Remembrance

Remembrance has been a major topic this year. I was born in March 1945, so every major anniversary of the end of WWII coincides with a significant birthday. For my 60th I represented the town at a Peace Festival in our twin town in Normandy where, together with the mayors of Le Mêle-sur-Sarthe and its twin towns in Germany and the Czech Republic, I gave a speech to commemorate the event. Mine was just three minutes, in three languages (text in one of the cabinets in the Old Town Hall) on what the 60th anniversary meant to me. The war had been the major event in the lives of my parents and for those of us brought up as children in the post-war years, the war was ever present through their memories. But the main point was that we had not had to add another name to the War Memorial since then because of post-war European unity. Afterwards, an elderly Frenchman* came up to me and said that mine was the only speech that had addressed what the festival was truly about; something that I have never forgotten.

The great pity this year is that, because of the Covid-19 virus, we haven’t been able to assemble for the 75th anniversaries of VE-Day and VJ-Day, as we did for the 70th anniversaries. I had compiled a book to commemorate all those either named on our WWII War Memorial, or with war graves in our churchyards, in order to keep their memory alive; so, to me, it was essential that the 75th anniversary of VE-Day should be commemorated on May 8th to honour those men. Despite lockdown, and the abandonment of all the arranged events, we held a brief ceremony and instead of making a speech then, recorded a few words about the significance of VE-Day, which is posted on the Town Council website.

I was glad that more of us could assemble, suitably distanced, on August 15th for the commemoration of VJ-Day to commemorate both the forgotten war in the far east that should never be forgotten and, for us, the end of the WWII. It was an honour for me to commemorate those who had fought, died and, often, suffered under unspeakable circumstances. They had achieved a remarkable victory against an implacable enemy and I was grateful have the opportunity to say a few words of indebtedness to all those who had fallen on our behalf.

*M Berthelot died last year, age 90; he was the head of the Collège Louis Grenier in Le Mêle and had reintroduced the teaching of German against much opposition because ‘it was time’.

Mike Wise