On the 75th anniversary of VE Day, I am reflective of the sacrifices that were made and I want to celebrate the end of hostilities and the commencement of the post-war era of peace in Europe.
I am thinking of my late parents (who had yet to meet) and what they were doing on VE Day. My father spent the war in Belfast, during the day he worked for the General Post Office, maintaining the telephone system and by night he was a fire watcher in case the ship yards were bombed. My mother worked on the family farm in Hartland, North Devon before moving to Exeter to train as a nurse.
Mum and Dad on their wedding day
I’m also thinking of my late wife Cesca’s parents. Her father is British and her mother is German. Her stepfather was also German and was severely injured in Stalingrad, was evacuated to Eastern Germany where he had to hide underground as the Red Army advanced on Berlin, he then escaped to West Germany where he trained as a Doctor and ended his career as a District Surgeon in Kenya. Our lives consist of complicated and tangled webs.
Gunter and Renate (Cesca’s stepdad and mum), my mum, me, Josh, Cesca and Michael (Cesca’s dad)
My mother, who died 7 years ago would have looked forward to this celebration of VE day, she would be looking forward to seeing the Queen, her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren; she would be waiting expectantly to see what the Queen was wearing. My father, who died 12 years ago would have be less keen on those aspects of the day but would nevertheless have humoured mum. Afterwards, I think he would have dug out his treasured copy of Churchill’s World War 2 volume on VE Day ‘Triumph and Tragedy’ where he would have read Winston’s words – clearly and unambiguously managing the population’s expectations..
His treasured Churchill books
“I wish I could tell you tonight that all our toils and troubles were over. …… But, on the contrary, I must warn you, as I did when I began this five years’ task ….. that there is still a lot to do, and that you must be prepared for further efforts of mind and body ….. You must not weaken in any way in your alert and vigilant frame of mind.”
And so, to the celebrations, I have decided to bake a cake, and not any cake, Churchill’s favourite fruit cake! The National Trust, who now look after Chartwell, Churchill’s home, are of course also renowned for their cakes and have published the recipe which Mrs Landemare, Churchill’s wartime cook, used to bake for him.
It is not just cooking the cake that matters, presentation is also important, especially as it is a National Trust cake! This takes me back to a glorious and happy day a couple of years before my mum died. We took her to London where in the morning we visited Buckingham Palace and in the afternoon we took tea at the Savoy. Mum really enjoyed the day and whilst we were at Buckingham Palace she bought a Queen Victoria cake stand which I now have.
Queen Victoria’s Cake Stand
Me and mum in the gardens of Buckingham Palace
But of course, these VE Day celebrations have not gone to plan, a virus has cancelled our street parties and forbidden us to go to the pub. There is no shortage of irony in the fact that our 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe coincides with a global pandemic. The end of World War 2 redefined the remainder of the 20th century and SARS-CoV-2 will redefine our lives for at least the next decade. We have yet to ‘wrestle the invisible mugger to the ground’, we are not approaching VCovid Day, if we are lucky we might be close to Tobruk. Churchill however can help us again, by clearly setting out where we find ourselves and again managing our expectations. In November 1942, after the Desert Campaign he, of course, said this.
“This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”
Right, I’m off to share Churchill’s favourite fruit cake with Josh and Hollie!
Churchill’s favourite fruit cake on the Queen Victoria Cake Stand