The war is over. This is the news that Sir Winston Churchill conveyed to the world on May 8th, 1945. The allied forces had declared a victory in Europe, but one that came at an enormous cost to them. It was a war felt by all and one that left behind it horrific scars on the collective memory. Horror like the concentration camps of Auschwitz and the death camps of Japan. So many families were left with only memories of those that they had lost, others had to wait and hope for news of loved ones that were listed as missing in action. Amidst all this tragedy and loss there was celebration and relief that the fighting was finished. There was renewed life albeit among struggle. Children continued to be born and grow, families were reunited, life-long friendships were formed and maintained.
Of those that returned from the war, there was little discussion about what had happened, what they had seen. There was evidence of what we would now refer to as survivor guilt and post traumatic stress disorder. There were countless heroes and heroines to be honoured for their acts of bravery, Schindler and Nicholas Winton to name but two. If you’ve any doubt about the impact the war had on those that fought and survived, watch any memorial service where veterans are present. They cry. Seventy years since the end and still, at each memorial or remembrance, they shed a tear. Perhaps they cry for their own experience, perhaps they cry for those that fell, we will probably never know. They, along with the countless thousands who lived through the war, remember the loss and the tragedy but always there is a tale that imbues the spirit. A miraculous escape, a child born among the rubble of a bombsite, a family finally finding the member that was lost to them.
When we think of the war, we should remember all it was, all it changed and all that it brought. In short, we should remember. My own grandfathers and great-uncles served in the war and came home. There were others in my family that did not come home, that were mourned, that were remembered. The war died and in its place grew inspiration, determination and recovery. We should remember all of this.
This year marks seventy years since the end of the World War II. A lifetime to remember so many lifetimes. One of the commemorative events to mark this anniversary was the lighting of several beacons at 9:32pm on 8th May 2015. “Lights that chase away the darkness of war,” I attended one of these lightings at Weald Country Park in Essex. It was little publicised save for a short mention in the Brentwood Gazette and whilst other similar events were more glamorous and more loudly marked, the one at Weald was, in my opinion, perfect. It quietly paid tribute to the end of the war, the many who fell and the seventy years that stretched between that day and today.
In a field stood some small gas cylinders and a small beacon. The rain fell lightly as the night time drew in and blanketed the newly-leafed trees and woodland in darkness. A small row of tea lights were all that alluded to something in the darkness. A solitary bugler played for a moment as representatives from Essex County Council, an Air Cadet group, Eric Pickles and a small collection of others stood quietly. A quiet voice pierced the darkness, not amplified in any way, to deliver a tribute. The flame was lit and the quiet became activity, applause, laughter and group photographs all under the gentle, benevolent light of a flame that leaped and curled from its V shaped origin. A beacon in the darkness, a fitting tribute to commemorate the end of a war.
Lest we forget.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
~ Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)