70th Anniversary Celebrations of VE Day

For the Finest Generation this year’s Victory in Europe Day celebration will mark the last time that they can gather in significant numbers to celebrate the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War. With fewer and fewer veterans of the conflict still living, this year’s celebration promises to be especially meaningful.

The act of military surrender was signed on May 7, 1945 in Reims, France, by Karl Donitz who had succeeded Adolf Hitler after he had committed suicide on April 30.  It was formally accepted by the British Government on May 8.  Since the Soviet Union required another surrender to take place in Berlin the following day, for Russia and some other eastern European countries celebrations occur one day later, on May 9.

On the original VE Day, over one million people celebrated throughout the United Kingdom with enormous crowds gathering at Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret were allowed to wander around among the celebrating throng. King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and Winston Churchill marked the occasion by appearing on the balcony of the Palace and waving to the cheering crowd below.

In making the announcement about this year’s celebrations, Prime Minister David Cameron told The Daily Mail: “VE Day is one of the most pivotal moments in our nation’s proud history. After years of all-out war and the untold sacrifice of millions both at home and abroad, this day marked the moment when the threat of Nazi brutality was finally lifted.”

The Queen, along with other senior Royals, veterans, politicians and organisations whose members served in the war, will gather at the Cenotaph in London on May 8, a national service at Westminster Abbey and a parade.  Communities throughout the United Kingdom are also being encouraged to arrange street parties and other local events, The Telegraph reports.

Margaret Dickson, aged 96, who served as an ambulance driver during the war, told the Daily Mail that she was very pleased about the announcement of this year’s celebrations: “We had been through hell and VE Day was such a wonderful moment.  I still remember the street parties and all the baking.  It’s so important for today’s young people to know about it.”

Dougie Radcliffe, secretary of the Bomber Command Association, said: “We’re still looking after 3,000 members in their 90s and if there is to be a commemoration on this scale, we will love to take part.”

Neil Coppendale, who organised a petition calling on the Government to recognize both VE Day and VJ Day, said the May 8 commemorations are important for two reasons. “The first is to raise awareness and to educate the next generation.  The second is an opportunity to say thank you to those involved.  They are all in their 90s and won’t be around forever.”

There had been some concern about the British Government’s willingness to organize this celebration, given that the May 7th election took place just one day before, and because of the large effort put forward this past year in celebrating the 100th anniversary of World War One.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE