If words have their moment in history, the ‘woke’ word of May 2020 must be ‘Hero.’ The NHS and care homes are full of heroes selflessly endangering themselves for us. With ‘woke’ becoming the new word for ‘being aware’ of current issues, especially discrimination, I have to acknowledge one: the injustice of NHS workers from overseas being charged for treatment on getting sick (soon as much as £625). Yet many have now paid with their lives. Listening to friends and family at the frontline, I know it is taking all the courage and the strength of any mythical hero to battle daily against the odds and fight the microscopic enemy that is covid-19.
On May 7th, with the 70th anniversary of VE Day 1945, we also remembered heroes who fought against human enemies in WW2. The soldiers’ traumas were the most visible ones in old newsreels. Most of those shown were in monochrome, although the full colour live footage of more recent conflicts continues to offer a sobering reminder of the price of freedom. Individual acts of bravery undoubtedly become the most newsworthy, but there were many in WW2 who repeatedly endangered themselves for the common good but went largely unsung and unnoticed. Merchant marine ships kept us supplied with food and weapons throughout six years of war. To my surprise, today I discovered the word ‘hero’ is used in the US for submarine. Apt. Like subs, many WW2 heroes remained out of sight for years, remaining to this day victims of the deep, their ships being sunk with immense loss of life in the Atlantic and Arctic. Merchant navy sailors were unable to receive battle honours as they were not service personnel. Some, like my father, however, did received MBEs and Lloyds War Medals, and there is one little known Merchant Navy memorial at Tower Hill in London. Sadly, the impending inauguration of an Arctic Convoy memorial at Loch Ewe (where the Murmansk convoys assembled) has been postponed due to our current Covid war.
Both NHS and war heroes all showed exceptional courage and strength battling for our health and freedom, but like everyone, I’ve become increasingly aware of many other folk who provide us with vital services. Like merchant seamen, they quietly toil away for low wages, unsung and unappreciated. They may not be facing bombs and torpedoes, but they are out there where the bug is, keeping us supplied with essentials like food and medicines. In normal times, we thoughtlessly fill our trolleys, never thinking of the freezing fisherman, the toiling farmer, the tired fruit picker, the conveyor belt packer, the warehouseman, the driver, the shelf stacker, the till assistant… Then we need energy, water, and internet maintenance – and bins emptied. We need carers for our nursing homes but pay them a pittance and put social services well down priority lists. We need entertainment and nice places to meet our friends for coffee or meals or a drink. (Under vital services I’d also prioritise hairdressers and flower shops- so important for morale!) But how often do we say thank you and mean it? Not enough, I fear.
So I’ll happily salute the obvious, unmistakable heroes along with the high achieving stalwarts like Captain Tom, but just as we need medics to save our lives, we also need the other workers who are saviours of our way of life. It’s like the Billy Connolly song- ‘If it wisnae fur yer wellies…’ Not that I’m implying only those in wellies are workers, but it serves as an example- if it weren’t for these workers ‘where would we be?’ And as Billy’s last verse says:
‘…This country would grind to a halt
And not a thing would grow
If it was nae for the workers and their wellies!