Acts 7: 55-end, John 14: 1-14
To see and hear https://youtu.be/MfN5Ynmg2sU
If you are watching this on youtube, this one starts and ends a little differently – you will see me in due course!!!
So today we are marking the 75th anniversary of VE day. – Victory in Europe. When I arrived in February, one of the first things I did was connect with the British Legion, and plan today to do a special service as part of Wincanton’s marking of this anniversary. Needless to say along with everything else, that has not been possible. Instead a shorter version of some of these thoughts was shared in a video on Friday by the British Legion – and I do hope some of you have seen it!!
Any way – we all have forebears (whether we knew them or not) who experienced VE day. They will have contributed both in conflict and on the home front to VE day coming about.
Here is an old photo of my dad – Geoff Way – he was 18 in 1939 and he had just joined the RAF. In 2005 (less than a year before he died), when I was in the early days of my curacy, I was asked to preach at the Civic Service in Basingstoke for the then 60th anniversary of VE Day. I decided to ask people who could remember what they remembered of ‘their VE Day’ – So the first person I asked was my dad. I think this is probably the only conversation we ever had about his experiences in the second world war – like many my dad just didn’t talk about it.
Anyway on VE day my dad was in Egypt as a navigator in the RAF. He played a game of hockey, and then went on leave to Cairo for a few days. The following pictures that I show as I talk about other memories I heard are from my dad’s photo album and a scruffy envelope with battered and small black and white photos in it. To give you the scale of them – they are on an A4 folder in this shot.
At the time I also asked some others too and they described trips in to London, festivities, street parties, bell ringing, fireworks, a Wren gathering and some significant antics in Tubrook (that I won’t repeat here). One of my home communion ladies – one of two Miss Pinks, talked about coming home early from her job and celebrating – but then she told me the story of what she had done on Armistice Day back in 1918 (which involved her as a small child swinging on the garden gate waiting for her dad to come home from work – swinging on the garden gate was not usually a permitted activity by her mother!!)
Back at the VE day stories these were often accompanied with attempts to explain the joy they had felt at peace after so many years of heart breaking conflict.
Interestingly everyone I asked also took the time to describe the difficult times that followed after VE day:
Notably how rationing got worse.
How the trail of destruction across Europe impacted day to day life.
For others there was coming to terms with imprisonment, injury, and disability for them or family members.
The impact of what we would describe as post traumatic stress was apparent too.
The lifting of the blackout – quite literally the return of street lights, and lights from houses instead of pitch black and using dim torches to light the way in the dark.
And in rural and coastal areas putting the road signs back up after they were removed to help combat any invading force and clearing the beaches of barricades and barbed wire where that had been deployed.
My dad described how there had been a points system for being demobbed and as he had no dependents, he was not demobbed until the end of 1946 staying in Egypt. He did acknowledge that the amount of work he did decreased as time went on and he played more and more hockey and table tennis!
At the time 15 years ago before the 60th anniversary of VE Day – it was a real privilege to have been able to ask these questions, and listen to the different stories. And now some 15 years on the 75th anniversary there are now many fewer to ask who remember those times and experiences.
Through these conversations I felt I had better understood the celebrations on VE day – Joy at peace, hope for better times, accompanied by respectful remembrance of the cost and day to day life that was grindingly tough.
Remembrance is really important – I think Remembrance is the act of remembering things that have happened to others and have shaped our lives as they are. Respectful and heartfelt remembrance of the sacrifice of so many, of the lives cut short, and the lives changed irrevocably is important.
Jesus said – No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends – John 15:17
Those who shared their VE Day memories with me, who had deep Christian faith – spoke also of how that had sustained and guided them through the war years, and that deep spiritual joy was part of what they experienced on the day.
Both our Bible Readings set for this the 5th Sunday of Easter – reflect on faith in adversity. First the faith of Stephen in our Acts reading. At the point of his death by stoning – He is forgiving those who were killing him and recognising Jesus love for him, and being buoyed by a vision of Jesus reaching out to him – ‘the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ – Acts 7: 56.
And the beginning of our gospel reading is a hugely familiar passage from John. Jesus is saying to us as he was to his disciples at the last supper – ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ John 14:1.
Pause and reflect on those words speaking to our hearts at this time – hearts that can easily be troubled by all the difficulties that currently beset us. Listen to those words again. Jesus is saying to us especially
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ John 14:1.
We do need to hold fast to our faith – which has been very much a theme of all these reflections we have shared on line or via videos during this time of lock down.
But returning to our marking of the 75th anniversary of VE Day, as well as remembering – Giving thanks and living thankfully is also important. As we mark this anniversary giving thanks particularly for those who did so much to give us the foundation of peace we stand on.
I think today – In our strange circumstances, in lockdown with an invisible and deadly ‘enemy’ in Coronavirus, it also helps us to look to our forebears and remember how they prayed and hoped through the long days of the second world war. That adversity can and will pass, and that through God’s love for us we can be given the strength we need for today and walk together with hope in our hearts for better times ahead.
With that in mind over the past weeks our national consciousness has been Inspired by the efforts of this man
Now Colonel Tom Moore – doing what he could, inspired by thankfulness and hope for the future (picture from the metro.co.uk on his 100th birthday).
Colonel Tom’s effort to support the NHS thankfully and hopefully is characterised by his hashtag – tomorrow will be a good day. It has spoken to all of us deeply and profoundly. VE day reminds us once more How hope, joy and peace can come out of the ruins of the most unlikely of circumstances such as adversity, loss, and pain
So let’s remember,
Let’s be thankful
And let’s walk hopefully strengthened in our resolve in our day and inspired by our forebears on this 75th anniversary of VE day. I particularly like how in this photo of my VE day 75 window art – our present is reflected in the glass, showing how remembrance, and the example of thankfulness and hope in our forebears can help us with our troubling present circumstances.
Jesus said ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ John 14:1.
I am going to end with a prayer – which we can say together.
A prayer for VE Day – From the Act of Commitment for Peace
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. Amen.
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Some material included is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020
Picture of Colonel Tom Moore – https://metro.co.uk/2020/04/30/colonel-tom-moores-100th-birthday-flypast-spitfire-hurricane-home-12631965/