I could barely stop the tears from flowing as I sat through the two minute silence for Victory in Europe Day at 11am this morning.
It’s a strange thing patriotism. I was born 15 years after the war ended – amazing to think it was only 15 years – yet talk of it rarely played any part in my upbringing.
My family, I would say, are only averagely patriotic, I can remember very few expressions of love for the country from my mum or dad as I was growing up.
Yet I see old film of both world wars – our forces fighting on the various fronts, the blitz including the devastation of my home city Coventry, the joyous yet understated celebrations of this day 75 years ago – and I feel really powerful emotions.
In recent years – what with the Brexit debacle and now our handling of coronavirus – I have to say I’ve felt less proud of being British. But what my country did in those days, the young men who fought for our freedom and the words of Winston Churchill evoke such strong emotions. Here is Churchill’s speech to the cheering crowds in central London.
“My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. After a while we were left all alone against the most tremendous military power that has been seen. We were all alone for a whole year.
“There we stood, alone. Did anyone want to give in? [The crowd shouted “No.”] Were we down-hearted? [“No!”] The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle. London can take it. So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered. When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail?
“I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say “do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered.”
Those words make me feel so proud and I often feel our friends across the Channel should honour my nation, and what it achieved for the rest of Europe, a little bit more particularly on days such as this.
It’s sad that at this time of lockdown we cannot properly honour those last few surviving veterans who fought for our freedom. Even though they won’t be there I very much hope I will get to see the VE Day centenary in 2045. Hopefully then it will be marked by a proper public celebration. In the meantime I’m going to do all I can to make the most of the next 25 years of the freedom they fought for, and won.