Vicars’s Message on the 75th Anniversary of VE Day
This is the strangest of circumstances in which to write a Blog for VE Day with much of the world in lockdown following the Coronavirus Pandemic.
The Minster had great plans to mark the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day on Friday 8th May with a tea party in the afternoon followed by a Civic Service for the whole Borough led by The Bishop of Huddersfield and the Band of the Yorkshire Regiment in the presence with the Mayor of Calderdale and the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire.
Victory Day otherwise known as VE Day, was the day of the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II, of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender, of its armed forces on the 8 May 1945. The country had been at War since 1939, five long and hard years, with the loss of life to both Armed Forces and Civilians. Life was disrupted in ways that some will find familiar today with the Pandemic.
VE Day resonates for the people of Halifax and Calderdale through the recruitment of the Duke of Wellington Regiment, whose Chapel and spiritual home is located inside the Minster. Recruitment for the Regiment, whose headquarters was here in Halifax at Wellesley Barracks, was across the West Riding, Many a War Memorial in the towns and villages, schools and churches, record the names of those who went to fight and never returned.
The Regiment played its part in the Second World War as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France, forming part of the rear-guard at Dunkirk; in North Africa; Italy and in France, following the D-Day landings, and as Chindits in Burma. The Colours carried in battle can be seen hanging in the Chapel in memory of those who gave their lives for their King and Country, and their names are recorded in a Book of Remembrance in the Chapel. They remind us of the relative peace we have enjoyed across Europe ever since.
The Royal British Legion also remind us, each and every year, on Remembrance Sunday of the enormous sacrifice made by everyone at home who contributed to the war effort, including the Royal Family.
Here in Halifax our thoughts are also with the people of Aachen, whom, after the War we befriended through acts of reconciliation. In recent years we have come together in Halifax and in Aachen to mark the end of World War One, and we shall look to mark the end of hostilities between our two nations again, as we begin to mark the significant anniversaries of World War Two in the years to come. The German people continue to live with the memory of what took place and part of the healing for both nations comes from friendship, dialogue, and time to forgive, but never forget.
I grew up in a house where both my parents lived through the Second World War. My father spoke of the black outs and powdered egg; my mother of the incendiary bomb that landed on their house and being evacuated from the Isle of Wight to Monmouth in Wales. Children of today have never lived through such an experience, or their parents either. This current Pandemic is the closest we’ve ever experienced such disruption to our daily lives.
VE Day provides an opportunity to give thanks and remember those people who gave their lives for our freedom, but also to mourn the loss of life on both sides that any war will always bring. When the present lock down restrictions begin to be lifted, many will not throw a party and want to celebrate, they will continue to mourn the loss of those who went into hospital or care home and never returned, both young and old, doctor and nurse. Unfinished business and unresolved grief will stay with us for many years to come, and the process of healing will begin all over again.
After the War many economies were shattered, and the people of Europe came together. The people of Halifax went to Aachen, which had been so terribly bombed, that beautiful city the home of Charlemagne, and the Kings of Germany, to help rebuild the city. Coventry did the same with the people of Dresden.
Only this week have I been talking to the Schools and the University in Aachen about how to manage the lifting of restrictions, as Schools and Churches re open in Germany who are weeks ahead of many countries in Europe following the Pandemic. VE Day should inspire us to ask once more, what sort of world we want to live in, and how we educate our children and allow older people to complete their lives with dignity and fulfilment? The Second World War was defeated by nations coming together to defeat the evil in their midst, and the Pandemic will be the same, as Boris Johnson, as Prime Minster, hosts a global meeting of leaders this week to support a plan to find a coronavirus vaccine.
VE Day Commemoration should have brought us all together as Christians, as people of other faiths, and people who have no faith, in the Minster as the Mother church of Calderdale. Like those who lived in hope through the Second World War, so too do we live in hope, that the Coronavirus Pandemic will be overcome and that humanity will be able to emerge out of lock-down, into a new free world where wars may cease, care for people and the environment take their rightful place, and kindness and generosity are the priority for individuals, governments and nations.
Lord God our Father,
we pledge ourselves to serve you
and all humankind,
in the cause of peace,
for the relief of want and suffering,
and for the praise of your name.
Guide us by your Spirit; give us wisdom;
give us courage; give us hope;
and keep us faithful now and always.