VE Day - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

VE Day

ve.jpg"It is difficult to describe to anyone who has not lived through six years of war the feeling of euphoria that burst when the news arrived that the final whistle had been blown; a tight cork exploding from a warm bottle of champagne would produce nothing to compare with the effervescence of that moment. For six long years the people of Europe had never seen a light of any sort in the streets after dusk unless it had been a blue one - the pencil-slim light of a masked torch carried by a pedestrian - the narrow letterbox slits to which the lights on all vehicles had been reduced.

The fact that the maiming and killing had stopped; the fact that one had come through unscathed; the fact that every light in the town could be put on that night and the curtains left wide open, were all causes for ecstasy."

Ian Carmichael, Officer, 22nd Dragoons. Staff Officer HQ, 30th Armoured Brigade.

vebalcony.jpgThose words of Ian Carmichael sum up the sense of relief and release that flooded across the country when the end of the war in Europe was declared 60 years ago today. From eye-witness accounts of the time the euphoria took a while to surface. Londoners slowly came out onto the streets hardly able to believe that the bombing and the bloodshed really had ceased, winston.jpgbut by mid-afternoon the streets were full of people celebrating, huge crowds had assembled to hear Winston Churchill address the nation, and the King and Queen appeared eight times on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. By nightfall the partying had taken off in earnest: all over the country there were street parties, and people gathered in churches to give thanks for victory.

Of course there were still black clouds to obscure the sunshine of victory in the West – the war in the Far East continued, Europe was in ruins and Britain was a weary and battered nation after six years of war.

"For all too many people, mourning a loved one killed in service or in a German air raid, the moment of victory was bittersweet. For others, after the parties were over, there was a sense of anti-climax.

The tension that had been there for six long years was suddenly relaxed. Some found that they had lost a sense of purpose in their lives, a feeling exacerbated by the austerity to come. The war had been won, but the peace did not promise to be easy." (BBC Website)

Such feelings were well summed up by Meg Ryan, a 26 year old mother:-

"When war began I’d been twenty, full of the enthusiasm, ambitions, certainties and energies of youth. I’d married and borne children, but the war had stolen from us the simple ordinary joys of a young couple shaping a shared life. Our first home had been burnt to rubble and with it had gone many of the gifts which relatives and friends had given us and which should have been treasured for life, while what had been salvaged would always bear the marks of that night of destruction. We had known the agony of separation and the too rare, too short, too heightened joys of reunions. Apart, we had endured illnesses and dangers and fears for each other. As a family too we had been separated and now must learn to live together, overcoming the barriers set up by experiences which had not been shared...

I thought of those who had been dear to us who had not lived to see th... Of John, who had stood at the altar with us on our wedding day, John, who had…been trapped in his cockpit when his plane sank beneath the wave... Of Ron, constant companion of my brother since school days…who had vanished without trace when the troopship he was on had been sunk by the Japanese; of Peter, my girlhood friend's gay, kind brother… who had been shot while trying to escape from the prisoner-of-war camp to which he’d been taken... They were all so young. The youngest died at nineteen, the oldest at twenty four. I sat thinking of them…and then went indoors to stand looking at the sleeping faces of my two little sons, whose lives lay before them in a world of peace."

Her feelings must have been typical of many at the time – not euphoria, but a kind of sober reflectiveness and a simple gratitude that they had survived.

So what should our feelings be, as we reflect on that momentous day 60 years on? Firstly a similar gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy today bought by the sacrifice of so many then. I am conscious how difficult it is for us to imagine what it must have been like to live through those years, but I shall never cease to be grateful that I was born, in 1947, in a world of peace, a free citizen in an open society rather than in an England occupied by a tyrannical power. And I shall always remember with thankfulness the extraordinary sacrifices of the thousands of people who gave their lives to make that freedom possible.

Secondly, today should be a reminder that we need to look to the future and to the urgent issues which still face our world today. Our first reading this morning is the passage from Micah which looks forward to a time when nations will beat spears in to pruning hooks, nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war any more. That may sound utopian but as Christians we are called to be involved with others in engaging with the issues of our day: in overcoming hunger and poverty and disease, in being peacemakers and bringing reconciliation at local and national and international levels. The world will not be saved solely by our efforts, but God does call us to co-operate with Him in His work of redemption. Why? Remember that young mother at the end of WW II, 60 years ago, looking at the sleeping figures of her two little sons, "whose lives lay before them in a world of peace." We owe it to our children and grandchildren to ensure that they too can grow up in a stable world whose nations are at peace.


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