Welcome from Jo Duncan

VE Day Celebrations

Stories about the Second World War were a key feature of my childhood. My maternal grandmother lost her youngest brother on HMS Royal Oak when it was sunk by German U-boats in Scapa Flow, while my paternal great-grandmother was a German married to an English sea captain whose three sons were serving in the British Navy while her nephews fought in the German army.

Of course, Wycombe Abbey itself contributed to the war effort. Following its requisition on 15 April 1942, School served as the Headquarters for the United States VIII Bomber Command and then as the US Eighth Air Force Headquarters. The school had 17 days to vacate the site and pupils were dispersed to 40 schools across the UK. Only six former pupils returned to re-open the school on 9 May 1946. The war-time inhabitants presented a commemorative plaque to School inscribed with the words:

‘In these buildings were conceived, planned and directed the mighty air assaults on Germany which, with those of the Royal Air Force, paved the way for Allied Victory in Europe.’

I often wondered, when listening to the recollections of the older generation, what it must have been like to face a national crisis. Somewhat ironic then, to be thinking about the celebrations for the 75th anniversary of VE day today, Friday 8 May, during a global pandemic – perhaps the closest thing in my lifetime to the situation that my grandparents talked about.

I was listening to a recent podcast which was encouraging parents, like myself, to tell their children to be conscious of this current period as this will be a time that is written about in history books and a time that they, most likely, will be talking about in the future to their own children and grandchildren.

For me, the past few weeks have seen an interesting juxtaposition: on the one hand, there has been pressing need to upskill in terms of technology as we have been getting to grips with a whole range of new platforms and, on the other hand, a slowing down. A lot more meals have been taken at the table with family during this period. I have recorded recent events in my journal, but it will be only when we have come through this situation that we will truly be able to reflect on the impact it has had. The value of recording our lived experiences will show in years to come and I would encourage the girls to note down their own reflections on lockdown.

Friday 8 May is part of our Short Leave weekend at Wycombe Abbey, but we have marked the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day with a dedicated video, available for all to view and reflect upon. I’d like to invite you to watch this here.

At this time when we are celebrating those who are working to fight Coronavirus Covid-19, we are also remembering and celebrating heroes from past decades who gave their lives for our freedom. The war was won at a great cost to so many and it truly changed our world. In the same way, on the other side of Coronavirus, the world will indeed have changed once more, and while we are working hard to prepare our girls for the challenges that lie ahead, we are optimistic that they will rise to the challenge with grace and fortitude.