by Caroline Colebrook
SOME OF the joy and exuberance of the Soviet peoples at the defeat of Nazism 65 years ago resurfaced as spontaneous singing and dancing last week in a south London park, after a solemn ceremony to remember the millions of Soviet citizens who gave their lives to save their Soviet Motherland and the rest of the world from the horrors of Nazism.
Hundreds of people had gathered in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum for the annual ceremony at London’s memorial to the fallen Soviet fighters to mark the day the Nazis surrendered and peace broke out in Europe.
The event was attended by war veterans from Britain and the former Soviet Union including members of the Arctic Convoy Club, in their familiar white berets who are regulars at these events, members of the British Legion, who made up the colour party and representatives from almost all the embassies of the former Soviet republics.
There were also representatives of a wide spectrum of progressive parties and organisations, including the New Communist Party, the Communist Party of Britain, the International Brigade Association and Marx House – all regulars at these events.
And there were individuals like a survivor of the Holocaust who had been a child slave of the Nazis until liberated by the Red Army and representatives of the expanding Russian community in London, including many young students from the Russian embassy school.
The ceremony began with a welcoming speech from the mayor of Southwark and the Soviet Memorial Trust fund who organised the event.
There were also speeches from local MP Simon Hughes and the Russian ambassador, Yuri Fedotov.
Then there was the wreath-laying with so many laying flowers – including New Communist Party general secretary Andy Brooks – that it took a long time and left the large stone in front of the memorial totally carpeted with flowers.
Polina Baranova, a teenage student from the Russian embassy, sang, unaccompanied, a melancholy song, Nightingales, that had been popular with Soviet troops during the war.
That was followed by the Last Post, the exhortation: “They shall not grow old…” and the two minutes silence.
Then Ambassador Fedotov invited everyone to toast the victory over Nazism with vodka, wine and food laid on jointly by the embassies.
The atmosphere changed from solemn to celebratory, spontaneous singing and dancing broke out and everyone was talking and laughing with everyone else – across all boundaries of generation, race, nationality and language.
After the event the Arctic Convoy veterans climbed aboard a coach to go to ceremony on board HMS Belfast, moored in the Thames at Southwark for decades now but one of the ships that made the heroic wartime journeys to Archangel and Murmansk, braving nightmare weather and predatory U-boats.
There Ambassador Fedotov honoured the veterans’ dedication and sacrifice and presented medals to them.
Many of them had been teenagers when they made those terrible but vital journeys. Of about 1,400 ships on the 78 convoys, 85 merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy ships were sunk.
photo:Andy Brooks at the memorial