How did you spend Victory in Europe Day?
No, I don’t mean that weird affair this month when I found people around here drinking wine out on the pavement two metres apart and waving Union Jacks. I mean the real one, 75 years ago.
I was at the real one — sort of.
I was minus one month, so I was still growing toenails and maybe wondering what my new family would be like in the industrial midlands where I was due to be born.
My dad was in the army. Until 1944 he was making fighter aeroplanes in a local factory, but was shanghaied into the army after he crossed some management high-up.
Aren’t I lucky I didn’t inherit his bolshie ways!
But he was lucky. He was never sent abroad. He finished up guarding German prisoners of war in Scotland, made friends with several, and was finally demobbed in 1947.
I was two when Dad came home and was pretty scared of this strange hairy man, so they say.
We went to live with my mother’s family. I have no idea how six of us and a baby fitted into a small house, but there was a terrible housing shortage at the time.
And there was no NHS at this time. I was born on Co-op insurance in a nursing home.
I never met my Auntie Peggy, my mum’s older sister. At 24 she died giving birth because she had untreated thyroid disease.
When I was three we lodged with a nice old lady called Mrs Ellis in a tiny terraced house on the railway line that took the tyres from nearby Goodyears factory to the rest of the country.
Gaslight, toilet in a shack at the bottom of the garden, zinc bath in the kitchen, a boiler on the top of the stove for washing, constant soot from the factory… We kids loved it!
My friends and I ran up and down the back alley to the tiny sweet shop on the corner and played games in the backyards. Big kids looked after the little ones.
No-one had a car. Mum and Dad had a tandem bike with a sidecar for me. My mum was known for secretly not pedalling!
As I say, on the actual VE Day I wasn’t much bigger than the Coronavirus (well actually quite a bit bigger on the day) but looking back for many people it wasn’t so much victory over the Germans that they were celebrating, but a victory over bad times, over the terrible poverty of the 1930s.
It was the realisation that after the war we could have a better, healthier, more equal society. That’s why we —to the amazement of the world — kicked out Churchill, built huge numbers of council houses, nationalised industries like the coal mines and the railways and, our crowning glory, gave birth to the National Health Service and the welfare state.
At the moment we’re going through another world war — a war with a virus.
We went into this war in a state of crippling austerity, with a run-down national health service and a crumbling welfare state and inequality everywhere. Not as bad as the 1930s, but going that way.
So now is our chance — just like after the Second World War. A chance to make things fairer and healthier for everybody. It’s time to build a new, better welfare state.
I just hope I’ll be around to celebrate it happening!