Friday, 20 July 2018

1940 all over again.

Here is a question for you all today.    Once again - how quickly it comes round - it is the 1940's week-end in our little town this week-end.   Today is market day but as soon as market finishes at  4pm the road down the side of the market square will be closed to traffic and the whole town will transform itself into 1940 for the week-end.

Already much of the preliminary work has been done.   Most of the shop windows have been criss-crossed with sticky paper to make the glass more bomb-proof; red, white and blue bunting is festooned around the buildings;  Union Jacks are out in force (not all of them the right way up).   And as I drove home from our usual coffee morning I met lots of ancient army vehicles of one sort or another trundling their way up the High Street to park up until the square was ready for them to take up their positions.   One or two couples were already wandering around the place dressed in forties clothes - the ladies in hats and dresses, lisle stockings, skirts below the knee and tightly permed hair;  the men in army, navy or air force uniforms mostly - but never those of the lower ranks - and a smattering of WRVS, nurses and the like.   People take to it in a big way - it is serious stuff for those who are interested.

As I left our coffee shop I asked the owner whether it was a good week-end for him.   He said it would be one of the best in the year.   Most cafes are serving things like spam and eggs and other dishes from those days.

So here is my question.   Opinions are divided in the town about whether wartime is something we should celebrate.   Millions around the world suffered, starved to death, were persecuted.   Those of my age group and older can remember this vividly although, as my friend and I said this morning, our parents made sure that 'our' war as children was kept as free from worry and hardship as possible.   Of course for children who were Jewish, or who lived in occupied countries, this was not the case at all.   And here in the UK many cities were bombed and thousands died.   So is it right that we should now cash in on this and hark back to it every year as though it is really something to celebrate?   Or should we try to put it all behind us?   I would like to know your views.

Yes, we did win the war, but at what cost. 

37 comments:

Sandi said...

"Union Jacks are out in force (not all of them the right way up)."

Is this accidental or is it to make some kind of statement?

Sue in Suffolk said...

I'm not sure that wartime events nowadays actually have much to do with wartime, if you see what I mean, they are (maybe) just a way for people to dress up and take part in "living history" and a way for a town to pull in visitors and money.
Or I might be wrong!

Still hot, humid and dry here. There was talk of thunder storms but I bet they miss Suffolk

justjill said...

Hopefully to celebrate the camaraderie and grit. More likely so the town can make some money. And I am not saying that is a bad thing. Be fun for some and those who don't agree wont go. I wouldnt go.

Rachel Phillips said...

Union Jacks the wrong way up is a common mistake in the UK Sandi. It is not understood by many people that there is a right and a wrong way up and it is not very obvious. No statement. We have '40s events around here which seem to bring people into the area and many like to dress up. Personally I don't care for them mainly because my mother hated everything to do with wartime but now it is seen as a way of remembering and embraced by the generations that followed.

the veg artist said...

From what I have seen reported of these events they are regarded as 'fun', and I'm afraid I can't see that side of it at all. My parents were in their forties before I was born, the last child. The first had been born just before my father joined up to the Army - he ended up in Burma. My mother spent the war years worrying whether she would see him again and I suspect he came home a very changed man.
In a rural area, with farming relations, food was probably not too much of an issue, but there were plenty of other privations. All spare metal was handed over for the war effort, and when I see chipped enamel being used as 'shabby chic' it really annoys me - there was very little available, people had to just use what they had. There was nothing chic about it, just shabby. Rationing was not funny. Fear was not amusing. Bombing, either of us or by us, was appalling.
Yes there was a need for light relief, the dances, the intense relationships that could be short-lived, and the film industry went to town enhancing the 'glamour' of it, but playing at dressing-up now? Not appropriate in my view.

Sorry, but you did ask!

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

From what I've seen of such events they are a lot more "Dad's Army" than "Schindler's List" and have a very limited grip on the reality of those days. If people really object they would surely stay away.

DUTA said...

It sounds and looks a farce. Celebrate what? It's not over yet. History repeats itself albeit it changes forms. Europeans won't get slaughtered by Nazis this time, but by muslim immigrants. The result will be the same.

Derek Faulkner said...

I think it's a great event, I'd love to be there enjoying it, so much good music, so much nostalgia. If you look at the old newsreel stuff from those times people didn't walk around full of gloomy thoughts, despite being bombed the shops were always "open for business" and dance halls and pubs were full of people doing their best to put things behind them and still enjoy life, hard as it might be.
I can see no harm in your town's annual event.

bornfreev said...

To me the word "celebrate" is key here. This 19040's day is a celebration of victory over factions that wanted to harm and control and destroy. Yes, there was a terrible price. But, had we not fought and succeeded - what would our world be like today? Celebrate the bravery, sacrifice and, yes the bittersweet, victory. Mourning is personal and never really leaves us. Hope I'm not offending here, just my thoughts.

