Today is the 65th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day). On May 8th, 1945 the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and Europe celebrated the end of the war. They had good reason to celebrate but, even so, their troubles were not over yet. Although the war had ended, people still suffered and experienced hardships. On the continent they endured hunger and food shortages which were made worse by an exceptionally cold winter that year. Food and clothing continued to be rationed and many waited anxiously for news of loved ones missing during the war. Often we forget that the heartache didn’t end just because the war was over.
A few years ago I did some research into this period and it led me to a fascinating story about the Irish Red Cross’ little known humanitarian aid initiative, Operation Shamrock. The endeavour aided German and French children after World War II, transporting more than 400 German children across Europe to Ireland to escape the appalling conditions in their homeland. The children were fostered by Irish families where they regained their health and strength before returning to their families in Germany. It was a touching story and completely new to me.
I began reading what little material I could find about this humanitarian aid effort and spoke to people who had been involved in the endeavour. As a history lover I was thrilled to uncover information about events and people that aren’t mentioned in history books. It was almost like discovering a lost civilisation. As I delved into the subject and learned all I could about it, images and impressions of the people and events swirled around in my head and a story began to take shape. My historical fiction, Hitler and Mars Bars, resulted from my research. The novel’s main character, Erich, is timeless – a gutsy but vulnerable child who tugs at readers’ hearts but Operation Shamrock provided a unique backdrop for his story.
On the anniversary of VE Day I’ll remember the importance of the celebration and also that the story didn’t end there. I’ll also remember the people who suffered and struggled on Europe’s subsequent long road to recovery.