Remembering the Pride and Joy of Victory in Europe
It is hard to recall the strange euphoria that swept over us when we knew the war was really and truly over. Thankfulness. Gratitude even. Relief. Deliverance. Joy and wonder.
In my case, for some hours my euphoria was overshadowed by a thin cloud of anxiety. I was in command of a torpedo boat based at Ostende, Belgium, and I was ordered to sea that night, along with the commanding officer of another boat, in case the Nazis tried some final trick, as the Germans had done when World War I ended.
Only three months before, an earlier boat that I'd commanded had been sunk off Ostende. And now while we kept watch in the North Sea, our radars showed six ships the size of cruisers coming toward us. We put our euphoria aside, our torpedoes at the ready, and set off to intercept.
When we reached the echoes, there was nothing there! It was some idiosyncrasy in the radar waves. They were bouncing off the stratosphere or something. We could hardly believe it, but when we knew that was true we breathed again.
When dawn came, we sailed back to port with joy increased.
And Joy is my wife's name. For all those war years, she and our lovely young daughter, Virginia, had been living under bombs, rationing, and relative poverty with only rare glimpses of me. Now, before long, I would be going home to them.
Home! How wonderful! None of us had known a real home, a family home, for five years except for the few days now and again when I had been given home leave.
Now, danger was over. Home beckoned. The relief, the pleasure, the delight are beyond description.
Usually, when we returned to port, after refueling, we would enjoy a brief nap, having been up all night at sea. Now there was no chance of that. Ostende had gone wild. People were literally dancing in the streets. And a town official had come aboard and asked us all to attend a special ballroom dinner and dance to be held that night in the Circle Club.
There were not sufficient dance partners for us, I recall, and we staggered the Ostendoises by organizing a game of Rugby football but without a ball. Just pretend. Just silly exuberance. Just fun, of which we had experienced so little for so many years.
As for the people of Ostende, their reaction had a slightly different quality. For them, it was not only a release from great danger but also like a release from prison.
But of course there was more to it than that for us. There was an enormous surge of pride. We -- all of us -- had done it! We had released Europe, and possibly half the world, from one of the nastiest, most racist dictatorships for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
It was then that I recalled another strange moment. My elder brother, a wing-commander in the Royal Air Force, had been shot down over Sicily. At almost the same time, one dark night in the middle of the North Sea, I had seen a tiny flashing light.
I stopped, put down a scrambling net for a lone fighter pilot in a rubber dinghy, and was astounded when he called my name. He was one of my brother's great friends!
A life sacrificed; a life saved. That's war, except that while millions sacrificed their lives literally countless millions were saved.