The War in Europe is over.. we have won! Words like that must have been on everybody’s minds when 7 May 1945 finally broke. It has been 75 years since the event and on this day we can give thanks that we are not living in a Nazi dominated world, and the horror that the Soviet Union inflicted on it’s people and satellite states is no more. For those at home they could go to bed safe in the knowledge that it was all over bar the shouting, although in the defeated Germany there was not much to celebrate over. Thousands of ex-Nazi’s suddenly grew a conscience and after a suitable period of time slipped back into civilian live unpunished and unrepentant. Millions of displaced people tried to return home, thousands of prisoners of war looked forward to repatriation and families everywhere mourned those who never came back.
My father was one of those POWs interned in Germany when the war ended. His records indicate that he was repatriated to the UK on 31/05/1945. How he got there I do not know, and neither do I know where he was housed in the UK between then and when he boarded the ship back to the Union of South Africa on 26/08/1945. I do not even know which ship he sailed on either, but he arrived in Cape Town on 11 September 1945 and was then sent to Pietermaritzburg. From there he seemed to have been on leave, until he was due to report back on 13/11/1945. Whether that was at Pietermaritzburg or Johannesburg I cannot say, however, the record confirms him as being at the dispersal depot at Hector Norris Park in Johannesburg on 20 November 1945, and he was finally discharged on the 28th of that month with the rank of Lance Corporal. He was one of the lucky ones.
Unfortunately it would take two atomic bombs to convince the Japanese that the war was lost, and VJ Day was on 2 September 1945. The world however has never been without a war somewhere since then and millions of civilians have lost their lives in conflict ever since. We have not learnt our lesson yet. The present pandemic has shown that it does not take much to throw a planet into disarray, and even in the midst of the current crisis we are still killing each other.
The exuberance of victory was well deserved though. It had been a tough fight and the enemy was tenacious and adaptable, but the Allies had completed their task as best they could. Reams would be written about the mistakes that were made and the armchair generals would pat themselves on the back and beam at the medals that they received, while the ordinary soldier was just glad to be back at home and able to get on with their lives.
Both my parents lived through the 2nd World War and my mother lost her brother in Egypt in 1944; the passage of time would never heal that wound and the loss of that family member would always be a part of their lives.
As we celebrate VE day on the Bank Holiday within the confines of our lockdown let us not forget that freedom does not come without a price, and that price is not cheap.
Winston Churchill made the following speech to the nation:
“God bless you all. This is your victory! It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the independent resolve of the British nation. God bless you all. 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? Were we down-hearted? 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.’ Now we have emerged from one deadly struggle-a terrible foe has been cast on the ground and awaits our judgement and our mercy.
But there is another foe who occupies large portions of the British Empire, a foe stained with cruelty and greed – the Japanese. I rejoice we can all take a night off today and another day tomorrow. Tomorrow our great Russian allies will also be celebrating victory and after that we must begin the task of rebuilding our hearth and homes, doing our utmost to make this country a land in which all have a chance, in which all have a duty, and we must turn ourselves to fulfil our duty to our own countrymen, and to our gallant allies of the United States who were so foully and treacherously attacked by Japan. “We will go hand and hand with them. Even if it is a hard struggle we will not be the ones who will fail.”
Amongst my collection is a letter of thanks from Field Marshal Jan Smuts that was sent to every single South African who served in the armed forces during World War 2. Unfortunately I do not have a good image of it because it is behind glass.
DRW © 2020. Created 05/05/2020. “Tribute to the Millions” – written by Bruno Peak – VE Day 75 Pageant Master