VE Day 75th Anniversary and Citizenship
VE Day 75th Anniversary and Citizenship
By Zoe Baker, Citizenship Teaching
On 8th May, were it not for fighting the outbreak of Covid - 19, many schools would be hanging out bunting and arranging tea parties with students and staff in 1940’s clothing or wearing red, white and blue. Assemblies would be held, and History classrooms would remind students of what VE Day was and why it is important to remember.
Instead, we find teachers setting work from home and gatherings cannot take place. But this significant anniversary will come and go all too quickly. What then should Citizenship teachers do to mark this, if anything? Is VE Day only within the domain of History or can Citizenship also play a role?
In answering these questions we need to consider exactly what is meant by ‘celebrating’ or ‘commemorating’ VE day. When Churchill made his speech on the 7th May stating that the next day would be a public holiday to mark the end of war, the date had long been expected, as people knew the hardship was coming to a close. For six years families had been split. Communities had struggled to live in the wreckage of the Blitz and find a ‘wartime spirit’ while subsisting on rations, shortages and enduring other trials. It is no wonder that celebrations spilled onto the street and lasted for hours. Some of those celebrating would have known nothing but war for their entire lives.
Of course while a time of celebration for many, it was a time of reflection and sorrow for others. VE Day did not mean the end of the war and many families would still cope with their relatives fighting until VJ Day in August the same year. Then there were families thankful for the end of war but still grieving for the loss of life, whether a member of the armed forces or one of the civilian deaths. During his address to the nation at 3pm on 8th May Churchill himself stated:
‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.
Rationing on clothing was to continue until 1949 and on food until 1954. The country was about to face a period of austerity. Of course, this was followed by far reaching political effects leading to the cold war. So to some extent the images of the celebrating masses, whilst true in the short term, were only a very small part of ‘Victory in Europe’ - there were still battles to face both abroad against the enemy and here in Britain against the conditions left by or highlighted by war.
So what can we do in our current situation to help pupils understand the importance of and relevance of the end of WWII to society today and our Citizenship curriculum?
There is an obvious link to the Fundamental British Values and explorations of ‘Britishness’ - there was more than a little flag waving and reflecting on an allied victory. However there are other significant lessons which require a deep level of Citizenship knowledge.
For example, the end of the war led to the formation of the United Nations. The principles of the UN Charter first formulated on 25th April 1945 included respecting equal rights. Many Citizenship teachers have used the image of Eleanor Roosevelt holding the first copy of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. This provides material for human rights lessons and often GCSE Citizenship Studies questions are based around this topic.
There were some profound changes in society that also took place in relation to women’s equality and rights. By 1943 over 7 million women were actively involved in the war effort.
After the war women were expected to return to their homes, bans on married women holding some positions still existed and wages continued to be higher for men than women. It was at least another twenty years before the second wave of feminism began to have an effect. The daughters of the ‘war women’ knew the roles their mothers played, benefited from improved educational opportunities and social changes and were able to campaign for their rights.
Then of course we have the impact of the over 10,000 Caribbean men and women who supported the call to fight for ‘King and Country’. Not only does this highlight Britain's role in the Empire and later the Commonwealth, but also the terrible racism faced by these individuals. It is important to remember that during WWII the Royal Navy had no black crew members and they had to form their own regiments and be led by white officers. This gives a Citizenship teacher plenty to explore around rights and racism and the changing attitudes of others serving as well as civilians in towns where they were stationed. Moving on from here there are the experiences of the Windrush generation. Invited to fill the labour shortages, Caribbean migrants were faced with prejudice they were not expecting from a country whose economy they were helping. Windrush was the first ship on 22nd June 1948 that arrived into Tilbury docks. It was just one of many that brought young people to the UK and the start of significant changes in the diversity, cultures and traditions of the country.
An opportunity for Active Citizenship
Beyond this, VE Day also provides us with opportunities to bring younger and older generations together and develop Active Citizenship. The VE generation often suffers from social isolation and losing the opportunity to take part a full part in the anniversary will inevitably be a blow for them. As a show of solidarity and active citizenship, teachers can encourage their students to use virtual technology or indeed good old pen and paper to reach out to this generation and make them feel valued during this particularly difficult time.
Teachers may wish to make contact with the Royal British Legion to see if they are aware of any veterans who would be willing to speak virtually or record memories of VE day to share with students. Using online platforms such as Teams or Zoom, students can prepare interview questions for residents of care homes to ask them about their memories of the day and create a lasting memory that could be shared more widely.
There is also the opportunity to create some real community on the 8th May while following social distancing advice by taking part in the VE day toast at 3pm. Bunting competitions for local children to decorate, a 1940’s sing along can be something to break the monotony of the current lockdown situation and may well be welcomed by many. If this can decrease social isolation and improve mental wellbeing, then this should be celebrated - especially if it brings generations together.
So in short should a Citizenship teacher be involved in VE Day? Yes, I think we should, and not just to wave flags but to show our values in action.
VE Day anniversary:
VE Day London (1945) - Churchill speech 7th May
https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/43793769 - CBBC Newsround WindRush
Resources from other organisations:
2.Eleanor Roosevelt and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, November 1949 © Wikimedia Commons
3. BBC Teach - (https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/did-ww2-change-life-for-women/zbktwty)