Tomorrow is VE Day and it will, as usual, bring out both the best and the worst of the people of the United Kingdom. Captain Mainwaring look alike Mark Francois MP will bring out the worst. With all the military experience that only three years in the Territorial Army Catering Corps can give he will wax lyrical about the Battle of Britain; how singlehandedly we beat Europe; the Bulldog Spirit was given us by Winston Churchill; and how we saved the World.
Others like my late parents Laura and Jack Kemp and my late Uncle Ran(dall) Kemp would not think of it that way. They were proud to have served; proud to have risked their lives but their mood, on the rare occasions when they talked about the war at all, was pensive and thoughtful. They were more inclined to remember those that didn’t come back and the terrors of the war. Their view, although they voted Tory, was that it was a war to unite Europe and to defeat evil and not a war to beat the Jerries or any other nation.
Mum and Dad met on a searchlight and radar station in Lincolnshire which was a front line in World War II as they fought to down enemy bombers and the fighters coming in from Occupied Europe. Mum had marched off to war in 1942 and never came back to live in Liverpool. The touchstone for her joining the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was the death of her first fiancé, Bill Moorcroft who was in Bomber Command. Many years later when my Aunt died we spent a little time at the lytch gate of Maghull Parish Church and she rested her hand on his name.
A few years before she died there was an article in the Echo about a French Mayor who was trying to contact the relatives of three young men who had died in a plane crash. They had rescued the bodies and buried them with full Military Honours and every year on the anniversary of their deaths played the Last Post and the children of the town laid wreaths and flowers at the grave. They were moving the graves because of road widening and the Mayor knew, somehow, that Bill Moorcroft had a fiancée in Liverpool. Mum didn’t want to talk to the Echo but a few years later I spoke to that Mayor on her behalf and she made a solitary journey to the grave.
My Dad left Hull and joined the RAF after commencing work as a ‘lad porter’ at Ferriby Station outside Hull. I have all sorts of artefacts of their time together before he went into hush-hush mode as part of the RAF development team for radar which was then in its infancy. He ended up as part of the forward team on one of the first ships to move into the Channel on D Day. The radar was needed to provide information of incoming enemy ships and aircraft so that they could be countered by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
I have the ‘letter’ that he wrote to Mum over the 4/5 days leading up to and leading from ‘D’ Day. His mood was sombre but not really fearful. He described there being so many ships in the harbour that he could have gone from one side to the other without getting his feet wet. He described the sight and noise of the hundreds of planes going overhead. He talked about his sadness about going to kill the ‘Hun’ whose men were as brave as ours but led by despicable people.
My Uncle was awarded a gallantry medal as he was in the Army on their long campaign up through Italy. Like Mum and Dad he came home and didn’t talk about the war. I only know as much as I can tell here because after my Mum died I took possession of some boxes with their medals, service records, marriage details and wedding pictures. Some of these were of people I knew but some had been dead even before I was born. They are all dead now. There are very few members left of the generation of giants who did defend our shores and then came home and started to build a new post war world of peace and plenty as they brought up their family.
Their generation was hugely tested as had been the genration before. I have never been tested in that way. As a ‘Boomer,’ conscription had been abolished well before I would have been called up. Warfare is now so techical that a vast conscript army would be of little value.
Uncle Ran went back to being a joiner, Dad went back to the Railway and achieved a very senior position and Mum became a housewife, which is what young women did when they got married. She only returned to work when I was 6 and that was part time at the infants school I attended.
I’ll also be thinking of my constituent, Kathleen Whiteside, who was the first President of the War Widows Association. She celebrated VE Day along with everyone else and a few days later received the dreaded telegram that VE Day was the day that her husband died, one of the last casualties of the war in Europe.
They are the people I will be thinking of tomorrow, them and the ‘boys’ who didn’t come back. Part of my political beliefs is a fierce internationalism which says that nation shall not only speak unto nation but nation will work with nation to inspire long lasting peace and solidarity.
I will honour their memory tomorrow with a quiet reflection on their lives and sacrifice. I know that is what most of our dead heroes and heroines would want. No jingoism and faux patriotism from people who have no idea what sacrifice is and who has made it. I will renew my own efforts to build a lasting peace with the people from other nations who, at heart, are just like us. By doing that I will honour my parents, of whom I am inordinately proud, and all the others who made my life of freedom possible.