By Heather Norris Nicholson
Today, Friday, 8th May 2020 is the 75th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe Day).
The date acknowledges the end of nearly six years of conflict in Europe during which many thousands of people contributed to the war effort and served their country.
Its significance for an exhausted, battle-weary emotionally-drained population, reliant on rations in all areas of life is undeniable. VE Day brought relief and the basis for a new beginning. It was a brief moment to try to sidestep war’s trauma and loss.
As an occasion to put up bunting and for street parties, perhaps it offered a much-needed morale booster? Perhaps it wasn’t until some years later that British life among the ruins of war really felt ready for more of a party and national celebration – as seen in the Festival of Britain (1951) and then the Coronation (1953).
Although peace arrived in Europe in May 1945, the end of all hostilities in the Second World War didn’t occur in the Far East when Japan surrendered after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (VEJ, August 15th).
Many military personnel were still far from home and others never did. After any conflict, disaster or crisis, the effects and consequences can be around for a long time, changing the direction and flow from personal to the global level, as the present pandemic has already begun to show. Rebuilding the lives of families, communities, and nations affected by CoVid 19 will involve a long process of healing and understanding.
Acts of remembrance will also need to go beyond single days. The National Memorial Arboretum, a 150 woodland site in Staffordshire is a centre of national remembrance where nearly 400 memorials acknowledge the contribution made by individuals, groups, emergency services, and the armed services for others.
Already there are calls for a COVID-19 memorial that will offer a lasting tribute to members of the NHS and other key workers who risked or lost their lives during the current pandemic.
Recognition has sometimes been much slower. Mr Albert Jarrett, a 95-year old veteran, is fund-raising to support the creation of a permanent memorial to honour Caribbean military personnel at the National Memorial Arboretum.
Originally from Jamaica, Mr. Jarrett enlisted as a delivery driver for the RAF when he was 18. Now he is determined that the Caribbean contribution to the Second World War is not forgotten.
Out of an estimated population of 14 million across the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean, over 15000 men and women from the Caribbean also volunteered particularly as aircrew and ground staff with the RAF.
They held varied combatant and non-fighting roles and many other key and auxiliary roles across all the Armed Services in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere.
Well-respected and welcomed for their contribution to the fight against fascism, when peace-time returned, many found themselves no longer wanted and were obliged to return to the Caribbean.
Within a few years, some ex-servicemen and women returned to Britain for fresh opportunities to help, on boats including the Empire Windrush, unaware that their return as civillians would be less welcome.
Over the past seventy years many more British born African Caribbean descendants have also served as part of Britain’s armed services in different conflict and peace-building missions.
For families, friends, and communities, the wait for recognition has been far too long. Other communities have been more proactive in gaining recognition for their contribution to British military history.
Mr. Jarrett’s zeal for action, along with his other campaigners for a National Caribbean Monument, rather like the efforts of another veteran, Captain Tom Moore in raising money for charity in the run-up to his 100th birthday during the COVID-19 pandemic should inspire us all.
VE Day in lockdown is a very good moment to acknowledge the service of others.