Patrick Hopkinson writes:
As we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VE Day this weekend and the defeat of Nazism, it is a time to turn our thoughts to the relief and joy felt by those who were there. For the first time in almost six years, people could sleep soundly in their homes without fear of bombs or bullets or rockets. Most people would have dreamed of a return to normality but of course the world could never go back to how it was. It was a time to rebuild but not necessarily in the same mould as before. People had stared into the abyss of what humanity can do when it really sets its mind to it and asked themselves how did this happen?
For my father, VE Day held mixed feelings. To an extent, in the parlance of the day, he had a good war serving in No. 96 night fighter squadron. It was a source of pride, purpose and of great stories. Now he was soon to return to a more uncertain life. His good friend Eric was a Lancaster bomber pilot who never talked about his experiences. He put the terror and repulsion behind him and carried on. My wife’s father also flew on bombers and was in India at the time of VE Day. His war was not over. Three airmen, three different wars, three different experiences. Three stories out of countless numbers of stories, some happy, some tragic, some full of ambiguity. Which should we, many of whom were not there on VE Day, commemorate?
The same weekend is also the 80th Anniversary of the German invasion of France, Belgium and the Netherlands in 1940 and we have to wait until 15th August this year to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VJ Day and the end of the Second World War. There are other anniversaries that should not be forgotten. Some of them are good, some of them are not.
We should also commemorate the sacrifices made, the lives lost, the dreams shattered, the unwitnessed acts of courage and the lonely fights to end. We should remember the families for whom VE Day did not bring home sons, fathers and husbands but did bring home that they would never return. We should remember that it was a time of sadness as well as of celebration.
I think that we should also remember forgiveness. In today’s reading from Acts, Stephen asks God not to hold the sin of those who are about to kill him against them. This resonates with me at this time and not only because I am not sure that I could have done the same, but it reminds of something. When the allies met at Potsdam to decide the future of Germany after the war, one of the proposals was that it should be reduced to an agricultural state to punish its people and prevent it from ever being a threat again. Fortunately, a different approach was taken. Germany was eventually restored and a distinction was made between its people and their actions. Germany was supported to recover and its people turned away for the evils of Nazism. I think it is a lesson for us in loving the sinner even whilst we hate the sin and it helps me to try to understand why Stephen asked God to forgive his murderers. Stephen died for his faith in God’s forgiveness and understood that his included even though who were about to stone him to death. He knew that people were not defined by what they did wrong but could still be loved as God loves us. Hopefully we will never face another world war or being killed for our beliefs but as we commemorate VE Day, perhaps we should also commemorate the essential forgiveness that is a fundamental part of it.