The pictures above show VE celebrations in the street in 1945, probably in London, alongside the official programme for the London Victory Celebrations in 1946. The latter is from my family archives – both parents lived and worked in London in reserved occupations during WW2. They worked in a butcher’s shop by day, and as Civil Defence wardens by night. They went through the blitz, lucky if they managed to get 4 hours sleep, and they slept in a Morrison shelter in the front room.
When I was a child they had a big clear out, and the Morrison shelter was set up in the front room so I could see it. Here’s what it looked like (not the actual one they used). I crawled inside and hated it. It was like a claustrophobic cage and I wonder how they managed to get any sleep at all; I’d have been constantly worrying that a bomb would hit the house and I’d be trapped inside. Notice how the roof of the shelter doubled up as a table.
Prior to the Morrison shelter they’d lived in another house which had an Anderson shelter in the garden. My mum doesn’t look too bad standing outside it, with her pinny and sensible shoes. I don’t know when this was taken, but it’s during the war.
There are no photos of either parent in their air raid warden’s uniforms, but someone made a sketch of my dad in his. Note the short back and sides and the moustache – fashionable at the time, but it makes him look a bit serious (he wasn’t). The drawing is dated 12th December 1941. He was in the Civil Defence for the long haul, until the end of the war.
Now the 75th anniversary of VE Day upon us, I’ve been wondering what my parents would think of the Britain they worked for and supported the war effort for, 75 years on? They would certainly recognise and embrace the upsurge of community connection and kindness, friendliness and helpfulness that has become more evident since we’ve all been in the lockdown. Coronavirus and pandemics might ring bells for them; they were children in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic but I never heard them speak of any memories of it. The biggest thing that ever happened for them was WW2. They would certainly be able to empathise with the fear and concern about this, as-yet, unpredictable disease afflicting the global population. Fear would have been ever-present in their lives during the war, and maybe it’s something we are gradually getting used to as a “background” as we seek to get on with our lives in as normal a way as possible in these exceptional times. Does the fear and worry ever go away, or do we learn how to deal with it better and in more manageable ways? I guess it’s the latter.
With all this in mind, I’m not sure I want to sing “We’ll Meet Again” with the nation on Friday, or watch too much of the nostalgic stuff on TV, or hear the stirring Churchill speech we’re being promised, or take a part in the suggested socially distanced afternoon tea shared with neighbours outside our houses. I may choose to be a grumpy introvert and stay away – the waving of the Union Jack leaves me unmoved and I’ve managed to avoid it for a long time. That’s not to suggest it’s wrong to remember and acknowledge what people experienced during WW2 and 75 years ago, when it came to an end and new way of living evolved. It’s rather similar to where we’re at right now in 2020 – life is unlikely to be quite the same again. Something new and positive must evolve from this situation, we must adapt and go forward, consider the environent a lot more – so many people have realised they appreciate it – and a lot of things must change.
Looking to the future, that will be no bad thing.