I have some memories of the war, but none whatever of VE Day 1945. I do remember the celebrations for the anniversary, VE Day 1946. In the morning the children went to the cinema to see “The Drum”, a film (made in 1938) about the British Raj on the north west frontier. Thinking back, it seems an odd choice for children, though it did have a “U” certificate. I don’t think I understood much of it at the tender age of 7. In the afternoon there was a children’s tea and I saw a conjurer for the first time, and I’ve enjoyed watching conjurers ever since. We all got a blue plastic beaker to mark the occasion.
My father was appointed Vicar of Hythe, on the Kent coast, in 1942, and my earliest memories are of moving there. In a sense we were on the frontline, but it was probably no more dangerous than anywhere else in the country. One bomb landed in Hythe not long after our arrival. My mother called us to lunch, and then the air raid siren sounded. We took our lunch into our Morrison shelter (an enormous metal table – plenty of room for it indoors in our Georgian vicarage), but my father didn’t come; he said he must just finish the letter he was writing. Then the phone rang, and as he left the room to answer it, the blast of the bomb blew in the windows of his study (other windows in the house blew out) and the ceiling fell where he’d been sitting. The telephone call was from someone in his previous parish – 25 miles away. I’ve believed in miracles ever since. The details of the story I know from hearing it repeated over the years, but I do remember the specks of dirt in our lunch!
I started school in January 1944. There were shelters under the playground where we went during air raids. I remember the occasion returning to school with my sister after lunch when the siren went. We would have run on to the school, only another 200 yards, but a “big boy” (I’ve no idea who he was) said we must shelter, and the three of us sat under a bush until the all clear went. The school had been frantically ringing our parents not knowing where we were!
We learnt at school that “Peace” was absolutely wonderful – no mention of the 1926 General Strike or of the 1930s depression. When Peace came, nothing much seemed to change – rationing went on for another 8 years, for example. I must have made some comment as I remember my mother saying this wasn’t real peace yet. I had been ending my prayers each day with “and may there be peace soon.” I changed it to “and may there be real peace soon”, and I feel I’ve been praying that for the last 75 years.
After the war we had to learn new ways of doing things. Thank God for the National Health Service! We didn’t, couldn’t, go back to pre-war days.
Today, as we begin to think of the easing of the lock down, we must beware of wanting to “get back to normal”. What changes are needed in our politics and economics? How do we ensure that the NHS is properly funded and equipped, that people in care homes aren’t forgotten, that health workers are properly paid? Will those living in deprived areas get the help and funding they need? Will politicians learn to make proper provision for what may be necessary in the future. Will we be ready to pay higher taxes to make that possible? Will countries learn to work better together for the common good?
Pray that God will show us his way forward, and give us the will and courage to follow it.
Revd David Newman