Victory In Europe – 75 Years On

This evening, 75 years ago, George VI spoke to the nation, after Churchill had announced victory in Europe. Within the King’s speech were the following words:

Let us remember those who will not come back, their constancy and courage in battle, their sacrifice and endurance in the face of a merciless enemy: let us remember the men in all the services and the women in all the services who have laid down their lives.

The poignancy of these words, and their relevance to the current Coronavirus pandemic is noteworthy. Clearly the parallels were not lost on the UK Prime Minister, who at his second Press Briefing on 16 Match 2020, said:

We must act like any wartime government and do whatever it takes to support our economy. That’s the main purpose of this press conference this afternoon.

Yes this enemy can be deadly, but it is also beatable – and we know how to beat it and we know that if as a country we follow the scientific advice that is now being given we know that we will beat it. And however tough the months ahead we have the resolve and the resources to win the fight.

Johnson’s words, like the King’s, were carefully selected. The difference was that King George knew that the war was nearly over. For Johnson, the ‘war’ was only just beginning.

On 16 March 2020, there had only been about 1,200 cases and only 43 deaths from Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK.

8 weeks later there have been more than 30,000 deaths.

In World War II, almost 450,000 servicemen and civilians died. But over a six year period.

Clearly there are parallels. But many are too difficult to draw.

The current ‘enemy’ is invisible. No guns. No bullets. No bombs. But for some, just as deadly. In fact, left unchecked, this form of virological warfare (the majority of the great and the good don’t currently believe that it is biological warfare – even accidentally) is far more deadly, because it grows exponentially.

Theoretically, if the first person in the UK had been infected on 1 January, and the number of people infected had doubled every 3 days, by the time Boris spoke to the nation on 16 March, the whole of the UK would have been infected from 1 to 67 million cases in 10 weeks. Not everyone infected would have died – because, believe it or not, for the majority of the population it is not that deadly – BUT about half a million would have done. Half a million deaths, within 6 months. Compared to circa half a million 2nd World War deaths in 6 years!

So as Britons attempted a modicum of VE Day celebrations with varying degrees of self-isolation, conversations with neighbours included both the desire for the lockdown to end, AND the fear that it would!

Similarly, as the street partying population tried to adapt to the ‘new normal’, the government finalised plans to communicate with them two days later.

Boris Johnson, needs now, more than ever to strike the right tone. Whilst a significant minority of the population (approx. 15%) appear to want to get back to the old normal, and have already started to act accordingly, the majority have genuine fears that by doing so we will risk a second surge in deaths.

Johnson, wants to signal that the end is in sight, as he needs businesses to start planning for a return to work. But furloughed workers aren’t allowed to do any work – even planning! He also knows that as soon as he signals that the end is in sight – even with an indicative date of 1 June – many people (the 15%) will adopt a “Why wait?” attitude.

Also, any relaxation from lockdown, reduces the ability to police, or enforce measures.

So, whatever the message given, up to 10 million people in the UK will start travelling more and will feel less restricted than before. If they are not infected with COVID-19, this will not be an issue. IF. BIG IF!

Johnson, may choose to echo some of King George’s words. The words wouldn’t need too much amendment.

Let us resolve to bring to the tasks which lie ahead the same high confidence in our mission [to fight the virus]. Much hard work awaits us, both in the restoration of our own country after the ravages of [the] war [against the virus] and in helping to restore peace [health] and sanity to a shattered world. This comes upon us at a time when we have all given of our best. For five long [months] (rather than the years in King George’s speech) and more, heart and brain, nerve and muscle have been directed upon the overthrow of the Coronavirus…Now we turn, fortified by success, to deal with our last remaining foe…together we shall all face the future with stern resolve and prove that our reserves of will-power and vitality are inexhaustible.

Whatever the words, the reality is that as the lockdown is relaxed, we are in effect starting again. We know more – although not enough – about COVID-19. Now, we will be able to ‘Test, Track and Trace’ those with the virus, whereas before we couldn’t. Now, we know that we have capacity within our hospitals, and enough ventilators if we need them, which we previously didn’t. Now, we have a significant majority of people who are so concerned and cautious that they will continue social distancing, even if they don’t need to, whereas initially they didn’t understand the need.

The unspoken reality is that the majority of the COVID-19 infections are most probably now associated with Care Homes. Sadly, deaths in these settings will continue, because they are generally the frailest in society. Deaths have always happened there…because they are generally the frailest in society.

As the rest of society slowly gets back to normal, let’s hope we don’t forget those that get left behind.



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Paul Helsby HR

Paul Helsby HR


HR Consultant @ PR-HR Solutions Ltd. Writing to share experiences — good and bad — gained from 25+ years in HR.