Britain’s Greatest Generation – BBC 2

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Word PressThis four-part documentary series, made to mark the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, tells of the lives of some of the last survivors of “Britain’s Greatest Generation” – the generation who grew up in the shadow of the First World War, lived through the Depression, saved the nation – and the world – during the Second World War and have lived through all the changes that have happened since then.

Those interviewed come from a wide range of socio-economic, regional, ethnic and religious backgrounds.  They’re all in their 90s or over 100 now, and two of them have passed away since the programme was filmed.  The first episode was fascinating, but the second, about the experiences of these amazing people during the Second World War, was the crux of the series.  I’m not quite sure why, but, when I was a kid, talking about the Second World War was treated as something rather comical.  Think ‘Allo ‘Allo, Uncle Albert in Only Fools and Horses, Percy Sugden in Coronation Street, and the legendary “Don’t mention the War” episode of Fawlty Towers.  Maybe it was a way of coping.  Now, with the number of people who lived through the war dwindling, we treat their memories with the awe and respect that they deserve and, as the narrator pointed out, the evacuation from Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain have become part of our national folklore.

What these people, just ordinary young men and women who’d been living ordinary lives, went through … the Battle of Britain fighter pilot, the sailors who were stranded at sea for days after their ships were torpedoed, the young girl who was buried alive for five hours after the house she was in was hit during the Blitz, the soldiers who were evacuated from Dunkirk and the woman who was there to meet them as they arrived back in Britain, the young bride who was evacuated from bomb-hit London and gave birth to her first child without knowing whether or not her husband was still alive (thankfully he survived, and they lived a long and happy life together), the grammar school girl who excelled at mathematics and worked in planning ship movements … servicemen seeing friends killed before their eyes, those at home never knowing if their loved ones were coming back to them or not … and they coped with all of it, because they had to.

What a huge debt we owe these people, ordinary people whose lives became extraordinary.  Many of them have only recently been able to talk about their wartime experiences.  Many more died before they ever really were.  If you’ve still got loved ones of “Britain’s Greatest Generation”, appreciate them whilst they’re here.

It’s just been announced that the Queen and Prince Philip, themselves both of the “Greatest Generation”, Prince Philip a wartime naval hero, are to visit Bergen-Belsen during a state visit to Germany next month.  That’ll draw everyone’s attention to what happened during the Second World War, and to what “Britain’s Greatest Generation” helped to save this country from.  A very moving and inspiring series.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Britain’s Greatest Generation – BBC 2

  1. Sharon Lang

    Sorry, but this needs to be asked why are you calling this series “Britain’s Greatest Generation”?
    Is it to attract viewers who would be interested in this subject area and because of WW1 media coverage over last year and as a whole feel you need to give a title of ‘catchy’ and specialist interest to what is already an overworked market or is it because you really have no idea how crass it sounds.

    I have watched some of the series and I know how amazing the generation born from around the latter part of the first world war, and who experienced the second world war, were. My father was a Japanese prisoner of world, worked on the Burma Railway, survived do I need to say more? Mum was invovled in a different way at home but still experienced everything people did during this war. I have utmost respect for this generation. My husband’s mother was a widow with a young child after her first husband, a naval pilot, was bought down in the channel off Scotland in action. My husband’s father was also involved in the marines, and a Japanese prisoner of war who worked on the Burma Railway.

    But and this is a big but…. My paternal grandfather fought in Gallipoli, survived went on through other campaigns and died some few days after Armstice in November 1918 from being gassed. My paternal grandmother, bought up those kids who survived infancy from this time, managed to carry on alone during this war, married again afterwards, had more children, went through the second world war and from what I know at least suffered from the fact my father was missing during most of the second world war until she had the information he was alive and had been a Japanese prisoner of war. My husband’s paternal grandfather died in Gibralter, during WW1 from disease contracted while stationed there. People of this generation survived because they had too as well as the generation after them, no ifs or buts, they got on with life.

    I am not reiterating just family history here but saying that those generations you are conveniently dismissing from the title ‘Britain’s Greatest Generation” do not deserve to be so blatantly excluded from your ‘field’ or catchment so that from a title of ‘specific interest’ that you can get better ratings.

    Perhaps next time you might consider all angles before you name a series.

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  2. Hey, BBC 2 chose the title, not me! I take all your points – four members of my family were killed in the First World War – but I’m just a viewer: I don’t have any connection with the BBC.

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