Many people have likened what we are experiencing today with COVID-19 to a war. As somebody who loves to study history and who spent my university days majoring in this very subject, I reflect on the war that was coming to an end 75 years ago – The Second World War. In the summer of 1945, the allied forces, led by the two countries of which I am proud to be a citizen, the USA and Great Britain, had won the war in Europe and were only weeks away from defeating Japan.
The generation that we have to thank for this – my grandparents and my husband’s parents’ generation – have been labelled as “The Greatest Generation” by author, journalist and TV anchor for the NBC Nightly News from 1982-2004, Tom Brokaw. In his 1998 book “The Greatest Generation”, he defined this group as Americans who were born in the 1900s through the 1920s. These people grew up during the deprivation of the Great Depression and then went on to fight and win World War II. They came through it to form families in record numbers and were the parents of the Baby Boomer generation.
Every day we lose members of the Greatest Generation and sadly this has accelerated as the pandemic has killed many senior citizens. The youngest surviving Second World War veterans are well into their 90s today and the debt we owe them is immeasurable.
Recently we lost two famous British war time heroes who lived to be over 100 years old. Remember that the British joined the war in September 1939, over two years before America joined on December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The first, Paul Farnes, died at the age of 101 on January 28. He was the last Royal Air Force (RAF) ace fighter pilot of 1940’s Battle of Britain. France fell to the Nazis in the Summer of 1940 so the British had to defend themselves against relentless bombing and attacks by the German air force – the Luftwaffe. It is widely believed that a German victory in the air would have led to a ground invasion of Britain more than a year before the USA entered the war. Paul Farnes shot down six German aircraft and damaged another six in the definitive Battle of Britain fought in the skies above Southern England and the narrow English Channel which separates England from France and mainland Europe. Paul Farnes was one of the approximately 3,000 airmen called “The Few”, a nickname inspired by Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s tribute to them. “Never in the field of human conflict,” Churchill said, “was so much owed by so many to so few.” If the land of my birth had lost the Battle of Britain, the course of world history would have been very different.
The second, Dame Vera Lynn, died just last month on June 18, at the age of 103. She was one of Britain’s best-loved entertainers and her famous song, “We’ll Meet Again” became an anthem of hope and resilience during the darkest days of the Second World War. She was born in London, began performing at the age of seven and from the age of 18 performed with British orchestras. During the Second World War, she became famous, first by performing to people sheltering from bombing raids in the stations of London’s underground railways, and then travelling the world touring to sing for soldiers in Egypt, India and beyond. Her popularity and willingness to endure the risks and discomforts of traveling to troops during wartime, raised the spirits of the armed forces and earned her the nickname of “the Forces’ sweetheart”.
After the war, she became the first British artist to top the US singles chart when her version of “Auf Wiederseh’n, Sweetheart” reached number one in 1952. She hosted British TV variety shows in the ’60s and ’70s, and set up charities to support research for both cerebral palsy and breast cancer. In 1975, Queen Elizabeth made her a Dame (the female equivalent of a Knighthood) for services to charity, and earlier this year during the Queen’s special speech on the pandemic, she ended it with the words “We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again”, a direct, nostalgic quote from the famous Vera Lynn wartime song.
There is a lot more information at www.britannica.com
Tom Brokaw says in his book “The WWII generation shares so many common values: duty, honor, country, personal responsibility….” We owe this group so much, both on and off the battlefield, and we would do well to emulate their example in these trying times.
God Bless America. Stay safe, stay well, and stay positive.
– ENDS –
Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com