My mother was sixty five last week (do not worry I have asked her permission to mention this). There is no Northern Ireland connection here but before you rant read on.
Clearly then my mother was born in January 1943; she is also an historian by training (now retired) which is where we are going.
On the day when my mother was born one of the most horrific and important events in recent history was gradually coming towards its ghastly end. On the banks of a huge river which flows into the Caspian Sea battle raged for one of the most iconic of all Russian cities – Volgograd then as most of you will know called Stalingrad. Some of the bald statistics are terrifying; at one stage the average survival for a Russian soldier in the battle was less than 24 hours. I will not go into the grim details of that epic struggle. Some of the names of places fought over have become icons in themselves: The Red October Steel Factory, Dzerzhinsky tractor factory, the Grain Silo. Suffice to say that between Stalingrad and Kursk fought in the summer of 1943 the Wermacht was thrown decisively and definitively onto the defensive. I am not in any way trying to belittle the contribution of the British, Americans and Canadians to the defeat of the Nazis but remember that some estimate that ¾ of all German soldiers killed died on the Eastern Front. Estimates of total USSR dead have been suggested at 23 million (13% of the population).
Of course the irony is that the westward march of the T-34s brought an end to Nazism but did not result in freedom for the peoples of the USSR, though for those people Stalin’s regime was possibly less bad than what Hitler had intended for them.
So today spare a thought for the people who helped end the Nazis’ advance and have allowed a whole generation of people in Western Europe to be born, grow up and now retire without the oppression of Nazi tyranny.