Opinion: Lord Dannatt on Why we must salute all our heroes today
General Lord Dannatt, the former chief of the British Army, on why we should remember VE Day.
There is a certain irony that today, when we should be celebrating the end of the Second World War in Europe, we find ourselves instead, facing the biggest threat to our health and security since 1945.
But it is always adversity that has brought out the best in the British people. On May 8, 1945, people up and down the country quite rightly burst into huge spontaneous celebration that the six years of grinding war had come to an end.
It was a war that had started with the humiliation of France, the miracle of Dunkirk, survival through the Battle of Britain and then the slow slog of our army across North Africa, up Italy and into Germany via D Day, Normandy, Arnhem and the Rhine Crossing. All the time, our Royal Navy protected our lines of communication and, with the Merchant Navy, kept food flowing into this country and supplies moving to our army in the field, while the Royal Air Force gradually gained control of the skies at home and carried the war to the enemy above the battlefield and above Germany.
But all this came at a terrible cost. By the time both Germany and Japan had been defeated, 383,700 servicemen and women had lost their lives in the war - a third of a million families shattered by the loss of a loved one, sometimes losing more than one. And then there were the wounded - those with physical injuries, limbs lost, sight gone, and those with mental injuries, those who would never be the same again.
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On the Home Front, over 67,000 civilians were killed, homes and businesses shattered, and historic buildings turned into dust.
And added to the cost in human treasure, by 1945 the country was virtually bankrupt. We only paid our last war loans back to the US in 2006.
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In the adversity of near-defeat in the summer of 1940, the people of this country came together to hope and pray for better times.
On May 8, 1945, those prayers were realized with victory over Germany being declared, and then later on August 15, victory over Japan. But also, out of the adversity came the seeds of hope for a better future. The Beveridge Report promised a new Britain free from the five evils of want, ignorance, disease, squalor and idleness and on July 5, 1948, the National Health Service was launched.
Today, it is not just our soldiers, sailors, and airmen standing on the front line to protect our peace and security – although they are always there for us – but it is also the doctors, nurses and care workers of the NHS on a new front line fighting for our health and safety.
Every Thursday evening we stand on our doorsteps to clap and salute them. And that is the right thing to do, just as it today to salute the men and women of our Armed Forces who, between 1939 and 1945, fought for our freedom.
With great gratitude we can remember the men and women of Norfolk who fought and died for King and Country in the Second World War.
We remember with sorrow those men of the Royal Norfolk Regiment massacred at Le Paradis during the retreat to Dunkirk. We remember with pride that of the five Victoria Crosses won during the Normandy Campaign in 1944, two were won by Corporal Sidney Bates and Major David Jamieson, both of the Royal Norfolk’s.
Every year on Remembrance Sunday, we stand around our war memorials and give thanks for those who fought and died for our freedom, but on this VE Day 75 years on, we quite properly should celebrate the service and commitment of yesterday’s generation who fought to give us the hope of a better future.
So, lets raise a glass to those soldiers who fought for us on the battlefield yesterday, as we continue to support those fighting for us today, in our hospitals and care homes. We salute them all.