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Brandon Lewis

NI's vital role in Second World War cannot be underestimated

Brandon Lewis


A VE Day street party in Medway Street in 1945

A VE Day street party in Medway Street in 1945

A VE Day street party in Medway Street in 1945

Today, the United Kingdom and all of its constituent parts, including Northern Ireland, will fall silent as we as a nation come together to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Second World War generation, here in Northern Ireland and across the UK, who served in combat and on the home front.

It was a truly extraordinary period in our history and we will reflect and remember today, three-quarters of a century later, in a distinctly different manner to how we otherwise envisaged.

Whilst there will be a national moment of remembrance, there will be no public gatherings, street parties or parades; rather we will mark VE 75 in our homes, virtually and on our doorsteps, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

However, it is important that we come together to mark this historic occasion in our own extraordinary modern-day circumstances.

Indeed, the freedoms we enjoy today, and until very recently took for granted, are because of the heroic actions of those who sacrificed so much on our behalf

This week, I have had the great pleasure of speaking with a number of Northern Ireland veterans about their personal experiences of serving on the front line and at home.

It was immensely humbling to hear their wartime stories, and also gratifying to personally thank them for their bravery and selflessness.

Among them was 96-year-old Ada, who as a teenager joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) starting as a shorthand typist, before moving onto Supply and Transport where she was responsible for dispatch riders and transport.

She said of her service that she felt like she was doing something worthwhile to help the war effort and that it was important work.

As the eldest of four children she spent VE Day caring for her mother and, sadly, paying tribute to her boyfriend who was killed in action on D-Day. Ada was a normal person doing remarkable things like thousands of others from Northern Ireland at that time, both at home and on the front line.

Indeed, the role of the Province at a seminal period in European and world history cannot be underestimated.

Whether it was as a military base for Allied Forces in preparation for the Normandy landings or helping to avert disaster during the Battle of the Atlantic; Northern Ireland's contribution to the war effort was vital.

Yet it also suffered. Belfast was hit by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz, with approximately 1,000 people killed and 100,000 left homeless, because of its shipyard and central role as an engine of wartime production.

A number of our highest ranking service personnel had Ulster connections, including some of Britain's greatest generals like Sir John Dill, and Field Marshal Alan Brooke, both Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the war.

They along with an estimated 38,000 people who volunteered locally, from across all communities, played their part in defeating fascism, restoring liberty for generations to come.

We also rightly recognise those from the Republic of Ireland who volunteered for the British Armed Forces.

A significant number lost their lives on the battlefields and we will never forget their immeasurable contribution to ultimately achieving the landmark we commemorate today.

In these difficult times, acts of remembrance are even more poignant and I am sure that you will want to join me to remember, and give thanks to those from Northern Ireland and further afield, who gave so much to secure peace, freedom and prosperity in Europe.

We thank them all for their service and sacrifice.

Brandon Lewis CBE is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph