On Friday we celebrated a special bank holiday for the 75th anniversary of VE day, but from the strange circumstances of lockdown. Boris Johnson has said “We demand the same spirit of national endeavour” in the pandemic today as shown during wartime. In one sense, the sacrifices of the war generation were so costly that comparison doesn’t feel right. And yet, both then and now, we see everyone playing their part to combat a threat and safeguard the wider population’s wellbeing. Indeed, there are several ways the story of that time at the end of the war might instruct us today.
Winston Churchill famously announced in his broadcast on the 8th May that “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.” The same could be said of our efforts against the coronavirus. Although the lockdown arrangements may ease soon, there will be many more months of effort before life returns to something like normality. In 1945, the happy news was greeted with street parties and pubs staying open late. St Paul’s Cathedral held 10 consecutive church services on the same day. We aren’t able to do any of this yet, of course, but we do long for a day we can all gather together again to socialise, celebrate and worship.
Despite the victory, VE Day was not a day of celebration for everyone. The victory cost many lives. Many young men never returned to their families. Likewise, over 30,000 have now died from Covid-19 in the UK and so many people will be devastated in different ways by this health crisis. After 1945, many wartime restrictions remained: clothes rationing lasted until 1949, and food rationing until 1954. Many kept up a frugal mentality fashioned by the wartime years. Will there be long term changes to our lives because of the coronavirus outbreak? Choices made and habits formed now may transform the way we live for good. The challenge for us, as it was for those who marked VE day in 1945, will be to learn our lessons and carry them with us into the future.