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Nation set to mark 75th anniversary of VE Day

The coronavirus pandemic might have put paid to the original plans to mark the 75th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day tomorrow, but revised arrangements to acknowledge the lockdown are in full swing.

The programme for VE Day 75 had originally included a veterans’ procession, but with social distancing and self-isolation still in full swing, the government announced new plans that will “allow members of the public to remember and give thanks to the Second World War generation from the safety of their own homes.”

To mark the occasion, the Queen will send a message to the nation at 9pm on BBC One tomorrow evening – the exact moment her father, King George VI, gave a radio address in 1945. 

The Prince of Wales will read an extract from King George VI’s diary from 8 May 1945, which describes the day including the Royal Family’s iconic Buckingham Palace balcony appearances. 

Members of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will take part in a series of video calls with World War 2 veterans and those who served on the Home Front.

The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, will also host calls with veterans in Wales.

Official commemorations will begin at 11am tomorrow morning with a national moment of remembrance and a two-minute silence. 

Other plans for Friday include:

  • As part of special BBC programming, extracts from Sir Winston Churchill’s victory speech will recreate the moment peace in Europe was announced 75 years ago at 3pm, and the Prime Minister will speak about the importance of VE Day.
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury will record a special reflection and moment of prayer for the occasion.¨
  • The Queen’s 9pm address to the nation will be followed by a national singalong of Dame Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’. The public will be encouraged to open their doors and join in with this national moment of celebration.¨

·       The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has produced a template pack at https://ve-vjday75.gov.uk/toolkit/ so that the public can hold a 1940s style afternoon tea party at home over the Bank Holiday weekend, complete with bunting, games and original recipes.

·       There are also ideas for activities for children – historian and broadcaster Dan Snow explains at https://ve-vjday75.gov.uk/dan-snows-ve-day-challenge/ but anyone wanting to join in will have to get their skates on as the closing date is Wednesday 6 May.

·       English Heritage also have suggestions, and stories, for VE 75 at www.english-heritage.org.uk/ve-day

  • NHS Volunteer Responders will be deployed to give a number of World War 2 veterans a call and provide an opportunity to share their stories.
  • The government and Ancestry are working together to encourage the public to commemorate VE Day by discovering their own connection to World War 2. As part of this, all UK historical records available on ancestry.co.uk will be free for the public until Sunday 10 May, giving people the opportunity to uncover the personal stories of war and the roles their families played.€¨
  • Legion Scotland and Poppyscotland will broadcast a virtual Service of Remembrance followed by online tributes from a range of performers.

A number of commemorative events will also take place across Northern Ireland.

Mr Dowden said: “We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the greatest generation that served in combat and on the home front during the Second World War.

“Whilst we now need to celebrate VE75 in our homes and on our doorsteps, rather than in parades and street parties, I know the nation will come together to mark this historic occasion.

“In these difficult times, acts of remembrance are even more poignant and I am sure that millions will want to join me to remember and give thanks to those who gave so much to secure peace, freedom and prosperity in Europe.”

The Royal British Legion’s Assistant Director of Commemorative Events, Bob Gamble, said: “As we face some of the most challenging times since the Second World War, now more than ever it is important to unite in recognition of people’s service to the nation, just as communities did 75 years ago.

“With members of the public unable to attend VE Day 75 events, we are calling on people across the UK to mark the anniversary from home and take part in these national moments of remembrance and thanksgiving.

“There is no right or wrong way to take part in the Silence at 11am; some people may wish to stand at their windows or step outside their front door, but we hope that individuals and families across the UK will embrace the opportunity to share in a national moment of reflection.”

Members of the public are reminded not to travel to watch events, and must adhere to the government’s social distancing and travel guidance. Currently, that means everyone must stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

Don’t forget to check your own areas for local initiatives – Portsmouth, for example, is featuring local actors sharing personal accounts of city residents which will be broadcast of Facebook, and is inviting citizens to join in the Royal Navy’s ‘Shine A Light’ initiative, when at 9.30pm BST on Friday warships around the world will redirect their searchlights skywards for five minutes and sound their sirens – use your phone, or a torch, to join in from your garden or window.

More details are at www.portsmouth.gov.uk/ext/community/ve-day-75-join-in-the-celebrations

Meanwhile, Plymouth has also put a wide range of suggestions and resources online at www.visitplymouth.co.uk/whats-on/top-events/ve-day-75 including dance tutorials and film clips of the city during the war.