VE Day 2020


8 May 2020

By Roger Brice

The Chelmsford City VE Day 75 willow tanks make a striking display and remind us of the sacrifice of the Armed Forces and population of the United Kingdom during World War 2.

Unlike today, the Army, Navy and Air Force at the end of the War were conscripts.  Britain introduced a limited form of conscription on 27 April 1939, with the Military Training Act being passed the following month.  Only single men 20 to 22 years old were liable to be called up, and they were to be known as “militiamen” to distinguish them from the Regular Army.  Apparently the intention was for the first intake to undergo six months of basic training before being discharged into an active Reserve but this plan was overtaken by events.

At the outbreak of war, on 3 September 1939, the Military Training Act was overtaken by the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, and the first intake of “militiamen” was absorbed into the Army.  This act imposed a liability to conscription of all men aged 18 to 41 years old.  Men could be rejected for medical reasons, and those engaged in vital industries or occupations (such as lighthouse keepers) were “reserved”.  From 1943, some conscripts were directed into the British coal mining industry and become known as the “Bevin Boys”.  There were also arrangements for “conscientious objectors”.  By 1942 all male British subjects between 18 and 51 years old and all females 20 to 30 years old resident in Britain were liable to be called up, with some exemptions.

To give you an idea of the scale of conscription, the Army in 1939 (consisting of Regular and Reserve forces) numbered about 897,000 and by the end of the War it had grown to 2,920,000 personnel, so at least two thirds of those who celebrated VE Day would have been conscripts.

The challenges that they faced were different to those that we face today with Covid-19, but many people have sought to draw parallels.  Last week the number of deaths in London from C-19 equalled the number of deaths at the height of the blitz when Germany bombed London.  We have all celebrated the outstanding achievement of Captain (now Honorary Colonel) Tom Moore in his bid to raise funds for the NHS.  People have remarked on his determination to succeed in his self-imposed challenge and there is no doubt that his example has spurred on others to do their bit to support others.  There is something about a challenge to the whole of society that brings out the best in people.  As a society we are celebrating the selfless commitment of so many of our NHS staff and other key workers.  Volunteers have been supporting the NHS and across the country neighbours and locals have been doing their bit for the elderly and vulnerable in the community.  A number of newspaper articles have remarked upon the values and standards of the Armed Forces and how, when called to do so they calmly get on with doing the dangerous things that society asks them.

Gepp Solicitors has a historic connection with the military.  As a firm whose history goes back over 250 years it will come as no surprise that many of the Gepp family and staff served their country in the major wars throughout that period.  Thomas Gepp was the last member of the family who worked in the firm and he served as an artillery officer during WW2 in 413 Battery, 147 (Essex Yeomanry) Field Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery.  He landed on Gold Beach in Normandy and fought with his unit from the Normandy beaches through France, Belgium and Holland into Germany where he celebrated VE Day in the port of Bremen.

Our linkages with the Military continue today.  Our Senior Partner, Roger Brice specialises in Military law assisted by a strong team and Alexandra Dean, our head of Employment Law, has a particular interest in the niche area of Military Employment Law.  We have staff who have either served or have family members who have served, or are serving in the Armed Forces.