Observations of an Ancient

I draw parallels between the experiences of WWII and the COVID-19 pandemic.
United Kingdom, Northern Europe

Story by Alice McLure. Edited by Melaina Dyck
Published on May 26, 2021. Reading time: 4 minutes

This story is also available in de it

Lockdown, self-isolating, social distancing—the lexicon has grown and these somewhat awkward terms have become as familiar as fish and chips.  Now in my 80s, I find myself pondering the apparent enormity of this threat whilst wondering if I have indeed ever seen anything like it.

Immediately WWII comes to mind – I was 7 years old when the war ended, so I am hardly an authority on the horrors of that time, yet I sense that the exigencies of war differ from those of today. Then, millions of men and women fought and died for their countries. I find the selflessness of that difficult to contemplate in today’s world.

At home in the UK, amidst food and clothing rationing, village halls and churches were given over to house men in training whilst women took on the jobs of men and those who worked in munitions factories did so at great peril. When war was over, the world of work had changed irrevocably.

Blackout was mandatory and was policed by Wardens. The merest chink of light brought a knock at the door and the Wardens did not leave until it was fixed. I recall no resentment towards them—I do recall them having a cup of tea in passing and was told that I usually managed to wake up and treat them to a rendition of the hymn “We Plough the Fields and Scatter!”

Of course, over those years there was trouble and bad behaviour, but there was also something that might be termed “solidarity” across the nation. Certainly, few were in doubt as to why they were suffering.

I find myself drawing parallels between the experiences of WWII and COVID-19, this pandemic, which has taken so many lives and is likely to have caused uncertainty for some time to come. 

During the war, people broadly welcomed the increased involvement of government in their lives. Now, whether through ignorance or self-conceit, some choose to flout government rules of safety and decency. Whilst war time rationing helped to change attitudes because everyone was restricted to buying a certain amount of goods, today we have the toilet roll drama. Then, it was recognised that all were equally at risk, but today cohorts of people appear to see themselves as beyond danger, giving no thought to their danger to others.

But still, today, we see communities come together—one of our neighbours popped a note through our letterbox offering to help in any way. We turned out weekly to clap for our National Health Service, which grew out of WWII experiences. We try to exercise and stay healthy. We help where we can and are grateful for help given.

But what about my dearly beloved husband’s Alzheimer’s? The daily and oft repeated explanation to him of what this is all about becomes ever more onerous and watching his condition progress as these strange days pass is painful beyond words.

Then, almost as an answer to our prayers, Zoom came into our lives. Bi-weekly chats with our family, weekly reunion with overseas girls, weekly book club catch-up…we need never go anywhere again!

From 7 to 82 years old, I have seen the effects of two major world events.  Am I optimistic about the future? Perhaps a little.

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Alice McLure

Alice McLure

This is a tale of a long life and a multitude of opportunities. I studied Chemistry and Biochemistry at Glasgow University in the 1950’s, worked in hospital biochemistry in Scotland and Canada, and as a biochemist at UCLA until my son was born in 1964. I worked in Nigeria on a WHO-funded project and, two more sons later, I completed an M.Sc. in Information Science at the University of Sheffield where I then worked for seven years.  Then, by fate, I came upon F International, a computer systems and software company whose ethos was to keep women in the workplace during their child bearing years, where I worked until 1985 as a Manager and consultant. In 1987, I joined the Civil Service where I remained until I retired, developing prototypes for online learning, then as a member of the Occupational Standards Branch, and finally a frequent visitor in Brussels implementing the UK Second Diplomas Directive.

Topic: Coronavirus

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