Remembrance 2020

There’s a sense of looking back and looking forward in the title ‘Remembrance 2020’ isn’t there? As always, we remember and honour those who fought and died for us. When I saw a poppy seller on the street a couple of weeks ago I thought ‘oh, no, I have no cash!’ So many retailers are card only now that I don’t carry any. I needn’t have worried. I approached the veteran and he showed me a text number (text POPPY to 70020 to make a £3 donation) and said I could also donate online at the Royal British Legion website.

golden light on rice terraces, China
Light in the darkness

Our knowledge of their sacrifice and suffering has become our lived experience this year, when we have all been at war with Sars-CoV-2. So many people have suffered loss, or have died alone and apart from their loved ones. Our elderly and vulnerable citizens have been prisoners of this war, cooped up at home or in care homes, including my poor old mum, isolated and with an uncertain future. We have all experienced deprivation – of connectedness, of liberty and, for many, of their livelihoods.

Our experience in 2020 has been valuable in highlighting what is really important in our lives: friends and family, community, the value of the unsung heroes in our workforce – not just the frontline workers but people like the delivery drivers, the shelf stackers and the café workers. What helped me to get through some of the moments of anxiety and dread was reading, watching the series of plays offered online, for free, by the National Theatre, and catching up on TV and movies. Nature played her part too, reminding us of the continuity of life in spite of it all, and feeding our souls with beauty and joy.

The terrible suffering of the Second World War has been redeemed by 75 years (so far) of peace in Europe and amicable relationships in the Far East. As we look forward, Covid is steering us toward a different relationship with nature. And a stark realisation that poverty and inequality leave people vulnerable to deadly disease. And an appreciation of the value of the arts. Hope begins today, when Covid has contributed to the ousting of Trump. I saw on Facebook a post that said “Make America Kind Again” and that is a meme for this side of the pond too. Let’s pray for a new era of kindness during the silence for Remembrance 2020.

VJ Day 2020 in the UK

VJ Day 75 in the UK

On 15 August 2020 it will be 75 years since the Second World War came to an end with victory over Japan, commemorated as VJ75. Those who lived through that conflict, or died in it, deserve a special place in our hearts. Some fought at the front, others suffered as Prisoners of War, some nursed the wounded, grew food, were cruelly persecuted, were torn from their families as children, had their homes bombed or were forced to flee for their lives. They all experienced something that the rest of us can barely imagine.

The Forgotten War?

Perhaps the Far East war receives less attention in the UK because the veterans and their families are scattered around the world – Commonwealth forces made a major contribution to Allied efforts in the Far East. Our Chinese allies disappeared behind the ‘bamboo curtain’ with the Communist takeover in 1949, obscuring their contribution to the Allied victory. The Far East battlefields are distant and it is more expensive and difficult to visit Burma or Singapore than to visit the Normandy beaches or Montecassino. Or, perhaps, it is because Japan never attacked the UK, bringing the threat of destruction to our front door. Whatever the reason, it is time to bring remembrance of the Far East war to the foreground, to honour all those who fought and died there.

Researching Family History

Many of us have a one sentence legend about what our ancestors did in the war. Even that little snippet is at risk of being lost, so now is the time to investigate the legend and find out more about your family history. It has never been easier to do the research, but it helps if you have a starting point, such as a military service record or letters and diaries that the person left behind. Did you know that batteries, squadrons and other military units kept diaries, recording day to day events and troop movements? The service record will tell you which units your ancestor was attached to, and the unit diaries help you learn where your ancestor was and what they were doing.

The history of the Second World War will not be complete without these stories, which often uncover little known aspects of the war. We have much to learn from veterans’ experiences, especially in this Covid year, when our resilience, adaptability and capacity to work together for the common good are being tested in ways that they probably haven’t since 1945. You can now purchase a signed copy of my father’s story Stranger In My Heart from my website. I hope it will inspire you to research your own family history and give you some strength to cope with these difficult times.

Commemorations of VJ Day 2020 in the UK

I made this 5 minute film to recap my father’s story. BBC1 is showing a service from the National Memorial Arboretum on Saturday 15 August from 09.30 – 11.30am, which will include testimonies from veterans and families of those who served in the Far East. There is also a show on BBC1 at 8.30pm, commemorating VJ75. The Royal British Legion website has comprehensive coverage of the war in the Far East, particularly commemorating the role of forces from all over the commonwealth. They are featuring Dad’s story here. The Sun newspaper is offering a four-page pullout feature commemorating VJ Day. They interviewed me for it, so there may be coverage of Dad’s story there too. We will remember them.