Back On The Front Line: The War Heroes Marking VE Day In Care Homes

To commemorate the anniversary, the early May bank holiday traditionally held on the first Monday of the month has been pushed back four days.  Those who faced isolation from their loved ones during wartime now face separation from their families all over again as the country gets to grips with its biggest national crisis in the years since. We should be proud and celebrate not only those who went to war, but those who lived through it at home as well.” One resident at Ashcroft Care Home who has emotional memories of the war and all that VE Day represents is 97-year-old Graham Willis.  Graham, from the village of Cressbrook in Derbyshire, is an RAF veteran who worked in signalling, calling planes in using Morse code. His abiding memory is having his life saved during the D-Day landings on Juno Beach in France.  His son Ron Willis, 68, told HuffPost UK: “My dad has vivid memories of scrambling along the beach while being shot at by Germans when this Canadian soldier suddenly grabbed him, dragged him out of the way and saved his life. He never saw the man who saved his life again.” After the war ended, Graham got married and had two children. Ron said: “After his wife died, my dad was still managing to live at home and I would go and see him regularly and take him out. “There is absolutely nothing I can do during this coronavirus outbreak except wait until it is safe to go to the care home.” Ron says VE Day is a very personal time for his dad as he would be thinking about the people and friends who died around him and remembering his near-death experience. Even though people can’t see each other, it should be bringing them closer together.” Kelly, who describes Graham as “a cheeky chappie”, told HuffPost UK he gets very tearful when recalling the moment he was shot at and had his life saved.  Care home staff recognise that, while VE Day is a time of celebration for residents, it can also unleash unpleasant memories. Across other Four Seasons Health Care care homes, VE Day celebrations include serving special wartime dishes on Union Jack plates, dressing up in vintage clothing, holding street parties at the home, and having a wartime singalong. At the time, she was newly married, expecting a baby and teaching at a primary school in west London. She remembers her headteacher saying the war was coming to an end and there was to be a public holiday.  Isobel decided the only place to be on such a day was outside Buckingham Palace and travelled there on the Underground with a friend. “I remember the King and the royal family of four did come out onto the balcony and they waved to the crowds below. “I shall never forget the roar as Winston Churchill joined them and you could feel the emotion, the gratitude of a nation for the way he kept morale high during the war.”  One of Isobel’s most treasured possessions is a newspaper from 2005 that shows an image of the royal family on the balcony on VE Day, on which she has penned the words: “I was in front of the palace and witnessed this scene on May 8th 1945 – Isobel Kirkwood.” For Isobel, VE Day represented joy and hope. “We would start family life together in Scotland and, until he was demobbed, I would teach in a normal classroom with no fear of air raids. Robert was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and in 1982 Isobel retired so she could drive him around for his job as a salesman. Isobel volunteered for more than 25 years for Erskine as she felt the charity cared deeply about her husband, who died in 2003. He was 11 when war broke out on September 3, 1939, and having lived through the bombing and trips to the air raid shelters he knew VE Day was a time for celebration six years later. Jim told HuffPost UK there were similarities with the war when it came to celebrating VE Day at a time when the country is back in national crisis. The staff have been very good and understanding.” For VE Day, each house within The Erskine Home will have a tea party. Chefs will provide a buffet style lunch for all residents and the party will continue into the afternoon with music and singing. “As residents from different houses cannot mix at present, VE Day will be different this year, but it is even more important both for residents and staff to enjoy a special afternoon of VE Day themed entertainment and food while respecting social distancing during in-house celebrations.” Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, told HuffPost UK it was imperative to mark the courage of veterans and those who lived through the wars on VE Day. “The bravery of the veterans in our services and those who lived through the wars shows through even today, with exceptional and notable feats being achieved by individuals of that era,” she said. Our generations and those to come owe an enormous debt of gratitude to them as they made it possible for us to live in a free world.” But, she added, the government has failed to provide sufficient measures to protect the vulnerable in care homes against coronavirus.