by Daphne Liddle
SEVERAL hundred people gathered at the Soviet war memorial in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in south London to mark the anniversary of the Red Army’s Victory Day on 9th May 1945.
Last Saturday was also the 10th anniversary of the memorial in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum.
The mayor of Southwark, Councillor Eliza Mann welcomed the biggest attendance ever at this annual event, organised by the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund (SMTF) included for the first time three Soviet Navy veterans from Archangel, who had worked alongside the veterans from the Arctic Convoy Club – regular participants at this event.
There was also a very large contingent from the Russian Embassy School in London, showing that the younger generation is very much aware of the sacrifice made by the Soviet armed forces in delivering the world from the threat of Nazi domination.
The usual representatives from the embassies of former Soviet republics were there in force, along with veterans’ organisations like the Arctic Convoy Club, the British Legion, the International Brigade Association, local MP Simon Hughes, Robert Wareing MP from the All-Party British-Russian Parliamentary Group, trade union representatives, and political and cultural groups like the New Communist Party, the British Vietnam Association and the Marx Memorial Library.
Russian Ambassador Yuri Fedotov paid tribute to the work of the SMTF in raising and maintaining the memorial. “We should be building memorials to keep the memory alive for coming generations. Not tearing them down as they are doing in some places,” he said.
After the formal wreath laying, which left the large inscribed stone in front of the memorial completely carpeted with flowers, Polina Baranova, a pupil at the Russian Embassy School sang a haunting Russian folk song, Zhuvrali or the Cranes.
The song dates from the Great Patriotic War and relates the legend that dead soldiers are returning as white cranes. Polina sang unaccompanied with a beautiful voice and a delivery that would be expected of a much older, professional singer. She is only 12-years-old.
Then followed the Last Post and the exhortation “We will remember them”, delivered by a British Legion Veteran and the two minutes’ silence.
These veterans, carrying their banners, marched off to the “stand down” just outside the refreshment tent, where the Russian Ambassador invited everyone to join him in a toast to victory.