Seventy-five years ago today, the country was abrim with happiness – and pride – as it celebrated the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany. WWII had lasted almost six years and taken the lives of almost half a million Brits, alone, but we had beaten the enemy; those who lost their lives had not done so in vain. As I stopped for the two-minute silence at 11am, my thoughts were with my parents and how they must have been feeling, all these years ago, aged 18.
Pride. Unity. Respect. When I strive to find the words which, I believe, capture that era, it is these three which come to mind. There was obvious and deserved pride for those who had fought for our freedom, many paying the ultimate sacrifice, but unity, too, was key. It is the comradeship which is credited with providing the courage and strength to go on; that ‘all for one and one for all’ attitude which now seems lost in a sea of egocentricity. Respect? It was inherent in a nation buoyed by pride. Britain had proved, once more, that it was Great and respect for all who had played their part, whether on the battle field or at home, was a given. Seventy-five years on? Still humbled by our forefathers and, actually, sad that we fall so short. These three little words evoke a national spirit quelled by subsequent generations who have taken freedom for granted in a quest for self. Oh, to have the ability to turn back time …
Colonel Tom! The symbol of hope in this fear and chaos. He embodies that spirit, still, but he is one of the few remaining – or is he? Raising over £30million, it speaks volumes for our need for his like, particularly in times of trouble, but visit any care home in this country and one will find others of that generation, many lonely and isolated, who have a wealth of wisdom and stories to tell – but nobody to listen. They will be gone too soon, taking with them so much of value. What has happened to us? Courtesy of my sister and brother, my father ended up in a care home for the last three miserable years of his life – something I shall never forgive. What I shall never forget, however, is the desperation of many of the other lonely residents, in said home, for company; someone to listen. Manny and Becca were happy – and honoured – to oblige but the staff were irritated and intolerant of anybody who instilled life into these wonderful old people otherwise reduced to little more than vegetables. It is something which remains with me and, thus, I am not surprised at all at the blatant disregard of the care sector in the management of this pandemic. Ashamed but not surprised. The elderly are not expendable; rather, they are invaluable! Pride. Unity. Respect. We can lay claim to none of these words.
On Wednesday evening, I caught the end of a programme on BBC 1: Captain Tom: We Salute You. Sad to have missed most of it, I saw enough to ensure the tears running down my cheeks. He reminds me so much of Pop: that pride, that spirit but what strikes one, most of all, is his joy at being the centre of attention! Clearly, his daughter and her family, with whom he lives, adore him but, at 100 years-old, he has been given a new zest for life courtesy of a nation whose overwhelming appreciation reflects the gulf in our own lives devoid of someone who embodies that spirit; someone deserving of pride.
How I love Michael Ball! He is everything good; his kindness and fun reflected in his twinkly eyes. A perfect match for Colonel Tom, his reverence was clear to see and their interaction so moving. When asked, however, what he remembered most about the war, the veteran cited comradeship: ‘We were comrades, wherever you came from.’. Back to unity, then. Fighting for each other; the common cause. One wonders, though, what this revered old soldier really feels about the insistence in likening this fight against coronavirus to those wartime years? Yes, his courage and optimism are unfailing, a nod to nobler times, but that’s exactly what Colonel Tom is – the embodiment of a nobler time. A much-needed symbol of hope, he definitely is but this country, today, falls very short of his like. We are not worthy of any comparison to these brave young men who fought to secure our freedom seventy-five years ago. Perspective? This situation reflects the mis-handled reaction to a virus, whose genuine source is, yet, unconfirmed. Lack of unity and decisiveness has resulted in the deaths of thousands and a lockdown, controlled by fear, which has crippled the country. The NHS has been on the frontline fighting for the afflicted – and are deserving of the accolades – but the overall picture is one of chaos with no exit strategy in place on which to focus. I see little courage or bravery but merely a nation cowed by fear and controlled through the media. Colonel Tom is one of the lucky ones. He, too, could have been resident in one of the care homes so callously disregarded. Refused hospital admission and, routinely, asked to sign ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ orders, it seems fellows of his generation – the wartime generation – are considered to have lived their lives and would have died anyway!
So it is that I cringe at any similarity drawn between the fight against this pandemic and that of the war years. Disrespectful, we are not worthy …
Let me end with something I noted down when Michael Ball was chatting to Colonel Tom. It resonated with me. Discussing his burgeoning music career, he revealed not only his penchant for country music but his choice of films:
‘I always liked western films because the good ones always win. The good ones should always win!’
He is so right. Once upon a time, there was good and bad and the good guys did always win …
On this, the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, I’d like to clap for Colonel Tom and his fellow comrades whose courage and bravery stand alone.
This is Trish, signing off.