Tracking back

Like the Second World War, we may be ‘in it together’ – but only up to a point

In the latest of his reflections on place and pathway, Will Gore wonders if the ‘spirit of coronavirus’ narrative will obscure a more complex reality

Saturday 09 May 2020 12:16
The end of WWII in 1945 meant very different things to different people
The end of WWII in 1945 meant very different things to different people

That we should have celebrated the anniversary of VE Day in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is apt indeed. Put aside the fact that, in 1945, people could meet for bunting-strewn tea parties, whereas now we can only shout at each other from the other side of the street, there is nevertheless a sense of a shared national moment.

Then again, it also true that in both cases, the notion of there being a common experience is only surface deep. Yes, for the most part, in May 1945 there was a widespread feeling of relief and gratitude that Hitler’s Nazis had been defeated; just as now most people feel the imperative to stay safe and to take precautions not to spread the Covid-19 virus. But the idea that everyone is experiencing lockdown in the same way is patently poppycock. Likewise, the end of the Second World War in Europe meant very different things to different people (not least those fighting in east Asia).

Of course, the passage of time always tends to simplify narratives: the fewer survivors there are to testify to an event, the fewer differing accounts there can be. It becomes easier, three-quarters of a century on, to imagine that on VE Day everyone in the country sat along one, enormous, snake-like table drinking tea, then popped into London for a knees-up in Trafalgar Square.

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