Today marked the 75th anniversary of ‘Victory in Europe’, celebrating the end of war between Britain and Germany. Despite the national VE Day commemorations having been called off due to the current social distancing situation, many streets across the country still celebrated together in traditional VE Day fashion.
The 8th May 1945 was an emotional day in Britain as people rejoiced that the fighting in Europe had come to an end and huge crowds danced and celebrated outside Buckingham Palace. The Queen described it as “one of the most memorable nights of my life.”
It is a tragic irony that the 75th commemoration of VE Day should fall during the Covid-19 outbreak, probably the nation’s toughest challenge since 1945. Exactly 75 years ago today, the nation celebrated peace, freedom and the ability to live without fear in the future. Yet on the 8th May 2020 the majority of the nation (and the world) are practically under house arrest, with their freedom of movement restricted and living in fear of a global pandemic.
Are we now witnessing an unravelling of the social and political achievements of the post war years? The NHS, an institution established in 1948 by the reforming post war Labour government is now at breaking point. At this moment in time, Parliament is no longer properly functioning and jury trials have been suspended. Many of the Britons who celebrated in the street parties of 1945 are now the worst effected category of Covid-19 victims, suffering in care homes – which have effectively become a breeding ground for coronavirus. Those who can remember the original VE Day celebrations have now lost their basic freedoms to go shopping, see relatives and attend places of worship. The low availability of produce in supermarkets and food rationing which ended only a few weeks ago is a haunting reminder of life in the 1940’s and 50’s.
The universal feeling of hope and ability to live without fear, (then and for future generations) celebrated in 1945 has now been usurped in the current “climate of fear” that reigns across the globe. For now, Britain is still in lockdown, the virus is still a huge threat to society and the economy, and most of us fear for the safety of our relatives, just as people did 75 years ago. As in May 1945, the real questions facing Britain are not about the past, but about the future.
However, as witnessed today in social distancing street parties across the country, the pride, patriotism and community spirit of neighbourhoods is just as present now as it was in 1945.