Byline: David Williamson
FIRST Minister Rhodri Morgan yesterday described the debt of gratitude modern Wales owes to the generation who made sacrifices and served in World War Two in battle and on the Home Front.
With the 70th anniversary of Britain's involvement in the war marked today, Mr Morgan contemplated what it meant for people to go on missions where death was by no means a distant prospect.
He said: "What would have happened if all those guys hadn't been willing to go up in those fighter planes to hold off the German bombers? The attrition rate was so horrendous - very few survived the Battle of Britain as fighter pilots.
"Why were people willing to do that?" Mr Morgan, who was born on September 29, just days after the war commenced, acknowledged that his and subsequent generations have not faced the same challenges.
He said: "That's why what we owe to that generation that did sign up to be a fighter pilot or to be a captain of a minesweeper or be on a convoy going to Murmansk from the docks in Cardiff and Barry [is] one hell of a lot."
Britain, he said, had no idea of the destruction German bombing would bring.
His mother, Huana, spent much of September in the attic room of a Cardiff nursing home as she waited to give birth.
When she suggested she could be in danger if a bomb hit the roof, she was told: "Don't you worry, my dear, these old Cardiff houses are built very solidly."
Mr Morgan said: "That's how confident people were; how unrealistic their views were about what war was really like or what bombing might really do to civilian populations."
Mr Morgan said he remained humbled by the way all elements of society worked for the survival of Britain and their own communities.
"It just wrapped up the totality of society in a way the First World War did not do," he said.
"All civilians were involved. You might be two spinsters living on your own in a quiet little house next to the golf club in Radyr, then you're told you've got to take in three evacuees because you've got three spare bedrooms.
"It didn't matter who you were, you had to be part of the war effort.
"Everybody was a hero in a way.
"These little contributions made it possible for Britain to survive the U-boats or survive Dunkirk or survive the Blitz or survive evacuation." But he was also adamant that Britain must acknowledge the sacrifices and horrors experienced on the eastern front and recognise that genocide can take place in the present day.
Describing the pain and frustration still felt in Russia, he said: "There are still great tensions, of course, with Russia. [Prime Minister] Putin reflects exactly that feeling in 1945 - which many people in Wales sympathised with, including my father - that the huge sacrifices made by the Soviet Union in the eastern front were not given proper recognition."
These sentiments, he said, contributed to the icy relations during the Cold War era.
He said: "[We] have to be conscious that what we experienced was absolutely nothing by comparison with the eastern front where people just starved to death and didn't have ration books. …