Blackout, lockdown.I won’t be alone in seeing parallels between the war in Europe that ended this week 75 years ago and the national emergency we’re facing today – a common enemy, a community-first attitude, compliance with irksome but life-saving rules, death and self-sacrifice on all Fronts, and many heroes emerging.
The Home Front of Covid-19 gives us a little insight into the restrictions of the 1940s. Travel was a no-no. Most places off limits. Beaches under barbed wire. Food and clothing rationed. Television shut down.
Lives on hold.
The reality was curfew and queuing, separation from family and friends, loved ones dying alone in some arctic sea or foreign field, or lost in the rubble of bombed cities. Whether in battle, driving buses, policing the streets, putting out fires or feeding the country, everyone was a target, everyone a fighter.
And for six grey years, they dug for victory and they soldiered on.
VE Day May 8th marked Britain’s passage from that long blackout into the freedom of Churchill’s sunlit uplands. It was a huge celebration but, for the Cambridgeshire Regiment still in the Far East, the war wouldn’t finally end until Japan surrendered. As Churchill said of VE Day: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toils and efforts that lie ahead."
Then as now, the worst of times bring out the best in people and all around our county, we see new generations responding valiantly to the nation’s call. Doing kindnesses, volunteering, looking after, making safe. The NHS hadn’t been founded in 1945 but the grit and gallantry of its staff today make them the pride of our age.
Protecting people and our NHS remains paramount. So instead of dancing in the streets, we’ll honour veterans like Captain Tom by staying at home to keep them and others safe. But a relaxing of the lockdown is in sight. Next week we will kickstart life again, adopting different measures for different situations as we take the next step to recovery.
As Mayor, it’s my job to take a lead in helping us build a new world equipped to fight Covid-19 and beat it. I’m working with the Government and the Mayor’s Forum of local stakeholders to ensure we are ready when restrictions are lifted.
And that will be soon.
It’s going to be slow and steady. I’m pleased that the Government has been listening and my suggestion for staggered working hours to help business re-start has been picked up. Phased opening, new shift-patterns, more cycle paths, and increased working from home will help Cambridgeshire get trading again but with social distancing and a minimised risk of traffic bunching, pollution, and congestion.
We must be virus-vigilant and risk-averse though. Like Victory in Europe itself, this lifting of the lockdown is one milestone towards eventual victory. But, as our Cambridgeshire soldiers knew all too well, we must win more than the battle, we must win the war.