Best books on VE Day: Author Patricia Nicol suggests tomes on war

Best books on VE Day: Author Patricia Nicol suggests tomes on war

The Bank Holiday this Friday will be quite different from the day envisaged. Presumably those plans involved ceremonies and fly-pasts, street parties and solemn tributes.

Yet perhaps a more pensive, solitary recognition of past generations‘ sacrifice was always the more appropriate course.

History has taught us that wars never really cease when the antagonists agree on a ceasefire.

In Europe, as Churchill predicted, a Cold War began in the embers of World War II that redrew borders and divided nations. Britons celebrated a peace in Europe on VE day, but often in a muted way.

Nella Last, the wartime Mass Observation diarist, portrayed so movingly by the late Victoria Wood in Housewife 49, recorded feeling curiously flat when the announcement came, contrasting that with ‘the wild mafficking‘ of the end of the Boer War or the 1918 Armistice.

Her diary entry for May 7, 1945, published in the riveting Nella Last‘s War, recognises the beginning of the end, but recounts: ‘We felt no uplift . . . emotion is drained out of us — sapped day by day, by news of events and by happenings.‘

Although many had died and been injured and some did not make it home for months, even years, we were lucky in the UK to have peace.

Some European countries, such as Greece, descended into bitter civil war, following occupation and liberation. Victoria Hislop‘s most recent novel, Those Who Are Loved, explores that country‘s convulsive mid-20th century through the experiences of its heroine, Themis.

Kate Atkinson‘s Life After Life imagines many possible life scenarios for its heroine, Ursula Todd. In one timeline, she experiences the Blitz, but in another she marries a German and so witnesses the defeat and brutal Soviet occupation of Berlin.

In the four weeks to April 17, more Londoners died of Covid-19 than during the worst four-week period during the Blitz.

But this Friday, the lesson to take from our shared history is that this too will pass. 

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