Liv­ing with war

BBC Two

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - TV & RADIO -

It’s 70 years since the guns fell silent in Europe and, on 8 May 1945, Bri­tons cel­e­brated the de­feat of Nazi Ger­many.

Af­ter seven decades, the num­ber of peo­ple left alive who have clear mem­o­ries of VE Day, and the years of strug­gle that pre­ceded it, is inevitably dwin­dling. All the more rea­son to record their mem­o­ries for pos­ter­ity.

That’s pre­cisely what Steve Humphries of Tes­ti­mony Films has done for a new four-part se­ries. “I wanted to give the gen­er­a­tion who lived through and fought in the Se­cond World War the recog­ni­tion and hon­our that they de­serve, be­fore it’s too late,” he tells WDYTYA? Mag­a­zine.

“We look at what shaped them, the chal­lenges they faced, es­pe­cially in wartime, and how they dealt with later life.”

It’s the se­cond time that Humphries has un­der­taken such a pro­ject, hav­ing pre­vi­ously in­ter­viewed veter­ans of the Great War, in­clud­ing Harry Patch. “I in­tend this to be the be­gin­ning of a Se­cond World War ar­chive that will be there for­ever,” he says.

Even in their 90s and 100s, some re­called events they’d rarely spo­ken about. Hav­ing pre­vi­ously met so many veter­ans, this wasn’t a sur­prise to Humphries. “There is a mo­ment when peo­ple are com­ing to the end of their lives when they re­veal se­crets and emo­tions they’ve kept hid­den since their young days. They no longer have any­thing to lose, very old age is of­ten a time of truth-telling.”

As for the idea that many who lived through the con­flict felt most alive close to death, this turns out to have more than a grain of truth. “One Bat­tle of Bri­tain pi­lot, Ge­off Wel­lum, told me that he knew at the age of 21 his life had peaked – ‘I could never ex­pe­ri­ence the in­ten­sity of that mo­ment ever again’ – and he found that very trou­bling,” re­calls Humphries.

What do the in­ter­vie­wees make of con­tem­po­rary Bri­tain? Some it seems, be­moan a loss of ide­al­ism that went with the post-war ef­forts to build a ‘New Jerusalem’.

“Many looked back with a sense of loss, re­gret and even anger that the vi­sion of a new and fairer world they had as­pired to and tried to build af­ter the war with the NHS and the wel­fare state had been in some ways lost,” Humphries says. “Some felt the mo­ment of na­tional unity, shared val­ues and ca­ma­raderie that hap­pened in the Se­cond World War and af­ter­wards would never be achieved again.” Jonathan Wright

Hughes Austin Byrne and Dorothy

in (right) re­mem­ber VE Day

Bri­tain’s Great­est Gen­er­a­tion

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