In the days leading up to the second world war a terror permeated the offices of the war planners. The Great War of 1914-18 was stuff of nightmares. The coming war, with its increased mechanization- tanks, planes, bigger bombs, aircraft carriers – would be several magnitudes worse. At any moment a murder of fighter planes could black out the skies of London, unleashing their deadly payload. While the damage could be catastrophic, the planners worried just as much of the psychological toll on the people.
In August 1915 the people of London experienced a brief taste of terror from on high, when a fleet of zeppelins flew over the city. The slow moving dirigibles dropped bombs and grenades out the windows on the unwitting populace below. This caused great distress among the people of London. This time, the war office believed, the trauma would be far worse. As bad as thousands of war dead would be at least you can bury them, grieve, and move on. Millions of shell shocked Britons? The country did not have enough asylums to contain them. Nowhere near the number of mental health professionals. What is the cost of a million catatonic mouths to feed? What is the effect of a million less pairs of hands to lend a hand in the war effort?
Of course the Battle for Britain descended. The Luftwaffe unleashed hellfire and thunder on the poor Britons. Their reply? The very British two finger salute – no Fokker was going to bring them down. I believe there is a myriad of reasons for this. Much of it comes from a unifying nature of the home-front in war – we’re all in this together – and the corollary – adversity gives us a greater purpose in a world normally full of purposeless or unfulfilling jobs. Some comes to the ability of leaders to rally the people behind the good cause. Freedom, liberty, the British way of life. Winston Churchill, for his faults, had an almost Shakespearean ability to turn a phrase “I have nothing to offer you but my blood, toil, tears and sweat”
Then of course there were those who reminded Britons of the little things they’d lost. Reminded them those things will return again.
“There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
Tomorrow, when the world is free”
Dame Vera Lynn may have only been the conduit, others wrote the words, but she captured the zeitgeist of the nation “I remember well as the shadows fell, the light of hope in their eyes”. She promised “The valley will bloom again”. To every young man sent off to fight she was everyone’s sweetheart. When singing We’ll meet again, she sang to you.
Damn, 103 is a good innings. Rest in peace Dame Vera, you will be missed.