75 years ago
I must be truthful and say that I do not remember 8th May 1945. I think there was a bonfire on the village green. I would have been at school, and more worried about the 11+ (‘scholarship’) then, which I took before I was 10, and went to Grammar School that year. The ‘prompt’ to write this came from a French TV programme last night, on Berlin in 1945. We would no longer have been frightened, survived the blitz (I watched London burn from the front step of our bungalow, to my mother’s horror). A bomb in the field behind us blew the windows in. We were well fed (efficient rationing, school meals, free milk), survived doodle-bugs, and the more scary V2 rockets. So 8th May was a signing day, very different to the end of WW1 where fighting continued to the last minute.
The UK never celebrated VE (Victory in Europe Day), except for this year, celebrations ironically scuppered. The French always have, big day, parade to the War Memorial, veterans with the banners of their villages, mass, then, of course, drinkies in the Town Hall. Then all out to lunch.
But just before the end of the war pictures were etched on my memory which have lasted a lifetime. Last night, with due warning, we were shown pictures of the discovery of Belsen Concentration camp which I had never seen before, and even more horrific. My mother tried to hide newspapers from me (my father was in the Marines, but never in danger). She left the one with pictures of Belsen on the table. Even the mention of Fascism or persecution of Jews (also, often forgotten, of homosexuals and gypsies) can bring back that memory.
For the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings, 1994, I wrote a book in homage to the sufferings in the village where we had our first house. I presented it to the Mayor in front of the War Memorial. Before the ceremony, his brother had asked me ‘Will you wear one of your hats, please?’ I did, of course. I had interviewed many people who had really suffered, lack of food, men forced to work in Germany (I live in the area under German occupation, not ‘Vichy’ France). But under the bitterness (families put up against walls and shot as reprisals for sabotage) there were some lovely stories of bamboozling the Germans. Precious Calvados and Armagnac hidden in wells, photos of 8 year old children working in fields. I had found and listed virtually every man who had lost his life in conflict; revolution, Napoleonic wars and the two World Wars. My husband set them out beautifully on pages of tribute. The Countess of the local castle was furious because German high command took it over and scrubbed her precious Versailles parquet with rough soap. Another noble lady acted as interpreter for the Americans when the Germans were being chased out. A bomb went off, and left her permanently deaf in one ear.
Now, so sad, could there be a greater irony than another ‘enemy’ is preventing us from going out into the streets and cheering? Hope they ring the church bells.
A Moodscope member.
* The picture is a 14th July party, the lady in the mackintosh was the one deafened by a bomb.