A BBC Radio 4 programme, perhaps in 2001, marking the sixtieth anniversary of the London blitz, included an opportunity for people to telephone with their own memories.
One man, then in his sixties, called and described how as a boy he and his mother were walking to the school he attended and that a schoolfriend was walking with them. Suddenly, there was an explosion caused by a bomb and they were showered with rubble. The man and his mother survived, the schoolfriend was killed. His mother told him to get along to school and to apologize to his teacher for being late.
The man reflected on his experience and upon his memories and was firm in his belief that his mother’s attitude had been the correct one, that the only way to keep going was to keep going. He believed living normally was the appropriate response to the events through which they had lived.
The man’s story was reflective of an entire generation of people who were children in the war years, children who lived through trauma unimaginable to their grandchildren and great grandchildren. What post-war history demonstrates is that most children who suffer trauma have the resilience to cope and to live lives unmarred by the memories of the times they had been through.
In more recent times, the thirty years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland cast a dark shadow over the lives of the hundreds of thousands who were children during those three decades. For the overwhelming majority of people, rather than the years causing lasting trauma and affecting the prospects for those who lived through them, the Northern Ireland education system facilitated its children in achieving some of the best attainment levels in the United Kingdom.
The evidence of history is that children are extraordinarily resilient, that they have a capacity for meeting experiences head on, dealing with what has happened, and moving on unaffected by what has happened.
The current voices insisting that Covid-19 has meant that children in British schools have suffered irretrievable losses to their education and that the damage will endure for years would find little basis in history for their claims. Where in post-war research is there evidence that the eighty-somethings were a generation so traumatised that they could not achieve what they might have done? Where is there evidence that those aged over thirty in Northern Ireland are people whose prospects were stunted by the Troubles?
The best response to the crisis is that suggested by the man whose friend died in the bomb explosion, to keep going and to try to return to normality because normality is what children want.