This weekend, on May the 8th we collectively celebrate 75 years since the victory of Allied forces over Nazis and Axis forces in Europe and remember those who fought in the conflict.
The physical impact of the war is still felt and seen in parts of Bristol, most obviously at Castle park where the St Peter’s church is kept as a memorial to the Blitz. Bristol was the fifth most heavily bombed British city of the war and over 1,200 people lost their lives.
It’s still part of the lives of many Bristolians. My Nan only passed away last year year. But she would tell me about the war, the air raid shelter they had in Armoury Square, where my Great Grand Parents raised her as one of the ten brothers and sisters who made up the Bryer family. She told me about the air raid sirens, rationing and the struggle to make ends meet. And she spoke with pride about her brothers who served.
The contribution Bristol made to Britain’s Merchant Navy is seen at the memorial at Welsh Back – the number of lost ships gives a sobering reminder to the scale of sacrifice made by people to keep Britain supplied and fed. It has been so important to see the Merchant Navy begin to get the recognition for the critical role it played, the risks faced and lives lost. It is worth visiting the Merchant Navy museum at the end of the harbour.
BBC Radio Bristol launched their VE coverage interviewing a Jamaican serviceman. Just over a year ago Bristol unveiled a Sikh war memorial, commemorating those Sikhs that served in World War One and World War Two. This stands near to the special memorial trees which commemorate the D-Day landings, a tree for each of the beaches that US, Canadian and British forces bravely captured, speeding the downfall of Nazi occupied Europe on a second front. It is important to remember that fighting also continued in the Pacific theater – Bristol born Field Marshal Bill Slim led the Fourteenth (or “forgotten” as they called themselves) Army in Burma and Malaysia until eventual victory was secured.
People are recognising how we came together across the Commonwealth to fight fascism and win the victory in Europe. This speaks deeply to me as a man of White English, Welsh and Black Jamaican, African heritage.
After victory, we rebuilt, and we did so together. Not just our city, homes and economy, but also the relationships across the continent. Our twinning relationship with the German city of Hannover is one of the oldest twinning relationships, started when Bristolians donated shoes to the barefooted children of the city. I visited Hannover in 2017. This act of compassion by our city is something that is still celebrated by them and has created a proud bond they want to endure.
People gave their lives for that victory. It’s our job to commemorate that sacrifice and victory but also to honour and defend them by continuing to fight all they meant – the defeat of a politics and culture of division, dehumanisation, hate, violence and industrial murder and the victory of a political culture we could work with to pursue peace, assert the value of all human life, and build community.
This bank holiday I want to thank those men and women, of all nations, that sacrificed so much so that today we can live in freedom.