Reflections on VE Day 75
7 May 2020
The Rt Revd Graham Usher and the Revd Helen Jary were both asked to compose a reflection for VE Day 75.
Bishop Graham has recorded a short reflection to be used as part of Norfolk County Council’s VE Day 75 commemorations which you can view on their website here. This was based upon a fuller reflection he had composed as part of Norwich Cathedral’s special service of thanksgiving, rededication and hope on the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe will be published on the Norwich Cathedral Services YouTube Channel on Sunday 10 May. The service will include contributions from a Second World War veteran, the Bishop of Norwich and General the Lord Dannatt, a former head of the British Army.
The Revd Helen Jary, Team Rector, Oulton Broad Team Ministry (Benefice) was invited to contribute a reflection on VE Day 75 to be broadcast on BBC Radio Norfolk from 10:55 am on Friday 8 May, along with some prayers of thanksgiving said by the Revd Canon Simon Ward, Rector of Great Yarmouth Minster and accompanied by the last post played by a single bugler.
Bishop Graham’s VE Day Homily
Seventy-five years ago today, on the balcony of the Ministry of Heath, wearing his incongruous mix of boiler suit and black hat, and with church bells ringing in the background, Winston Churchill made his victory sign amidst great cheers.
In Norfolk, there was much rejoicing. Dances were held and people linked arms and sang. In Cromer, the main street was decked out with streamers. In Diss, the town was a blaze of colour. Loudspeakers relayed the King’s speech in King’s Lynn. People crowded the seafront in Lowestoft. As darkness fell planes dropped coloured flares over Norwich and searchlights lit up the skies.
But there were also widows, relieved, yet with a tear-stained cheek haunted by the memories of the telegram that had been delivered with its short, stomach-punch message. Sisters still worried about the brother they hoped was still alive, nightmares plaguing them about what was happening to prisoners of war.
On VE day, Churchill spoke not only of the past but also of the future. “We must begin the task of rebuilding our hearth and homes”, he said.
There have been many commentators saying that there is something of the wartime spirit about us as a nation at this time.
Communities have come together. We’ve found ways to seek out the lost, the least and the lonely. Our clapping, our on-line worship, the songs and music created by choirs and orchestras virtually, and the jokes that we’re WhatsApping each other with, are all sustaining us.
The prophet Isaiah looked forward to a vision for the life of the community that is more Christ-like. Isaiah’s inspiring call includes sorting injustice, standing up to oppression, feeding the hungry, and housing the homeless. These were all important elements in the fight against the dark injustices of the tyranny of Nazism that had seen Jews and other minorities oppressed and gassed, whole peoples go hungry, and refugees made homeless. They were also key things to get right in rebuilding the post-war Britain, Archbishop William Temple having begun to think of these things and imagine new ways even during the height of war when all could have been so easily lost. How grateful we are for the struggle and sacrifice and vision of my grandparents’ generation.
When we look forward now in the midst of Covid-19, we also have an opportunity, as they did 75 years ago, to rebuild our hearths and homes. Not to be hostages to old ways. Nor to be hawkers selling a quick opportunity. Instead, harvesters in the Kingdom who feed the hungry, tend the hurting, house the homeless, and find a new rhythm of hope for the haggled and hassled. How can we create communities of people where we will be Isaiah’s ‘repairers of the breach, and restorers of streets to live in’ for our own era?
In all that we have been through and are going through, St Paul reminds us, just as he did to those who danced and rejoiced 75 years ago, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus in which all fears are overcome and a Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. Living in his ways and held in his love, we will share in his blessing of mending the world.
Helen Jary’s reflection for BBC Radio Norfolk
What a day it was, 75 years ago, when Victory in Europe was celebrated! For those of you who were around at that time, May 8th, 1945, must be unforgettable. A national holiday was declared …and the nation was ready to party! Red, white and blue bunting was available, without needing ration coupons; flags were flown; street parties took place up and down the country; the Royal Family made multiple appearances on the Balcony; pubs and restaurants were full to overflowing; a commemorative mug was produced; and, in the evening, bonfires were lit and there was dancing.
For those of us who weren’t alive at the time, we’ll no doubt have seen the pictures, the newsreels and heard Churchill’s and King George VI’s addressed to the nation. After years of wartime restrictions, the loss of loved ones, the rationing, the bombing and the blackouts – all of which left no one unaffected – everyone was eager to celebrate.
But, as we know, it wasn’t quite the end, Japan was yet to be defeated. Churchill’s address on VE day concluded with the words, “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.”
I’m sure, like me, you’re aware of some parallels between that time and this. We are living through an international crisis; it is a different kind of war, but one that has also seen great acts of self-sacrifice. We trust the worst is now behind us, but we recognise that the road ahead is long.
Today, as we commemorate the celebrations which took place 75 years ago, we are reminded of how the nation, at that time, come to the beginning of the end of war. Everyone had pulled together, everyone had played their part, and the celebrations, therefore, belonged to all. There had been prayer and there had been action; appropriate responses to a time of conflict which impacted, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.
In war time, and in peace, we need each other …and we need God. Despite the pain and devastation that Coronavirus has wreaked upon our nation, there has been something equally strong that has grown up alongside. The Vicarage, where I live, is set back a little from the road but, on Thursday evenings, when I stand outside at 8pm, I may not be able to see others but I can hear them all around. How wonderful it is to see such great community spirit, acts of service, neighbourliness, smiles, eye contact despite social distance, resilience, kindness and so much more. There has also been a greater prayerfulness. It has been widely reported that the numbers of people in these past weeks who have googled ‘prayer’, or have accessed online worship, has been much increased.
There will come a time when we can, once again, celebrate together, and we are all looking forward to that. The best celebration, I feel, will be to carry forward the enhanced sense of ‘togetherness’ that has developed in these weeks of lockdown, and to continue to commit ourselves to that important combination of prayer and action. That is to repeat the commitments that ushered in VE day, those 75 years ago.
And so, I close with prayer:
Father God, as we remember the time when Victory in Europe was achieved, we are thankful. We thank you for the deliverance crisis that you make possible. We thank you for the inspirational acts of service, of bravery and of self-sacrifice that lead to Victory in Europe, and for similar action which is making a difference today. May we continue to be inspired. May we move forward in hope, and in supporting to one another, especially the more vulnerable members of our society.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.