COVID-19 has made us even more grateful for those who work on our behalf than ever before. We’ve clapped outside our homes, banged pans together and had pipers playing up and down the street to say thank you to key workers. It has also made us value the freedoms we may have taken for granted that those in the Armed Forces fought, and continue to fight, so hard to preserve.
When Europe celebrated VE Day on 08 May 1945, many thousands of British, Commonwealth and other Allied Armed Forces were still fighting in the Far East. This Army, the Fourteenth Army, was one of the most diverse in history, with men and women from all corners of the world – from the West Indies to pre-partition India, from Canada to the Pacific Islands. But after the war, those who fought in the Far East became known as the ‘Forgotten Army’ and many felt their service and sacrifice was not properly recognised.
As we embark on what is likely to be the last major commemoration where we still have surviving WW2 veterans, the legacy of the Fourteenth Army and of VJ Day is extremely important. Many of Britain’s diverse communities today include descendants of those who sacrificed so much alongside British troops in the war against Japan. VJ Day on 15 August will mark 75 years since the final end of WW2, so let’s take this opportunity to remember them all.
Like the VE Day commemorations earlier this year which had to go ‘virtual’ so it will be again on VJ Day. We can use social media and the virtual communications tools we have all been employing during the pandemic to get involved; to remember and to say thank you. We can also take the time for a more personal reflection and to think about those who fought for our freedoms and who gave their lives. While the next big WW2 commemoration may well be physical; the attendance of those veterans who served during that conflict may not.
As we take time to reflect and remember, let us also look ahead. Today and tomorrow our Armed Forces will continue their work to support the national effort to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. They will carry on doing this for as long as is necessary. The dedication, innovation, and sheer professionalism they have shown during this period are the same qualities and characteristics that employers seek in their employees. Employers, Local Authorities and central Government should all be looking towards our Service Leavers and Veterans as a source of expertise and talent as we face the challenges ahead.
I make no apology for repeating the words I used on VE Day –‘the Armed Forces of today are the Veterans of tomorrow’ and I would urge you to not only remember past sacrifice but look to today’s Servicemen and woman to play their part in rebuilding tomorrow.