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VE DAY: A Point in Time that Changed our Destiny & what we can learn from it right now.

As a kid, I was always fascinated by the history of the Second World War. It was something that my grandparents had lived through and been a part of, it was always of interest.

On my Dad's side of the family, my Nan was one of the "Evacuees" shipped out of major towns and cities and bundled of to the countryside in an attempt to protect young children from the the horrors of relentless bombing. My Grandad on the other hand served in the British Army, he was a solder who only only ever said two things about the War and his time in the Army. The first was that "no one wants to, or should have to feel a Rifle recoil in anger" the other "I'm not talking about it!" often followed by him opening the racing section of the news paper and lighting a hand rolled cigarette.

My Grandad Jim always seemed grumpy, especially to me. Even when I told him that I was joining the RAF he response was pretty unimpressed and was something along the lines of "Oh, well. I suppose Blue is a colour now anyway." But now almost 14 years since he passed, we are completely unaware of his Armed Forces History (Granted we are waiting for the MOD and Army to send back his service records) but he never spoke about it, not to my Nan and not to my Dad or my Aunty or my uncle.

(L) My Grandad: James Thomas Lewis

We never saw any medals, no documents or bits of paper, the only thing was a beret and an immaculate (what I believe ) was a German Bayonet or some kind of knife (he used to open his post with) which ultimately disappeared for his draw after a barrage of questions from me aged about 5, he took both down to the garage where they have never been seen since.

Grandad Jim, always wore a Poppy, but every other trace of his life in the Army was completely removed, as thought he had attempted to lock it away, when he died in 2006 he took those secrets with him, I guess some things aren't meant to be fully known let alone attempted to be understood.

When I used to ask my Nana Edna about the War, her experience was completely different. She was eight when the war started and 14 by the time it had finished. She was sent away to the countryside outside York, to be isolated, secluded and physically distanced from the ongoing bombing and nightly terror that was rained down on industrial Middlesbrough. (Okay no joke about it improving Teesside please!)


Today with Covid-19, we have been expected to keep our distance, have limited interactions with anyone, all in the name of reducing the chances of catching the Virus and thus reducing the potential of needing to be admitted to hospital in extreme cases. It seems so simple, stay at home, reduce you need to go out other than essential visits to shops or in some countries to do an hour of exercise each day, oh and the other big thing today was to remember to wash your hands!

However, compare this to the strict set of rules that were outlined during World War Two, and today's requests seem slightly trivial to what was asked between 1939 to 1945. Rationing of food and clothing, significant shortage of supplies (completely unlike the toilet paper hording seen in Australia), a need to carry an ID card at all times (rather than the Aussie CovidSafe app), as well as your Gas Mask. Teenagers called into "Home Guard" units as young as 17 before being conscripted at the age of 18 (rather than spoilt teens been asked to do some shopping for their grandparents) and in most cases being sent to theaters of war on mainland Europe. Air raid drills, blackouts and the black market all had a significant impact on day to day life. Yes their freedoms had been significant impacted, not inconvenienced in some almost trivial way, as what we have suffered for the last 10 weeks or so. We need to put this in to perspective, and when you compare this to the hardship that other Commonwealth Countries and Territories endured such as Hong Kong and Singapore when they fell and the hardships they endured, the disruption to our way of life seems trivial to what has been asked of older generations.

No wonder when I speak to my Grandparents on my Mam's side, they are forever frustrated that "the idiots just can't manage to stay in and follow some simple instructions" My Grandad Joe, who is 92 and still as belligerent as ever, was 17 at the end of the War, he was one of the lucky ones, he was a bricklayer and apprentice building engineer, therefore essential to the Country for the rebuild and got out of any National Service and Conscription for his ability to build and design industrial buildings and structures that are still standing (and in use) today back in Teesside. I should point out that Grandad Joe did offer to do his National Service, as a Tank Driver or Pilot, however being vertically challenged ruled him out, his feet couldn't reach the pedals (on both counts) as was subsequently sent packing back to the Brick foundry of Middlesbrough. His biggest complaint about the whole Covid-19 situation is this, the minority are spoiling it for the majority and ultimately delaying the lock down being lifted.

There is an idea (in some part of society) of the current rules being optional. By their very design and implementation are, in the best interest of the nation seem hard to comprehend by a few. If a slightly sarcastic and sometimes "free willed" 92 year old who only stopped driving some 18 months ago can do it, why can everyone?

It seems simple, there are pockets of society that have issues with discipline and respect, something that every member of my Grandparents generation (on the whole) had. If you look at what they were exposed to and the criteria they were expected to live by, is it any wonder why they (and people in general) are becoming more increasingly frustrated around their confinement?