Victoria, in Connecticut.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Victoria.
I have just been reading about how housewives managed to make meals out of very little and yet bring up healthy
happy children. Our generation was a really healthy one especially in rural areas.
I think celebration of how communities pulled together is a timely reminder of how little we often know about our neighbours now.
I know that there were unscrupulous people and dark deeds but that's always to be found in any society.
What I find much more worrying is the endless showing of war films, war games on tablets and the endless streams of war magazines.
Sue

Bovey Belle said...

Such occasions are a nod to our history - they are not trying to airbrush out the bad things, everyone knows that war wasn't a bed of roses for anyone who lived through it. We have had one or two events around here - one of the militaria fairs we used to do had folk dressing up (mainly in army uniform I might add!) and a couple we know literally "live" a 40s life and wear 40s clothing, have their house with 40s furniture etc. It doesn't hurt anyone if the war is remembered in this way - they are not trying to pretend the bad bits weren't awful, or people died. If it raises an awareness of the past, I can't see anything wrong in that, and as you said Pat, your town does very well out of it and the people taking part and all the visitors enjoy it. I can't see any harm in that.

GillyK said...

I've got mixed feelings about the 1940s weekend. I will be playing with Leyburn Band during Saturday afternoon and I know a lot of the people enjoy the music from that time. However, when I look at the people who come to this event, they are NOT local people, and the event is organised by a company that specialises in this kind of event. All the people in uniform are seldom the lower ranks, mainly officers. So I feel that the town is almost being 'used' to provide a backdrop for visitors to enjoy themselves.

anonymous said...

I agree with what Bovey Belle said. And think any public event that raises awareness of past wars may lead to discussions about the realities of war. It seems the citizens of many countries today are willing to risk going to war even more than they support efforts by leaders trying to prevent that. If they know how much good is destroyed in wartime they may steer toward a better course.

Penhill said...

Having been born after the war,but living in inner city Birmingham during the 1950's and playing on bomb sites I can understand how people have mixed feelings about this event.I hadn't realised however the resentment that band players feel towards people who are not local and come to the town to enjoy and spend money at these weekends.

Granny Sue said...

There is a Civil War battele re-enactment in my area this weekend. I don't like these re-enactments as I feel that it just keeps the wartime anger and resentment alive. People who act in them feel deeply for "their" side. I don't know how this might compare to your event, though. The fight against evil was so clear in WWII.

Heather said...

Nostalgia is very powerful. I think people like to celebrate the thought that we all pulled together to get through the tough times, and I daresay some did, but there must have been plenty who were only looking out for themselves. Also there was a lot of disillusionment after the war - even though we had won there were still hardships like rationing for almost another 10 years, and returning servicemen found it difficult to find jobs. Maybe people are just trying to conjure up the way of life that was lost when the war started. I doubt that any of those taking part are celebrating the war itself, they just like dressing up and play acting.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Ved artist. Please don't apologise - in many ways I feel the same. My first husband was on the Death Railway in Thailand. My brother was at Dunkirk. I was a very small child and my parent managed to keep everything going so that I never felt afraid.
Gilly K. Nice to have an answer from you (Gilly is a local friend, not a blogger but always reads mine.) and good to hear (from W) that you are on the mend.

Thanks everyone. What interesting replies - I love it when we get a discussion going.

Bonnie said...

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." a quote by George Santayana. I believe it is important we remember the war with respect for those that lived through it and lost their lives in it. This may be one way younger folks can remember the war but I believe it should be handled with at least some acknowledgement of those that lost their lives. I also think it is important people do not forget it was a challenging and difficult time for all.

Tom Stephenson said...

Yes, I think WW2 was something for Britain to be proud of. It was the only war I can think of which I would have no hesitation in joining up and fighting. WW1 was different completely - something to remember rather than celebrate.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

The war was won by the allies, and that is something to celebrate.

marlane said...

It depends on whether the event is seen as a celebration or not. Because it could be seen as an event to remember what it was like at that time. As an historical reenactment instead.

jinxxxygirl said...

Pat i'm writing this before reading anyone elses comments so i don't know where my view falls with the others... Hubby and i both agree after talking about this that its so important to not forget.... Not forget what we went thru to have the freedom we have today.. Things like your 1940's weekend and the statues that are being taken down through out the southern US give us a chance to have conversations.. Perhaps conversations that we otherwise would not have.. And it would just fade into history .. lessons that were learned .. forgotten... Hugs! deb

Bonnie said...

I appreciate both sides of the debate, and dislike the commercialism. However, I think if it gets family members talking, it is worth it, for all the reasons mentioned. It's too easy to forget that it was just 1 or 2 generations ago. ...and the music was good!
Growing up in the US, I have a strong impression that people in the UK pulled together, and what a fine thing: to build community.

Amy said...

hmm I"m not sure, I wasn't even thought of until 1970 so I didn't live through the 1940s wartime, however to me there are many aspects of it, there's the fun part of the fashions and food but there's also the hardships and tears. Could be a good experience for those who didn't go through it.

Bea said...

