County’s VE Day events will bring together young and old

This story was published 19 February 2020

A series of activities and events will bring generations together in North Yorkshire as they remember VE Day and consider lessons for the future as the county marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

Cllr Jim Clark with Auschwitz survivor Arek Hersh

North Yorkshire County Council chairman Cllr Jim Clark is driving the celebrations as a central part of his year in office.

The VE Day anniversary will be celebrated on 8 May, but before that, at Cllr Clark’s request, the county council’s music service has organised a celebratory concert involving more than 400 children from schools across the county at Harrogate Convention Centre on 30 March.

The concert will include music from the County Youth Choir, County Youth Symphony Orchestra, County Youth Big Band and the Army Band, Catterick. There will be readings and drama, and Cllr Clark is inviting two special guests: Arek Hersh, a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp, and Sheila Pantin, who was involved in the British liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April, 1945.

Cllr Clark said: “I think it will be a great experience for the young people to be in the presence of a survivor of Auschwitz and someone who was involved in helping people after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.

“This might be the last opportunity for us to have a major celebration with people who were alive at the end of the Second World War.”

Cllr Clark is also taking a fresh approach to creating a video archive of reminiscences of those who lived through the war. He is supporting Harrogate High School with funding from his locality grant to enable students to have the experience of conducting, recording and editing video interviews, beginning with Arek and Sheila. Extracts from their interviews will be screened at the concert.

“I am very much looking forward,” said Cllr Clark. “I want to concentrate on young people. These interviews will be the first of what I hope will be many produced by schools throughout North Yorkshire.

“There have been many interviews with survivors of the war, but what will make these unique is that it will be young people interviewing the older survivors. It will give older people an opportunity to tell the young what it was like to be young at that time. I hope the children will ask questions that other interviewers might not think of.

“The success of what we are doing will be seen in 80 years’ time when the young interviewers are the age of the people they are interviewing and they can say to their grandchildren that they spoke to someone who was in the Second World War.”

Cllr Clark hopes that as well as celebrating and giving thanks, the anniversary will be a time for people to look forward to a peaceful future.

“It is not just about celebrating something that happened 75 years ago,” he says. “The theme for Holocaust Day this year was Stand Together, and I think this fits well with what we want to do around VE Day. I would ask people to stand together in remembrance and thanksgiving, particularly for the many innocent children who died on both sides during the war.

“We can also stand together to fight hate crime and prejudice in all its forms and, thirdly, to build stronger communities. Before the war, a tactic of the Nazis was to divide communities.

“I want towns, villages and districts across North Yorkshire to create their own events during VE Day weekend to remember in their own way.”

Events will include a special service at Ripon Cathedral on Friday, 8 May, which will be attended by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, in one of his last public events before he retires in June.

The county council’s service pupils’ champions will host two large children’s street parties on Thursday, 7 May. One will be for schools in the Ripon area and the other for those in the Catterick area. Armed forces veterans and serving personnel are expected to be involved.

Later in May, events showcasing memories of VE Day will take place in several libraries, including Scarborough, Selby and Skipton. These will invite older residents to join young people to share their experiences of the war. There will be material from the archives of the County Record Office.

Cllr Clark has also used his locality grant to commission a play that will tell a fictional account of what could have happened in Harrogate during the war had plans to move the government to the town been enacted. The play is being written by Keith Burton, of Pateley Bridge, current holder of the Geoffrey Whitworth Trophy for best original play at the All-England One-act Play Festival, which he won in Harrogate last year. He will be supported by Harrogate historian Malcolm Neesam. The play will be performed early next year by Harrogate Dramatic Society, which is also celebrating its  75th anniversary.