Tea and singing: Britain honours 75th anniversary of VE-Day

·3 min read
Tea and singing: Britain honours 75th anniversary of VE-Day

Britons stood in silence and Queen Elizabeth was to address the nation on Friday's 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, though the coronavirus dampened commemorations for the end of the Second World War on the continent.

Along with millions around the nation, Prince Charles held a two-minute silence outside his family's Balmoral estate, while military jets flew over the United Kingdom's four capitals, and 1940s-style tea parties plus singalongs were planned in homes.

The original plans for extensive events to herald VE-Day, when allied forces accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, were scaled back after the government banned social gatherings from March to curb the coronavirus.

A veterans' procession and other events involving crowds were scrapped, but flags and banners still fluttered, and people stuck at home due to the lockdown enjoyed a day of special television and radio programs. On the white cliffs of Dover, a lone piper played bagpipes as wartime Spitfire planes flew by.

WATCH | Ceremonies to mark the anniversary of Victory in Europe Day:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson invoked the "heroism of countless ordinary people" in his tribute to the millions of Britons who fought and lived through the war.

"Today we must celebrate their achievement, and we remember their sacrifice," Johnson said in an address published on Twitter. "We are a free people because of everything our veterans did — we offer our gratitude, our heartfelt thanks and our solemn pledge: you will always be remembered."

'We'll meet again'

There were commemorations too across the water in France, where President Emmanuel Macron held the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin invoked the wartime allies' co-operation in telegrams to U.S. President Donald Trump, Britain's Johnson and others suggesting they should rekindle such togetherness for today's problems.

Richard Pohle/The Times/The Associated Press
Richard Pohle/The Times/The Associated Press

In Germany, where Nazism, the Holocaust and the devastation of war still shape identity and politics, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid wreaths at Berlin's Memorial to the Victims of War and Dictatorship.

That replaced a previously planned ceremony with foreign diplomats and young people, plus a range of events including an art installation documenting the last days of the war and tracing the path to democracy, which will now go online.

WATCH | Spirited WW II vet recounts the end of the war:

The address from 94-year-old Queen Elizabeth was to come exactly 75 years after her father, George VI, gave a victory speech over the radio to the nation.

Elizabeth, a teenager when the war broke out, learned to drive military trucks and be a mechanic while serving in the women's Auxiliary Territorial Service. She was in Buckingham Palace when it was bombed in September 1940.

Since becoming Queen 68 years ago, Elizabeth has rarely made broadcasts to the nation except her annual Christmas Day message, but her VE-Day speech will be the third such address since the coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, she invoked the spirit of the Second World War, calling for the public to show the same resolve and echoing the words of the song We'll Meet Again by Vera Lynn, which became a symbol of hope for Britons during the conflict.

As part of Friday's celebrations, after the Queen's address, Britons were being encouraged to open their doors and join in a nationwide singalong of Lynn's song.

Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins performed wartime classics by Dame Vera Lynn, including We'll Meet Again, from an empty Royal Albert Hall. It was the first concert behind closed doors in the London venue's 150-year history.