Working from Home 1939- 45 vs 2020

During World War Two, working from home for many was manning Coastal Artillery or Defensive Gun Batteries or Anti Aircraft Guns. This wasn't only in the United Kingdom, it was all over the Globe, Europe was plunged head on into a War and whilst Commonwealth Countries all over the world committed Men and Women to fight Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, "Home" still needed to be defended.

Above: Fort Pasir Panjan, Labrador Park, Singapore. A QF 6 inch Mk II Rifeled Breach Loading Gun that was attempting to defend Singapore and support the Malay Regiment during the fall of Singapore in February 1942

The Image above was one that I took on a trip to Singapore in 2015, these sort of gun emplacements where common place across most Commonwealth Countries and where not only manned by members of the British Armed Forces but local members of the community who had take up the call to arms for "King and Country". The idea that you would join your local Regiment or British Army Unit to protect you home and fight side by side with your neighbour was not uncommon, this stems back to World War One and the PALS units that were formed up and down the UK.

Working from home during WWII looked very different from what is called "Working From Home" now. Granted that we are not fighting a physical war, but globally we are battling an invisible disease that has, to date cost over 280,000 individual their lives.

The idea that due to Covid-19, businesses have suddenly obtained some form of moral compass (in my opinion) is a little bit fanciful, there is one simple reason that businesses have gotten on the Working From Home bandwagon, and that is to keep making them money!

Lets take Australia, where I currently call home, Working From Home is something that has been spoken about since I arrived in early 2011 and in many cases for about 4 weeks every year there is the normal spin by the HR department around "Working from Home this bushfire season" and as as sure as you you will hear the words "Climate Change" or "Global Warming" mentioned, emails will be sent business wide, reminding staff that they will be expected to transition back into the office over the coming weeks.

As for managing the risk of injury due to poor ergonomics in the home environment, most businesses see this as a "taboo". Some of the best one liners that I have heard from leadership range from: "It's not my house, they have chosen to work there" to "We can't be expected to look after everyone all the time". However with Covid-19 the table turned slightly, all of a sudden, businesses could not be seen to be asking their workers to attend a physical workplace, where a possible infection may occur, so they asked everyone to work from home to manage the risk.

(R) My best Friend, Xena. We all have our distractions whilst working from home - but make the most of it!

My opinion is that businesses will revert back to "Office based activities" by December 2023 at the latest. Australian businesses do not trust its workforce, otherwise working from home would have been the norm already.

Whilst businesses are currently trying to take some form of social and moral stand, with the lines "look, we as a business are working from home and letting our workers care for their family etc" and a lot of individuals are getting caught up in the hype, unfortunately this wont last in my opinion, as soon as the influx of workers comp claims come flooding in and businesses premiums start to climb and the self insurance schemes are overwhelmed with applications, the bubble will soon be popped.

This monumental shift wont happen, especially when businesses have astronomical leases on buildings for 10+ years and then leasing agents will significantly lower rent to keep big business in properties, Australia will be as you were.

One the whole however, this isn't hardship, working from home is not that difficult (even if you have been forced on the the NBN, the chances are you can get 4G reception and just hot spot), make the most of it whilst it last because things will go back to normal very quickly in 99% of cases.

I accept, that in cases where an individual is subjected to an abusive environment at home, this home working situation becomes difficult, however this is a wider social problem that needs addressing and has been more widely highlighted in other countries with stricter lock down requirements that Australia.

Toughness and Resilience 1939 - 45 vs 2020

One of the best comments I heard recently was made, in reference to the now Colonel Tom Moore, who had raised over £30 million for a number of NHS related charities the quote was "they just don't make them like they used to do.........we they actually do, that process hasn't changed, but that generation is certainly tougher than ours!" And its true. Just imagine being 18 years old, forced into a branch of the armed forces, and sent off to a foreign land and not knowing if you would ever see home again. This was in fact the norm, for so many people and sadly in a significant number of cases (approximately 20 million military fatalities alone) this occurred. Yet, on both sides, this happened. This takes significant mental toughness, inner strength, spirit, courage, call it what you will but its something that appears to be lacking in today's society.

Now flip the coin, we live in a world right now, where individuals get upset because someone calls them a "silly" or "horrible" name on social media, we reward kids for taking part in fear that some parents will be offended if their child isn't very good at sport, rather than positively enforcing competition. We are told that everyone is equal, where in all fairness we are not, I use the examples of Albert Einstein (Theoretical physicist), Stephen Hawking (Theoretical physicist) and Marie Curie (Physicist) all who are no where as equal to most, they where Geniuses and there is nothing wrong with that, I also don't think (and this is an assumption) that any of them three would have broken a track and field records and in the same breath would have expected to receive a "chufty badge" for turning up and having a go.

But our expectations of our Health Care professionals, our key workers are similar to what we expect of our Armed Forces and they just get on with it.

Not once during the current Covid-19 pandemic have I heard a Doctor, a Nurse, a Paramedic or Hospital Porter complain about their wages and doing their job. Yes there has been cases where these people have highlighted the shortfalls of PPE and equipment, but they just got on with it, they showed something similar to my Grandparents generation, that toughness or grit.

Not once have I seen a Nurse post on Linkedin how hard it was working from home today, whilst sipping a latte, cuddling their cat and taking multi screen networking images of the individual and their colleagues all on a Skype, Teams or Zoom call. Yet every day I see and hear about how hard it is getting up on a morning and walking to the kitchen or spare room, logging on to the laptop and doing work!

The point is simple, working from home is not hardship, the fact that you still have a job and you do not have to go into an office right now should be something that you are pretty pleased about. Yes, I get it, some people are more social than others and they love the office environment and that is fine, just remember that this right now, it won't last forever.

We have for decades wrapped people up in cotton wool, society (and HR departments) frown upon us for calling poor performance out, when people aspire to be like Wayne Rooney, Kim Kardashian or Posh Spice rather than a Colonel Tom Moore, a Doctor, a Nurse or even the bin man who keeps that essential service going, no wonder we are struggling to cope with the inconvenience of staying at home.

Mental Health and Wellbeing- Then vs Now

During World War One, Shell Shock was classed as desertion and punishable by the firing squad. just over 21 years later, Mental Health problems were a taboo, a weakness and not to be spoken about.

If we look at today, Mental Health is becoming more of an accepted issue, it is becoming more accepted as an illness and not a weakness. If you broke your leg, you would seek treatment, even though you can not see the broken bone, the same can now be said for mental illness.

Mental Health will be a significant concern for our front line workers once this Pandemic is over, we are yet to fully understand the impact on these individuals, however I have read a number of opinion pieces over the last few weeks comparing the witnessed trauma and suffering medial staff have been potentially exposed to, to a similar level of Front Line Military personnel returning form active tours of duty.

Its also interesting to see how the wider community copes with Mental Health during the Covid-19 crisis, I am not an expert in this field and there are far smarter individuals who work and study this field, however my prediction will be this: It will appear that more individuals will report poor Mental Health during the Covid-19 crisis than my Grandparents generation did during World War Two, however this will be more to do with the stigma of Mental Health starting to be removed.

I will hypothesizes this: If the same levels of acceptability around Mental Health and Wellbeing were apparent during the 1930's and 40's as to what they are now, the number of reported cases would be slightly higher today, than then, however on the whole they would be very similar.

So what have we learned?

If we can take a few things from the remembrance and celebration of VE Day, in my opinion it should be this:

  1. We need to put aside the short term inconvenience that Physically Distancing has caused us, for not only the good of our towns, cities, regions and countries, but for the the good of humanity and learn to accept that this wont be forever. We are not under fire constantly, we still have many of the freedoms that a Generation fought to keep.

  2. Working from Home is not a hardship, not being able to go into an office is not going to impact us long term and think yourself luck that you either have a job or in some cases and Countries have a furlough scheme. So many people are out of work right now because of the Covid-19 situation and other have no choice but to face the dangers posed by the virus on a daily basis.

  3. We need to put things into better perspective. Yes, the World can look like a scary place right now, but that does depend on the shade of your glasses. We need to think of how to turn the negatives into the positives. If you are the social butterfly that is at every coffee function, birthday or work event and complain that you never get time to yourself , embrace the work from home environment and take a little longer lunch, pick up that book, that guitar or just enjoy the quiet for an extra 15 minutes. Likewise, if work is the transaction that is part of day to day life, reach-out to your peers just to make sure that they are Okay, pick up the phone or video call and check in, you may get something out of it and you may make someones day.

A Final Thought

For me, VE Day should be remembered, it should be celebrated and it should act as a lesson and a reminder to generations, how lucky we are. It disappointed me (and I only really noticed it this year) how little air play VE Day got here in Australia. When you consider the sacrifice that Australia made in freeing Europe and the wider battles that they fought in the Pacific, its hard to describe but it was almost forgotten in may respects.

But to finish on this: To my Grandparents generation, to everyone who had suffered and to those who had lost someone and to those who gave all through that conflict, Thank You! Because of your sacrifice, We get to work from home, We do not have to worry about food rationing and whilst there are many things wrong in the world and society, We are free.

Lest We Forget

Over the weekend, we remembered VE Day, that moment 75 years ago where the World started to think of a more stable time. This is my thoughts on VE Day and what we can maybe learn for another generation who done it far tougher than what we are doing it right now. #veday75 #lestweforget #remembrance #ww2 #thankyou #covid19

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