River Wissey Lovell Fuller


November 2004

Ron reminds us of the terrible losses incurred in the Second World War

Once again we are approaching that time in the year when we stop to remember those who lost their lives in recent wars. Of course we will remember those who lost their lives in the most recent conflicts but attention is naturally focussed still on the two great wars of the twentieth century. It seems as though mankind is doomed always to be at war, there is always conflict somewhere in the world and always the threat of conflict. There is usually a good reason for the conflict in the minds of the combatants but it is a tragedy that the causes cannot be settled by some international court without anyone resorting to arms. The League of Nations was a step towards this but it foundered, then the United Nations was the great hope of the second half of the twentieth century, but that never achieved the role of the world's police force and that too is falling by the wayside as the world's strongest military power is failing to accept that it should abide by the views of the majority. It is ironic that the two nations that speak most strongly in support of democracy, the UK and the US, are least ready to accept a democratic vote within the UN. It is very disappointing and, to some extent, a betrayal of those who fought and died in the Second World War who believed they were fighting for a better world.

However much we despise wars it cannot be denied that some wars are just and without doubt the Second World War was one such. As a nation we can be proud that it was us who stood up to Germany's massive war machine and attempted to halt their ambition to rule over Europe and Russia. We declared war, when we ourselves were not directly threatened and, as a consequence, we came close to being overrun ourselves. It was only the bravery and self sacrifices of those we are remembering this month that saved us and a large part of the world from domination by the jackbooted ruthless Nazis. The USA, whilst helping with materials, would not engage in the fight until they themselves were attacked and Germany declared war on them.

It is difficult for us now to appreciate how brave those people who defended us were. Try to imagine the fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain going up time after time, seeing their comrades shot down in flames and knowing that the odds were that that would be their fate. Imagine trying to hold a steady course with your bomber whilst being attacked by anti-aircraft shells or night fighters and, once again, seeing other planes from your squadron plummeting to the ground, or think of the tank crews being fired at by anti tank weapons whilst stuck in their claustrophobic steel cans. Imagine being engaged in a naval battle on convoy duty on the run to Mermansk when the sea temperature was so low that, should you finish up in it, you would not survive more than a few minutes, consider the bravery of the merchant seamen sailing on a tanker loaded with aviation petrol with no means of defending themselves, or the infantry man required to attack a machine gun emplacement, the list is endless. Perhaps among the bravest were those largely unsung heroes, men and women, who were dropped on parachutes into enemy territory to act as spies and saboteurs. Their lives were lived in a near constant state of tension and they knew that if they were caught they were liable to be tortured before they were killed.

It is time to remember our men and women who lost their lives and the debt we owe them. It is not just ourselves that owe them a debt; they laid down their lives in order to help free Western Europe, Burma, China and S E Asia. The freedom, independence and prosperity that France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Greece, the Balkan countries, all of North Africa and others, all enjoy today is in no small measure a result of their sacrifice. It is also time to reflect, perhaps, on how badly we repaid them by the way in which we, as a nation, failed to take adequate care of the families they left behind.

Severe though our losses were there were many other countries that suffered far worse than we did. Russia felt the full force of Nazi evil and similarly China suffered terribly inhuman behaviour by the Japanese, we should remember them also, without their suffering our situation and our losses would have been much worse. The German civilian population might be in our thoughts also, many of them were innocent of any crime, some were brave enough to try to oppose the Nazi regime, but they all suffered terribly in the end, they suffered massive bombing raids and they suffered the wrath of the Russians who took their revenge by rape and pillage. It was a global conflict on a scale that many people today fail to grasp. Perhaps the figures below showing the number of military and civilians killed will help to illustrate the extent and the full horror of that war:

Country Military Civilian Country Military Civilian Country Military Civilian

Australia 34,000 < 100 Belgium 10,000 90,000 Brazil 1,000 0

Britain 420,000 70,000 Bulgaria 19,000 Many Canada 43,000 0

China 1.5 M 20 M Czech 7,000 310,000 Denmark 4,000 3,000

Finland 79,000 11,000 France 245,000 173,000 Germany 3.5 M 2 M

Greece 17,000 391,000 Hungary 147,000 280,000 India 48,000 0

Italy 380,000 180,000 Japan 2.6 M 953,000 Netherlands 14,000 242,000

N Zealand 12,000 0 Norway 5,000 8,000 Poland 600,000 6 M

Romania 73,000 465,000 S Africa 9,000 0 USA 292,000 0

USSR 13.6 M 7.7 M Yugoslavia 305,000 1.4 M TOTAL LIVES LOST 64 M

Key M - Millions

Noteworthy figures in this table are:

Russia and China each lost over 21,000,000 people, China's civilian losses put at 20,000,000;

Polish civilian losses at 6,000,000, almost as high as Russia's;

Yugoslavia's surprisingly high losses.

The scale of German losses

French civilian losses at two and a half times that of the British.

It is difficult to understand the enormity of these figures, we must try, however, and we must not forget.

Ron Watts

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