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Making wartime comparisons with Covid-19

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As we sit in our homes for the next two or more weeks under the curfew imposed by the Government — which I agree with as a necessity to control Covid-19 — we may feel this is unnecessary. Some will feel stressed for being confined. However, it is for the common good.

In an attempt to put some perspective to this situation, let us revert to Britain in the Second World War and do some comparisons. Those of us who lived and experienced the war can see the similarities between then and today's pandemic.

At the commencement of the Second World War in September 1939, there were folks who thought it would all be over by Christmas of that year, although realistically Britain was not geared up for a quick war.

There were people who thought Covid-19 was under control and we could all go to church on Easter Day and it would all have disappeared — and that with the warmer weather, it would dissipate.

Obviously none of these perceptions were based on science and technology, but a hunch!

Most countries have been caught with their pants down, not having adequate supplies of masks, personal protection equipment, ventilators, oxygen and pharmaceuticals. The question has to be asked: can countries be fully prepared for every eventuality? And the answer has to be “No”.

Probabilities and possibilities are considered but will never be 100 per cent correct.

During the Second World War, everyone was issued with gas masks, but I am unable to recollect when these were issued. These masks were to protect against a gas attack. Mustard gas had been used in the First World War with disastrous consequences, and the Government did not want to see the civilian population devastated by such an attack.

The mask not only covered your mouth and nose, but also your eyes, being a full face mask. These masks were taken to work and school. As a schoolchild, we had practice sessions to get the masks in place as quickly as possible. Fortunately, we never had to use these masks.

Now we are able to obtain food on certain days and there are more than enough supplies for everyone. How different from wartime Britain, when we had ration books — not only for food, but also for clothes.

The amount of food each person was permitted to buy had been calculated by nutritionists. Everything was limited to how much one could purchase — number of eggs, bread, milk, sugar, milk, etc — and apart from presenting money for one's purchases, one had to present the requisite number of coupons.

The schools in Bermuda are closed but for a finite time, even if it will be one month, two or three. A large number of children from London and other areas being bombed were evacuated to “safer” areas. South Wales was considered to be a safer area where we were living, so these evacuees were sent without their parents and were billeted with families. We had an evacuee billeted with us, which ended after we were bombed and his parents decided he would be better off at home.

As a result of this influx of students, there were not enough schools to accommodate them. The teachers came with the students, so one month the evacuees would go to school in the morning and the local children would go in the afternoon; the next month, it would be reversed.

Our parents worked, being part of the war effort. My father, having been a survivor of the First World War and the Gallipoli campaign, was too old to rejoin the army and was an air raid warden. One of his jobs, apart from his daytime job, was to ensure the blackout regulations were observed. No street lights were on and every house had to have blackout curtains, which prevented any light being seen from outside the property. Even those who had cars, the lights had filters on them that deflected the lights downwards.

When the air-raid siren sounded, we would be woken up and then go into our air-raid shelter, not knowing how long the raid would last. If incendiary bombs were dropped, it was like a firework display. During one raid a landmine exploded some 300 yards from our house. Because of the possibility of more unexploded landmines, we were evacuated from our road to a safer part of the village.

Going from the bedroom on to the landing, the moon was shining through a large hole in the roof, and we had to step over a substantial amount of earth. The road was strewn with debris and we had to walk through and past this to another part of the village, where we stayed for two days before being allowed back in our homes. It was a lovely moonlit night, so we could see where we were going.

While in school, if an air-raid siren sounded, we would be sent home, until the one occasion, we were walking over the railway bridge and we saw two planes in the air. The German plane machine gunned us on the road. None of us were hit, but after this incident we had to stay in school and hunker down under our desks.

Today, we have up-to-the-minute news with television and the internet. During the war, we did not have up-to-the-minute news and no television. We did not have a telephone in our house until after the war.

Communications were limited to writing letters, which were delivered within 24 hours. King George VI and the Queen stayed in London, and on the newsreels were to be seen visiting bombed areas of London. Winston Churchill made some very inspiring speeches to the nation. Their example gave hope, although, with the bombing, one never knew whether you would see the next day.

Was this stressful? Yes, but stress can either be destructive or make one stronger. Should one be concerned? Again, yes, but worrying about a situation over which you have no control is destructive.

Life is to be lived; enjoy it while you can. There is only one thing certain in this life, and it does not matter who you are, whether you are rich or poor. We are all going to die, unfortunately some sooner than later.

Our life was considerably better than those in the occupied countries, but they were far better off than those incarcerated in the concentration camps, where people went through such deprivations, with millions dying.

Such experiences do affect you and I did not come to this realisation until some 17 years later when I arrived in Bermuda and heard the 12 noon fire siren test — for the volunteer firemen. My arms came out in goose bumps. It was the Pavlov effect. It took me two weeks to overcome my reaction.

Be positive in your outlook and this too shall pass.

Stay safe, Bermuda, and we can pull through this pandemic. This is not the first time Bermuda has suffered discomfort. We will get through this.

Antony Siese is a retired optometrist

Game changer: a mushroom cloud forms over Nagasaki, Japan, after the dropping of the second atomic bomb (Photograph courtesy of Time Life Pictures/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Antony Siese is a retired optometrist

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Published April 11, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 11, 2020 at 8:54 am)

Making wartime comparisons with Covid-19

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