Coronavirus and war by Ian Parsons

At the beginning of May, the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK had passed the total killed during the Blitz, whilst the number of people killed by Covid-19 inside the US had exceeded American military deaths in the Vietnam War.

The metaphors used by journalists are often military, with health workers on the front line battling the invisible enemy. Commentators, looking for parallels, regularly liken the virus to fighting a war.

I wondered what veterans who lived and fought during WWII thought of this comparison.

Harry Rawlins with Anne Parsons

As a Rifleman and Section Commander, Harry Rawlins took part in a number of patrols during the liberation of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Harry is cautious about making comparisons with the war.

"There were similarities at the beginning of the crisis. Fear and uncertainty of what we were facing. The artificial shortages caused by panic buying, which resulted in certain items being 'rationed' by shops and supermarkets, reminded me of the times we had to queue for our essential supplies.

"In the 1940s, the spirit was good. Today there is some of that spirit, but people seem more inclined to criticise and find fault when many are doing their best. However, there is a lot of goodwill for the NHS which is fully deserved.

"But then is not now. Today, many offices in cities stand empty, but during the war, countless buildings were destroyed by bombs. It took years to rebuild our country whereas today, or rather tomorrow, many of these empty commercial buildings might be turned into residential accommodation.

"For a time, the pandemic seemed to have shut down just about everything. That was never the case during the war. Whilst the virus has been a disaster, I don’t think it bears any comparison to war."

Marie Scott

Marie Scott, who worked as a switchboard operator in Fort Southwick relaying messages to the commanders on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, has her doubts.

"I'm afraid nothing could replicate these totally abnormal times, but I suppose the countless months in 'lockdown', deep in the tunnels of Fort Southwick have a similarity. But as soon as we descended, we were in close proximity with our colleagues. So yes, a sort of underground lockdown but there the similarity ends because we weren’t isolated.


"In this battle, we are all fighting on the same side and for that reason I’m hopeful when victory comes, as in time it surely will, there will be a dramatic re-assessment of our society to see what lessons may be learned, and we will re-adjust our priorities and concentrate on creating a fairer society, just as we did after the Second World War. It is also my hope there will also be a greater recognition of the massive damage we are inflicting on our planet."

Listening to the words of Harry and Marie helped provide a sense of scale and reminded me of the importance of patience.


Ian Parsons

Chairman

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For Military Veterans

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