We did recover from the war and we will do the same now – Dan Jarvis

THE date May 8, 1945, will forever live in our national consciousness.

This is how Sheffield marked VE Day in 1945.

After six gruelling years, the Second World War, which had claimed the lives of at least 35 million people across Europe, was finally over.

For those who lived through the conflict, it was of moment of collective relief and elation. For everyone else since, it is a moment to pay tribute to the sacrifice of that particular generation and remember the lives lost.

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The 75th anniversary of VE Day was meant to be a three-day commemoration, marked by a procession on The Mall and street parties across the nation.

A victory tram outside Cole Brothers, Sheffield on VE Day.

Given the circumstances, the Government was left with no choice but to scale back plans for the weekend. It is regrettable, however. For many of that generation, it would have been the final opportunity to gather together.

Instead of commemorating this historic day with comrades and friends, most will spend this weekend cut off from the outside world, separated from their loved ones. It is a solemn reminder of why the lockdown measures must be followed, and who they are in place to protect.

Despite the precariousness and fear through which we are living, it is just as important as ever to reflect on the significance of VE Day. We should also ask ourselves what lessons we can learn, while in the grip of this terrible public health crisis, from the Second World War generation.

What that generation went through is very different to what we are experiencing now. But when we overcome this challenge, we too will have to rebuild our country, just as they did. It is in that spirit, we should remember the unity and purpose they showed, and what they achieved.

Typical street scenes on May 8, 1945, as VE Day was celebrated.

It is hard to come to terms with the scale of human suffering that took place during World War Two. Britain alone sustained 384,000 military and 70,000 civilian fatalities over the course of the conflict.

Today, we are forced to reconcile with loss of life that would’ve been unimaginable a few months ago. Sometimes, we can watch the daily government briefings and react with horror to the death toll without truly thinking about the tragedy connected with each statistic.

That’s why we must remember that behind every number is a story of a life lived and a family left in mourning. The Second World War generation proved that together, we can overcome the loss, and acknowledge the pain that it has caused. Doing so, will ensure we emerge from this crisis with dignity, respect and compassion.

VE Day marked the end of fighting in Europe but the war had taken its toll on our economy. To fund the war effort, the government was forced to borrow huge sums of money and sell foreign assets, leaving Britain crippled with debt.

Huge crowds gathered in peaceful celebration on VE Day.

In the face of great uncertainty, we chose to turn the page, not only on the violence and devastation of the conflict, but also on the miserable years that preceded the war. For millions of Britons, the 1930s was a lost decade, defined by grinding poverty, mass unemployment, the means test and hunger marches.

There would be no return and, instead, the post-war era became a period of renewal. The welfare state was drastically expanded: we built our NHS, provided unemployment and sick pay, and raised the school-leaving age.

Arguably, the challenges we face now are greater than those 75 years ago. It is predicted that our economy will shrink by more than a third and leave two million Britons unemployed. And as the coronavirus has further exposed, we already live in a deeply unequal society. Nor can we forget that we are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution and in the midst of a climate emergency.

This is a new nadir but we will need to show a similar level of collective resolve and solidarity, akin to 1945, to overcome the social and economic effects of the coronavirus.

As we commemorate this landmark, we should be mindful of how our country – left shattered by personal tragedy and economic ruin – was eventually rebuilt all those years ago. We owe that generation an enormous debt. It is profoundly unfortunate that we cannot show our gratitude in the manner we wanted, but we are reminded of why we need to cherish them while we have the chance.

This VE Day will be like no other before it. Seventy-five years on, we are not together in person, but we are together in spirit.

As a country, we say thank you for your courage, your inspiration and your sacrifice. All that you gave us will never be forgotten.

Dan Jarvis is Mayor of Sheffield City Region and Labour MP for Barnsley Central.

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