A milestone anniversary of the return of peace to Europe
PUBLISHED: 10:58 05 May 2015 | UPDATED: 12:46 05 May 2015
Seventy years ago this week, the guns finally fell silent across Europe.
After six years of fighting and the deaths of millions, peace returned to the continent.
Seven decades on, this landmark moment is a cause for both celebration and sober reflection.
And that is what we strive to provide, in this supplement and in others to follow over the course of the week.
We rejoice in the achievement that victory represented: the defeat of an evil creed and the liberation of Europe.
And we reflect the joy with which it was greeted: from the spontaneous street parties that were held across our region, to the more formal parades and services that were organised.
This was a people’s war fought, in large part, on the home front. And the festivities which followed its end - the bunting, the bonfires, the dances - were led by the people. After years of restrictions, the simplest of pleasures were now available once again, from pleasure boating on the Broads to flying kites.
Yet beyond the celebration, we also remember what the cost of that victory was, both in terms of lives lost and in the service given by those who survived the conflict, but now find their ranks diminishing by the day.
In the coming days, we will reflect on some of East Anglia’s most significant chapters of the war. From the involvement of men of the Royal Norfolk Regiment in the retreat to Dunkirk and subsequent evacuation from the beaches, to the air raids suffered by the region. We will also explore how the conflict transformed East Anglia, with the arrival of thousands of men from overseas, both friends - in the form of US airmen - and foe - with German and Italian prisoners kept here in captivity. We will also ensure that the campaign in the Far East is not overlooked. While peace returned to Europe, there was still months of fighting - and many more deaths - to go in the war against Japan.
For those - including many from our region - kept in the shameful conditions of that nation’s prisoner of war camps too, the war was far from over in May 1945.
And to reflect the sacrifices made during the war we also launch a project, starting today, to assemble a complete roll of honour containing the names of every single man and woman from our region who lost their lives as a result of enemy action.
Until now, no such list has ever been compiled. From various sources, we have started the task of pulling the information together, and today begin the solemn task of publishing those names.
Yet the piecemeal way in which the names were recorded mean that we recognise there will be many missing from our rolls. In some cases, individuals will have been omitted from their town or village list. In other cases, entire towns or villages may have been missed out, because the information is not readily available.
However, we are pledging to address any omissions, and fill any gaps, to provide our region with as complete a roll of honour as possible.
This is the launch of the exercise, not the culmination. To ensure none of the dead have been forgotten, we want readers to help us by providing us with information about gaps in our list.
Once the complete roll has been assembled, we will aim to publish it online and make the information available to all.
We believe this will be a fitting tribute to the dead, and a way to ensure they are overlooked, in the celebration of that final victory.
For it was a victory, and it was a celebration. That achievement and that response must not be overlooked in the sombre remembrance that rightly accompanies this anniversary.
Of course, for parts of Europe, dictatorship and occupation was to remain for years to come, albeit in a different form, as they found themselves swallowed up by the Soviet empire, on the far side of the Iron Curtain.
And even in Britain, recovery from the exertions of war was slow. Restrictions remained in place for a long while and hardship still lay ahead for many. But Nazism had been roundly defeated and its murderous policies halted.
The peace that this created in Europe has largely held - notwithstanding violent outbreaks such as the disintegration of Yugoslavia and ongoing troubles further east. Prosperity - though patchy - has advanced in the decades since.
So this week, as we approach the anniversary, we remember the dead, we thank the survivors and we celebrate their achievement.
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