Our plans for a parish celebration of 75th anniversary of V.E. Day had included inviting The Land Girls, who have entertained us at fêtes and on H.M. the Queen's 90th Birthday. Such events have, of course, been shelved with the current social distancing restrictions but The Land Girls have recorded a three-minute V.E. Day message in which you may recognise a couple of images.
The Land Girls provide a nostalgic trip down memory lane, offering sing-along fun ranging from The Andrews Sisters to Vera Lynn with lots in-between! With great harmonies, authentic costumes and inspiring choreography, This talented duo provide an original and uplifting 1940's experience that will leave you singing and smiling for hours afterwards!
30 April 1945. Allied troops are closing in and Berlin is all but surrounded. The leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, is left contemplating inevitable defeat. He commits suicide in his underground bunker. In the days that follow, Hitler's successor - Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz - negotiates an end to war, and in the early hours of 7 May 1945 Germany's unconditional surrender to the Allies is signed. After nearly six long years of carnage and destruction, the war in Europe is coming to an end.
The celebrations could finally begin.
Victory in Europe Day - commonly referred to as VE Day - took place in Britain on 8 May 1945 to mark the formal acceptance of Nazi Germany's surrender. Following the horrors of war, it was truly a day to savour: a collective release of relief and euphoria.
Whilst VE Day marked the formal end of war in Europe, several pockets of German resistance continued to fight bitterly for another week or so. Furthermore, the war in the Far East was not over, and Japan still had to be defeated.
At 3pm on 8 May 1945, from the same room at the War Cabinet Office from which Neville Chamberlain had announced the country was at war in 1939, Winston Churchill alluded to the task ahead during his radio broadcast to the nation. He cautioned: 'We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead’. Japan surrendered after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The announcement of their surrender was made on 15 August 1945, now known as VJ (‘Victory over Japan’) Day.
The Allies had originally agreed to mark 9 May 1945 as VE Day. But news of Germany’s surrender was leaked and spread across the world like wildfire, sparking impromptu celebrations. Perhaps understandably, Britain did not want to wait. After years of loss, destruction and heartache, people were eager to rejoice at the prospect of a peaceful Europe. And so, late on 7 May, a BBC radio news flash announced that the next day would be a national holiday.
All over the country, communities came together on VE Day to share in the moment, with vibrant parades and street parties. People old and young took part in the festivities, and the mood was as thankful as it was celebratory. The streets of the capital were awash with people dancing and waving flags of red, white and blue. St Paul’s Cathedral held ten consecutive services in thanks for peace, and crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace.
The Royal family – including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – were greeted by gleeful crowds as they waved from the balcony. Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister Princess Margaret were even permitted to slip out of the palace to wander incognito among the crowds and experience the nation’s jubilation first-hand. Our current monarch would later describe it as ‘one of the most memorable nights of my life’.
VE Day celebrations continued well into the night. Licensing hours were extended so that people could properly toast the end of the war, and dance halls remained open beyond usual closing hours to accommodate buoyant revellers. In keeping with this spirit, the Home Office previously announced plans to extend licensing hours across England and Wales on 8 May 2020 for the 75th anniversary, enabling as many people as possible to gather in their local communities, share a drink together, and remember the sacrifices made by our Second World War heroes.
Germany’s surrender was not unexpected and had been anticipated for some time in Britain. The term VE Day had been floated as early as September 1944 in anticipation of victory, and a team of bell ringers were on standby at St Paul’s Cathedral ready for the celebrations, once the news arrived. At the turn of 1945, the German army was significantly weakened; the Western Allies had begun to invade Germany from the west, and Soviet forces advanced from the east. In the end, it seemed a matter of when victory would come, not whether it would occur.
Not everyone in Britain was in the mood to celebrate on VE Day. The consequences of warfare for millions of people across Europe were quite simply horrific. Whilst many rejoiced at the prospect of peace, the strain of air raids, rationing, hunger and displacement had taken their toll and left many in a reflective – rather than ecstatic – mood. For some, the celebrations were a painful reminder of loved ones lost in the conflict. Six years of horror and bloodshed had killed approximately 67,200 civilians in Britain and her Crown Colonies, and 383,700 members of the British Armed Forces. And even though the war in Europe was over, others were mindful that their friends and relatives were still in action overseas or in POW camps in the Far East and yet to return home.
Following Neville Chamberlain's resignation, and eight months after the outbreak of war, Winston Churchill took over as Prime Minister of an all-party coalition government in May 1940. An inspirational statesman, leader, orator and writer, Churchill is frequently credited with helping to bolster British morale during the nation's darkest hours. In addition to his stirring 'We Shall Fight on the Beaches' and 'This Was Their Finest Hour' speeches, Churchill and his War Cabinet authorised the pivotal operation to rescue British troops from Dunkirk, codenamed Operation Dynamo. On VE Day, Churchill was seen as the man of the hour: a significant driving force behind the Allies’ eventual victory over Nazi Germany. The British people were naturally keen to celebrate with him. Following his radio broadcast to the nation, he appeared on a balcony at the Ministry of Health building in Whitehall and was roundly cheered by the huge crowds below. But despite Churchill’s crucial wartime role, the British public firmly cast him out of office in the General Election of July 1945. Instead, Clement Attlee was trusted with the task of steering Britain through the tricky post-war years, delivering a landslide victory for Labour that ushered in the NHS and welfare state. Age and ill heath limited Churchill’s effectiveness in office when he returned to Downing Street between 1951 and 1955. In the end, he knew that nothing would match his period as wartime Prime Minister, later writing in his war memoirs that everything afterwards was ‘all anti-climax’.
VE Day marked the start of a return to normal life in England. In London, public buildings such as Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament were floodlit for the first time since the Blitz began, and the weather forecast once again featured in newspapers and on the BBC Home Service, having previously been classified as ‘top secret’. Although many things began to return to pre-1939 days, it took time to rebuild the country. The huge economic cost of the war had nearly bankrupted Britain and led to a period of austerity. Many of the wartime restrictions remained: clothes rationing was in place until 1949, and food rationing lasted until 1954. Even with these limitations lifted, many maintained a frugal mentality fashioned by the necessity of the wartime years.
A national holiday was declared in Britain for 8 May 1945 to celebrate VE Day. This year, the early May bank holiday has been moved back by four days for the whole of the UK in order to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May 2020. It will start a three-day international remembrance period over the ensuing weekend, and provide an opportunity to honour the spirit and enormous sacrifices of those affected by the Second World War. Join us in the Nation's Toast at 3pm on VE Day - to participate, simply raise a glass or mug to mark the moment that the end of war in Europe was formally announced to the nation.
CLICK THIS LINK for a unique act of online worship, available to watch at a time that suits you throughout the day - and with special video readings, reflections, prayers and choral singing by our children's choirs, that you can click on to whilst following the service (☞ via the pointing finger symbols on the left).
A PRAYER FOR V.E. DAY
From the Act of Commitment for Peace
Lord God our Father,
we pledge ourselves to serve you and all humankind, in the cause of peace,
for the relief of want and suffering,
and for the praise of your name.
Guide us by your Spirit;
give us wisdom;
give us courage;
give us hope;
and keep us faithful now and always. Amen.
The snapshots and video clips from the 2016 "street party" in the church car park (plus a few more from around Westbourne) can be found in this set (where you may spot friends, some of whom have gone ahead of us): https://flic.kr/s/aHskCc8mXx