Vicar's Letter May
This coming Friday, the 8th of May, we are commemorating the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Victory in Europe Day, which was celebrated on the 8th May 1945.
Reading about VE Day on the Imperial War Museum website and looking at the photographs, as people party, there’s an obvious sense of sheer joy and utter relief that war is over and peace is here. Up and down the country there were parties, dancing, fun, new foods and as the photos show, sheer exuberance. There’d been six long years of war - an awful time with families torn apart, many families in grief because a loved one had been killed, and the future uncertain as well as the day to day hardships of the lack of basic ingredients and clothing.
On the Westminster Abbey website, there’s a copy of the Order of Service for the National Celebration Service held there on VE Day. I note a different tone to the jubilation and fun. I was impressed by the words of the liturgy: there was no hint of gloating, no schadenfreude, but a looking to the future of what there was still to do and a beseeching of God for strength. For many people VE Day did not signal an end to the Second World War. Allied servicemen who had fought their way through Europe were being prepared for their transfer to the Far East and the Pacific, where fighting would continue for three more months. The possibility of this redeployment was a stark reality for many soldiers. British troops jokingly redefined the acronym for the British Liberation Army (BLA) - the designation for the force sent into action in north-west Europe - as 'Burma Looms Ahead’.
In the service in Westminster Abbey for VE day, prayers were said for those ‘who may still be detained in prison camps and those who are prisoners of war in the Far East’.
The prayers went on to say ‘we may strive to finish the task which thou hast appointed us: to bind up the nations’ wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations’.
Although the serious tone was at odds with the partying outside, I’m impressed that the church was brave enough to pray for a ‘just and lasting peace’. A prayer we are still praying today.
Perhaps we can identify with the people celebrating VE Day now we’re experiencing this period of lockdown ourselves. We’re having a short dose of what we went through in the second world war: of not being able to travel to see family who live away, the fear of the disease and what it might do to us, as well as the uncertainty as to how it will all end. We long for Covid 19 to be defeated so we can ‘get back to normal.’
However, this normal won’t be all good news. Air pollution has been greatly reduced during the lockdown and we need to continue to work for a reduction in climate change. Those in the hospitality industry as well as many others have had their income slashed and may not recover. We need to encourage a generosity towards those whose livelihoods have been affected.
VE Day was certainly a day to remember and some of the older folk in Hightown have told me they can still remember where they were and how they celebrated. Perhaps Westminster Abbey was right though to keep a more serious tone and pray for those unable to celebrate and for a future peace. As lock down eases for some and we celebrate, can I urge Christians to follow the Abbey’s example of 75 years ago and carry on praying for those people who will need to continue self-isolating and for those areas which still need our prayers.
Blessings - Jan
- Revd. Jan Ashton
Vicar of Hightown, Liverpool