I'm with Amy in that I wasn't born until 1970 (& no one in my immediate family went to war), so I feel like a novice on the subject. I think for those who are interested in learning a bit more about that time period from others with a more direct connection to it, then a 1940s weekend could be a good thing.

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

My father was a dentist with the American Army Air Force stationed in Bedford, England. I was born at the very end of the war. I am glad that the Allies won and I think it was a remarkable period of history. It was tragic for many people, but I don't think it should be forgotten. Events like your 1940s weekend make people talk, make them do a bit of research. I think it is worthwhile.

Cro Magnon said...

We lived in a Surrey village where the German planes would drop off any unused bombs on their way home. The village school was bombed, and a young female teacher killed. My sister was named after her (Heather). I still wasn't born, of course!

susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

I think it is a good way to remind younger people to give some thought to history. It's dangerous when people don't remember or care about history. I have often wondered if President Trump slept through every history class, and somehow avoided watching every movie ever made that had historical references.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks everyone for all your interesting comments.

Gwil W said...

The Union Jack only represents 3 of the home nations. The Welsh refused to be on the Union Jack and weren't allowed to have their own flag until after WW2 so it's a bit different from the others.

Linda Metcalf said...

"Least we forget"....

Peter said...

As terrible as war is/was it is worth celebrating the resistance and strength of the home front.
Peter

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

I'm glad you asked this. Celebrations like this make me very uncomfortable. War isn't fun. To celebrate a victory may make sense for people who lived through the war but it seems parasitic and exploitative to make it into a festival for people who had no part in it. That isn't to say wartime (past and present) should be forgotten. Quite the contrary. Maybe dressing up makes people think . . I don't know. But commercializing it is weird.
I voted not to leave the EU. This was because I don't want to jeopardise an organisation that has helped to keep war at bay. I was born after the second world war - but there were still bombsites and buildings that stopped abruptly because the ones next door had been destroyed.

thelma said...

I am not sure I have an answer either, its complicated. Does re-enactment applaud war? here I am thinking of knights on galloping horses, royalists against the Cromwellians, Romans against native, all point to war.
I know this event goes round the towns here, Whitby and Pickering and I just see it as a fun time for people to dress up, are they really making the case against war which is after all what we should be doing.

Jean Ellen said...

I wonder when we will start 're-enacting' the Viet Nam War. Maybe we can all dress up as hippies and protest. I still have my bell bottom jeans!

Unknown said...

In the US when the flag is displayed/worn upside down it signifies that there is a feeling the country is in national distress.

Unknown said...

I am a little late to the conversation - but thought I'd add some thoughts.

I often wonder what re-enactors are hoping to achieve. (I say that as someone who was a long time re-enactor in a medieval re-enactment group.) For 1940s re-enactors, I wonder, are they nostalgic for the camaraderie of a time when people weren't obsessed with consumerism, when you had to 'make do', and when "reuse, repairs, recycle" wasn't just a trendy thing but a way of life? For some perhaps it is the fascination with mechanical things - like spitfires and army jeeps. I do think that for many re-enactors (although not all), that re-enactment is purely about escape. Escape to a time when you didn't have the pressures of modern life bombarding you.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that most re-enactors are very good at 'forgetting' about the bad things associated with the era they're attempting to recreate. Medieval re-enactors are great about forgetting about the grinding poverty, the high mortality rate of children, plague and pestilence, the vast wealth gap between peasants and nobility, and the grip that the church held over daily life. They conveniently focus on the 'fun' things - like researching how costumes were made, or the type of foods people ate, or what it feels like to dress in armor and pretend to do battle. I suspect that U.S. Civil War re-enactors are great about ignoring the horrors of slavery, marches of hundreds of miles, watching your friends and brothers die in agony next to you, not having shoes or decent clothes to wear, etc - instead choosing to focus on research, camaraderie, and telling stories around a campfire.

In the end, I suspect it is no different for people that like to 're-create' 1940s Britain. They conveniently ignore the concentration camps, the blitz, the death marches and POW camps, the lack of every day necessities, etc. and instead focus on the fun costumes, the cool planes, and the camaraderie associated with these fun things.

I am reminded of the number of 'experimental archeology' programs that have become popular over the years, like Victorian Farm, Tudor Monastery Farm, etc - where historians and archeologists pretty much do for an extended period of time, exactly what is going on during the 1940s event in this town. For me (and for many other I suspect), re-enacting a certain time period is in part about learning and experiment.

But, I am also torn when I think about how horrible it must have been for a peasant family during the middle ages, for example, to keep warm, fed, and healthy. I can't imagine watching my own children suffer as many a medieval peasant probably did. Nor can I imagine knowing that my family was at risk because bombs were dropping over our head or a horrible regime was about to march us to our death in gas chambers, simply for our religion or ethnicity.

I think perhaps so many of us are sensitized to the "1940s" because it is still very close to us - either we or our parents or grandparents lived through the time and the stories are still very real. But, does that make the yearning for the 'better things' from the 1940s bad? I don't know. It is definitely something to think about.