed when the revels began at midnight outside Buckingham Palace and indeed all over the country. Now there’s a phrase we had not been able to use for a number of years “safely tucked up in bed”! No more rushing down into the cold damp Andersen shelter dug in the garden when the air raid sirens sounded. No more black out curtains at the windows to stop the lights being visible to enemy bombers. Not that I appreciated any of this, my short life had only known war; not the horrors of occupation, thank God, but the fear of aerial bombardment and later the terrible V2 rockets whose engines cut out before they glided to their target. If you counted to ten you knew you were safe; this time anyway! Living so close to London as we did many houses, shops, factories and etc locally were destroyed; so many people were killed, injured or left homeless.
Now it was all over! An overwhelming sense of euphoria swept through the nation, tinged with sadness, of course. The war in the Far East against Japan would continue for several months yet – our troops out there felt they were the ‘forgotten army’. It would take some time for members of the armed forces to return to civilian life; indeed many would never do so whilst all who did return bore the scars, physical or mental, of their ordeal.
For a five year old child the best thing was the promise of a party! A party in the street!
On the appointed day all the neighbours brought out tables and chairs to set in a row down the centre of the street. Tablecloths were laid and a spread was prepared for the children. It wasn’t much as everything was rationed by the Government and had been since 1940; food, clothing, well everything really. I think we had sandwiches, bread and a smear of butter or bread and unsweetened jam, not both. I seem to remember tins of spam courtesy of Uncle Sam but whether we had any at the party I can’t recall. Someone had made a cake from ingredients saved from her rations using dried egg powder, of course. There were no sweets as they were not de-rationed until February 1953 whilst sugar remained on ration until September of that year. There was a fancy dress competition which tested the skills of mother’s needlework; and games for the children. Someone produced a wind-up gramophone and so there was dancing in the street. It doesn’t sound much, does it, but everyone enjoyed themselves.
The message? Thanksgiving that the war was over and gratitude to Almighty God for bringing us through those terrible years. But also the knowledge that nothing would be the same again and that there was a need to build a better future; a world of United Nations. And I thank God each day that He has allowed me to survive to tell the tale and to do His Will.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years