Union Flag, Nottingham, May 2020. Source: Justyna Hodur


Victory in Europe Day, 2020

Sillitoe Trail Xtra: Written by Paul Fillingham, Photography Justyna Hodur

Then and now: from victory to virus, parade to pandemic

In 2012, the original Sillitoe Trail sought to reinterpret Saturday Night and Sunday Morning through five well known Nottingham locations. As part of the project, work by local writers, artists and film makers was serialised on The Space on-demand arts platform jointly funded by the BBC and Arts Council England. One of the fundamental concepts of the project was about making direct comparisons between Post-war Nottingham and that of the present day – which at the time, was dominated by the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Olympic Games.

In 2012, it would have been inconceivable that the inclusivity and civic pride generated by the games would be swept away in successive waves of nationalist sentiment as the populus became polarised by Brexit.  Given the emotional power of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the games, showcasing the NHS to the world as our nation’s proudest achievement, it should come as no surprise that the Government should adopt this cherished institution to ensure compliance during a time of civil emergency, as the world struggles to contain the spread of the deadly Covid 19 virus.


Market Square celebrations of Victory in Europe Day, May 8th, 1945. Nottingham Evening Post and www.picturethepast.org.uk

Social distancing – a watchword from the Government’s pandemic news briefings has emptied public spaces like Nottingham’s Old Market Square. In common with other landmarks across the globe, ‘slab square’ looks barren and apocalyptic. Here then, is a complete antidote to the Sillitoe Trail story ‘VE day 1945’ by Derrick Buttress, when, as a boy, he witnessed a heaving mass of inebriated service men and women, and civilians, crammed into the Old Market Square. This impromptu assembly of people danced-away the horrors of World War II, on learning about the liberation of Europe by allied troops and the official surrender from Nazi Germany.


Trolley Lady on Parliament Street, Virus in Europe day 2020, Nottingham. Source: Justyna Hodur

Contrast the image of Victory in Europe Day 1945 with those of Virus in Europe 2020, captured by photographer Justyna Hodur, just a stones-throw-away from the magnificent edifice of Thomas Cecil Howitt’s Council House.


Covid-19 lockdown measures have emptied social spaces like the Old Market Square, Nottingham. Source: Justyna Hodur.

It’s here in December 2013, by the left lion, that I met BBC broadcaster John McCarthy, accompanying him around the locations of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for a Radio 4 broadcast featuring the work and locations of both Alan Sillitoe and DH Lawrence – two of Nottingham’s most famous rebel writers.


Paul Fillingham with journalist and former hostage John McCarthy meeting at the left lion, the Old Market Square, Nottingham, December 2013. Source: BBC Radio 4, Saturday Live.

In the sixth week of lockdown and house arrest, I think about McCarthy and his 1,943 days in captivity ‘chained to a radiator’ according to urban myth, as a hostage in Beirut.  When I think about McCarthy’s triumph over adversity as a hostage or think about the brave soldiers and civilians who perished in Europe’s theatre of war only a few decades ago, the two-meter restrictions being enforced by supermarket staff as we shop in Tescos seems insignificant.


Deliveroo rider takes a few minutes out with his smartphone. Virus in Europe day 2020, Nottingham. Source: Justyna Hodur.

Having worked with former airmen for around a decade, supporting a network of aviation museums spread out across Lincolnshire, I’ve witnessed the passing of a generation of volunteer pilots from Britain, the USA, Canada, South Africa and Poland: People of all nations who took to the skies in order to fight the Nazi threat.


#Stayhomenow poster. Virus in Europe day 2020, Nottingham. Source: Justyna Hodur.

After the war, Britain began to re-set its moral compass, laying the the foundations of our welfare state and Aneurin (Nye) Bevan’s vision of a National Heath Service. When we emerge from this period of incarceration and social distancing, assisted by transformative technology, it’s likely that the fabric of society will change again.


Food banks are an enduring consequence of austerity. Virus in Europe day 2020, Nottingham. Source: Justyna Hodur.

Let’s hope that we have the vision to build something more equitable and sustainable this time around.

Paul Fillingham 2020

Related links:

Victory in Europe Day 1945 – Derrick Buttress
The very first Sillitoe Trail feature by Derrick Buttress (1932-2017), author of Broxtowe Boy and a contemporary of Alan Sillitoe.

A Strictly British form of Victory – Adrian Reynolds
As Britain celebrates Victory in Europe Day, it’s getting hard to tell what real is.

Journalist and former hostage – John McCarthy (Wikipedia)
Journalist John McCarthy – Britain’s longest kidnap and hostage victim.



The Sillitoe Trail

Take your own interactive tour of the author’s city and follow in Arthur Seaton’s footsteps around Nottingham, exploring the real locations of key scenes from the novel. You can go back to the Old Market Square or visit The White Horse pub, the Raleigh factory, the River Trent and Goose Fair. For updated content, visit Sillitoe Trail Xtra

Follow: Arthur Seaton @Thespacelathe on Twitter

Download: Sillitoe Trail Factory Handbook (17MB PDF)


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