This week we celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when the invasion to liberate Europe from the Nazis began.
Seventy-five years is a long time, but it is never too long to remember, and to give thanks.
We know now that the war ended in Europe on May 7th the following year and we know that Britain and her allies were victorious.
We know now that the Normandy invasion was a success.
But at the time, people had no idea of how or when the war would end. Famously, General Eisenhower had drafted a speech accepting responsibility if the landings had failed. Fortunately, he was able to give the other version, as the allied forces successfully established their bridgehead in France.
Chester played its part in the war, with what is now the University’s Business School in Queen’s Park an important headquarters, and with several army and air force bases sited nearby.
Because war films tended to cast older, better known actors as their stars, as a child I was conditioned to think of our soldiers as men in their 30’s and 40s. But most were much younger, in their late teens and early 20s. War must have been terrifying, but they fought for our freedom anyway.
It’s a chilling fact that when he came to office in 1933, Hitler was actually elected. Sure, he quickly abolished democracy because that’s what fascists do. But he got his foot in the door by winning a vote.
With increasing poverty and economic failure, the Nazi Party offered quick and easy solutions. They picked on racial minorities and said these were to blame for everyone else’s misery. They used propaganda films and articulate public speakers to woo people into a false sense of security.
They never revealed their true intentions of course, or their true policies. But they sowed division and hatred and used words such as “betrayal” or “traitor” and famously claimed Germany had been “stabbed in the back” by elements of its own people. They turned people against one another.
The wartime generation resolved never to put Europe through that horror again and put in place measures so that we could live and trade with each other in peace.
Our job today is to be wary of anyone offering smooth talk and easy answers whilst sowing division and hate. We forget history at our peril.
And to those men – and women – who liberated millions across the continent, I have two simple words: thank you. Seventy-five years is a long time, but for as long as any of you are still around, and beyond, I will be forever grateful.