An American’s Perspective On British Remembrance

Our three days in London touring sites related to World War II has been a powerful experience for me and has led to a lot of introspection. Our visits to the Churchill War Rooms, the Imperial War Museum, the Bomber Command Memorial, and Bletchley Park have been nothing short of amazing. I have been consistently thankful to be a part of such a trip with my fellow students and friends.

Each site we have visited was filled with artifacts and mementos of the war, captured war trophies, memorials to those who paid the ultimate price in the line of duty, and even some displays dedicated to the homefront such as warning posters about blackout regulations and issued sugar and meat ration booklets. Yet what has struck me and stayed with me long after I have left the museums and gone about my day, sightseeing and enjoying some fish and chips, is the constant mention of the sacrifices that the nation had to make, and the declarations that although times were bleak, the British Empire would pull upon interconnected threads of togetherness. While touring the Imperial War Museum this came across. I repeatedly read the refrain that Britain would never stand alone–that even when France fell, Britain could lean on the bonds of the Empire to stand firm against the tyranny that had been unleashed upon Europe.

While touring, I had expected to read tales of dashing heroes committing acts of bravery in the war, to see the war remembered as their ultimate triumph and not to see mention of hardship. I had expected to read bragging and bombastic reports of how the British had struck back at Hitler and the Nazis with extreme force, of how victory was never in doubt no matter the odds. I had expected more bravado, something more in line with what I have seen in some museums in America. Sure, the British museums did display plaques mentioning extraordinary wartime deeds done by great men and women, but always the focus came back to the strength of the people and their collective efforts. This sense of humility and modesty came across clearly in most of the displays I saw, and this impact has changed my perception of how war and victories can be commemorated.

This wave of feeling coursed strongly through my tours of all the museums, but came across most clearly while touring Bletchley Park, where some nearly 9,000 British people (and several hundred Americans) gathered for the single purpose of breaking the German and Japanese codes so that Allied intelligence officers could read their secret communications. The museum clearly depicts how these people solved the incredibly complicated mathematical puzzles needed to decipher the German Enigma code. By reading and listening to the personal recollections of those involved in monumental effort, I came to appreciate the complexity and importance of their work. I came to admire the remarkable accomplishments of the math genius Alan Turing, but also the heroic contributions of the everyday men and women who had served under this mission and did so without praise or laurels.

Ultimately, I will leave London with a greater appreciation for the efforts of not just the soldiers, sailors, and other active-duty service members, but with a deeper respect for and appreciation of those on the home front, those in the un-sung and un-praised roles.  While the stories of brave heroes and charismatic leaders are fun to read, the contributions of those behind the scenes drove the ultimate victory over Hitler and the Nazis.

One thought on “An American’s Perspective On British Remembrance

  1. Very thoughtful inside and very well written. This is what history and its teachings are all about!

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